Logisticians Join Academics and Local Government to Tackle Seattle Urban Cargo and e-commerce Issues

14 October 2016

US – The rise in e-commerce has prompted the University of Washington (UW) to set up a new research centre in cooperation with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and three industry members, Costco, Nordstrom and UPS, to address issues with urban goods delivery in the supply chain and develop new solutions and ideas to tackle them. The new Urban Freight Lab will investigate high-impact, low-cost logistics solutions for businesses delivering goods in cities and other urban conurbations.

SDOT director Scott Kubly on Wednesday announced the $285,000, 3-year research collaboration with the Urban Freight Lab that may grow over time. He commented:

“From the first mile to the last fifty feet, freight delivery is changing, for big trucks coming out of the Port of Seattle and small trucks delivering to people’s homes and businesses, this joint project will address the rapidly evolving world of freight movement.”

With the University estimating that Seattle’s inhabitants now make 20% of their purchases online, the change in consumer habits and its associated logistic requirements are a major component to urban traffic flow and this is the primary area that the Lab hopes to study and improve upon. As an initial research question the UW engineers, SDOT and lab members will focus on the ‘final 50 feet’ challenge, or the last leg of a delivery. It begins at the point where a delivery driver leaves a truck or vehicle on a street, alley or loading bay and extends through a privately owned building into a residential lobby or commercial area. Civil and environmental engineering associate professor Anne Goodchild, who directs the transportation & logistics centre, known as SCTL commented:

“Some of the changes brought about by the rise in e-commerce have the potential to reduce costs and carbon dioxide and improve liveability, but we need better planning and exchange to ensure these opportunities are harnessed,” said

“Seattle is a great location for this living laboratory because we have urban growth, geographic constraints and profound behavioural changes in the way people are buying things they need for daily life. Compared to other supply chain research programmes around the country, the Urban Freight Lab is unique in bringing together stakeholders that manage both public and private aspects of urban deliveries.

”UPS and other freight carriers, for instance, can use sophisticated technologies to manage their own operations and run their own warehouses as profitably as possible, but once a truck hits a city street, all bets are off. The problems where we can be of most value occur where a private company has to use public space or share public space, they can’t control that.

”The ‘final 50 feet’ highlights the challenge of coordinating across numerous, diverse stakeholders. It’s a problem that isn’t going to solve itself and no one can solve independently.”