• Opinion
  • November 21, 2018
  • 7 minutes
  • 1

As the world urbanises, freight in cities is an urgent logistical challenge

Opinion: Australian governments and industry are collaborating to keep urban freight efficient

This piece was written by Chiraag Shah, a policy officer in Australia’s federal Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. For more like this, see our cities newsfeed


Urban areas are now home to more than half of the world’s seven billion people and generate over 70% of the world’s GDP. Increasing global urbanisation will only make cities more important in the years to come, and their liveability and economic dynamism will be underpinned by their capacity to efficiently move food and produce, consumer goods and waste.

As cities grow, the demand for freight to move goods, waste and construction materials increases. This growth creates congestion on critical freight corridors and land use conflicts around key freight precincts, such as ports and airports.

Increasing global trade flowing through cities and the rise of e-commerce — with its accompanying expectations of fast and convenient delivery — exacerbate the challenge. And cities often have complex governance arrangements that make it difficult for government to respond.

Like many other problems in urban areas, freight has many stakeholders. Collaboration and coordination on long-term planning and innovative solutions are critical to ensuring that urban supply chains can meet changing consumer demands whilst under environmental and other pressures.

How Australia is responding

Australia is one of the most highly urbanised countries in the world, with its major cities now home to more than three quarters of its population and almost 80% of the country’s economic activity. Urban freight is the fastest growing type of freight in Australia, and the ports and airports in Australian cities are critical to our trade-reliant economy.

Governments, businesses and communities are working collaboratively to find innovative solutions

To meet the challenge of servicing the freight needs of Sydney and Melbourne — two of the fastest growing cities in the developed world — governments, businesses and communities are working collaboratively to find innovative solutions.

The Victorian and New South Wales state governments have recently released long-term freight plans. Central to these plans is working with local governments in Melbourne and Sydney to give freight more consideration in government decision-making, so that industry issues — like first and last mile access and the protection of freight-related land uses from incompatible development — are weighted equally with residents’ interests.

Australia’s three levels of government are also working together with industry to develop a 20-year national strategy that will increase the productivity of Australia’s freight supply chains. The strategy, which will be delivered in May 2019, will aim to drive national collaborative action in freight governance, planning, access and data, including urban freight.

The federal government’s City Deals, adopted from the UK in 2016, are another solution to urban governance challenges. These are long-term negotiated partnerships between all three levels of government, businesses and the community to drive place-based planning, reform and investment.

The most significant City Deal to date is centred around the federal government’s $5.3 billion investment in a second airport in Sydney’s west. Air freight will be key to the airport’s business model, so governments and businesses are working to identify and protect key transport corridors and precincts to support the airport’s long-term freight needs.

Technology and logistics, not just governance

In addition to collaborative planning, governments and business can also partner on technological innovation to improve freight outcomes in cities. Delivery drones, connected, automated and electric vehicles and telematics will transform urban freight. Private sector-led trials are under way in numerous cities globally, but governments have a critical role to play in providing appropriate policy and regulatory settings.

Other approaches can help reduce congestion and vehicle emissions in densely populated cities. One solution involves retiming deliveries so that they occur in off-peak hours, which may require amending restrictive access regulations in cities. A trial in Sydney realised significant reductions in travel time and distance travelled.

The number of vehicles on the road can also be reduced with a Freight Consolidation Centre model, which directs deliveries to a central point before consolidated ‘last-mile’ distribution. The Goulburn Street Courier Hub in Sydney is a consolidation centre established in a car park on the fringes of the central business district, which allows last mile delivery by couriers travelling by bicycle, foot or smaller vehicle.

The critical enabler of all these innovations is better urban freight data

The critical enabler of all these innovations is better urban freight data: careful collection, analysis and use will improve decision-making and investment. But achieving improved data collection and sharing between governments and business remains a challenge.

City Deals, emerging technologies and demand management approaches are just some of the solutions available to improve urban freight flows in cities. Cities will likely require a mix of solutions, tailored for their unique environments. What is essential and applicable to all cities is that these solutions are co-designed and collaboratively implemented by governments, businesses and the community.

The 21st century will be defined by cities. If we work together and plan well now, we can make sure freight plays its crucial part in promoting the sustainability and liveability of cities. — Chiraag Shah

(Picture credit: Pixabay)

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