During Covid 19 we have experienced a large increase in food and non-food home delivery, meal delivery services, as well as a growth in online shopping in general that went across all demographics. Despite problems in some parts of the logistics sector at the beginning of the pandemic, there has been never a collapse of supply chains. There were challenges like the higher variability of orders, but the suppliers reacted through the adaption of urban freight schemes, promoting services like home and supermarket delivery, Click and Collect or Pick-up Points.
While this flexibility helped the urban freight sector to meet demands for higher efficiency, the increased logistics volumes come of course with expenses and impacts, causing problems for the environment and sustainability. The main approach to tackle these issues is currently seen in the use of electric vans and cargo-cycles.
Urban city changes like environmental zones, low emission zones, posed new challenges but represent an opportunity for logistics service providers to accelerate their transition to cleaner modes. The space for pedestrians and bikes in cities was extended but at the expense of road space and loading zones for freight vehicles. Again the freight sector had to react and did so by the use of cargo bikes as a subsidy for electric vehicles especially in the context of last mile delivery.
Automation in freight sector might be another potential solution for of environmental, social and efficiency issues. Especially “automation of warehousing is an absolutely driver for making freight more efficient”. On the other hand, such technology driven approaches often did not make it into reality in the past. Companies tried to do sophisticated experiments of electric mobility and automation but the innovation projects were too expensive and could not be integrated because of the “low-price – low-cost” structure of the freight sector. The freight sector needs to change its own paradigm regarding environmental and social issues. The current problems of recruitment will hopefully help the sector design better working conditions and raise salaries. Since the freight sector is often only doing what it is asked to do, this at the end requires shippers, retailers and consumers to change the way they want to be delivered too. But simply appealing to the consumer’s conscience is also not enough. Finally, it also needs a solution that includes legislation and regulation of (freight) transport. Labour laws enforcement as well as labour force training are additional key initiatives for the future.
Interviewed by Jens Schade & Lisa-Marie Schaefer, TU Dresden
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