URBAN FREIGHT - A Victim of Policy Neglect

Sudhir Gota

“The existing urban freight policies and strategies are often conflicting and contradictory but finding a sustainable solution is critical… “ 

Many cities often forget freight issues when scripting the urban transportation plans and thus the result is haphazard implementation of solutions which are often iatrogenesis in nature.  The traditional approach for solving urban freight is to ban trucks during day times, build bypasses and truck terminals outside the cities.  Some of these solutions which provide priority to passenger transport over freight movement may provide short term relief but may induce long term adverse impacts. Both passenger and freight transport need inclusive policies and not conflicting strategies. For example, consider the future strategies being proposed by Indian cities as shown in below table. The lack of interest shown by the city to tackle the movement of goods is obvious[1]. 

CDP for City
The number of routes for goods movement is limited. There is also acute shortage of parking for goods vehicles.
Plans to shift some of the wholesale markets and create truck terminals on the periphery of the City.
The ring roads not fully developed, inadequate parking facilities, increase in vehicles
Improvements in road network, development of decentralized rail transport terminal
The high growth rate of vehicular traffic volumes on roads causing congestion, delay, safety issues, pollution, inadequate parking, Intermixing of local and regional passenger and goods traffic.
Development of goods and passenger terminals on the basis of directional
Improvements in Road network.
Agra has a transport terminal and it is being developed and improved. However many transport agencies are operating from various parts of the city, resulting in many cargo vehicles parked on the roads. This on-road parking hampers the smooth flow of traffic.
Development of ring road, parking facilities and truck terminals
 Makeshift Strategies adopted in the Development Plan for Urban transport improvement

Similar situation exists in several Asian countries and cities. The developed nations like Japan and Korea have provided the directions for streamlining the freight transport and improving the efficiency of the system.  For example, Republic of Korea is aggressively pursuing freight solutions to reduce the emissions. It is planning to make the freight movement environment friendly by building infrastructure supporting quality movement and eliminating bottlenecks. Eight integrated freight terminals and four inland container depots are being constructed. Since more than one-third of trips are deadheaded, a logistics integrated information system is being developed. The integrated system being built is intended to enable electronic data interchange (EDI) and provide freight traffic information such as real-time freight and vehicle location. Also efforts are being made to standardize the logistics-related facilities and equipment. 
The Government has adopted the “unit load system rule” that provides standardized specifications for containers, loading equipment, freight trucks and freight packages. Tax exemption for investments in logistics standardization is also allowed, in order to enhance the standardization process. As per the National logistics visions and policy for the twenty-first century and framework act of low carbon green growth – model targets have been set on freight movement. As per the target, by 2012, the railways share should increase from 8 to 15% and coastal shipping share should increase from 18 to 22%. The impact of such actions on urban freight would be huge.

Some of the strategies commonly adopted in Asia are

Strategy/freight action
Bypass construction
Experiences suggest land use development along the bypass thus leading to sprawl over long term. However, immediate impact with reduced congestion over short term on urban roads
Restricting trucks during day time on certain corridors
Loss of operation hours, heavy traffic impacts during night, increase in growth of light commercial vehicles, freight three wheelers, increase in PM concentration. The daytime traffic flow is improved. Increased use of NMT, two wheelers and three wheelers.
Regulation of delivery time

Delayed delivery, increase in VKT of trucks
Speed limits for trucks
Improvement in safety
Banning slow goods vehicle like cycle rickshaws
Loss of livelihood, traffic deterioration over long term, increase in use of two-three wheelers for freight delivery
Restricting parking space for goods vehicle
Increase of illegal parking, increase in trucks idling

Age restrictions for trucks
Environmental benefits, adverse impact to truck building industry
Increase of lane capacity of city roads
Generation of induced traffic and increased congestion over long term
Establishment of terminal in the inner city linking multimodal transport like railways/port, promoting urban consolidation centers
Leads to freight concentration in the specific zone, allows seamless flow of freight among different modes and may improve the efficiency
The use of ICT (such as RFID, vehicle routing
software or load sharing systems)
Reduction in VKT and improvement in traffic flows, environmental benefits
Strengthening vehicle emission standards and inspection and maintenance
Environmental benefits
Vehicle load restriction
Prevents adverse impact on urban road pavements
Congestion charge
Improves the performance of the network and improves air quality
Promoting small vehicles
Increases the mode share of NMT, two and three commercial vehicles and LCV’s.
Special zoning for logistic activity
Leads to freight concentration in the specific zone thus allowing consolidation of the freight network
Tax instruments – vehicle tax, fuel tax, green tax
Leads to improvement in efficiency of the system
Eco-driving training is adopted by large fleet owners and its impact on fuel efficiency is good.  However, there are chances of increase in VKT to offset fuel savings.
Improving Trucks Design and fuel efficiency
This leads to improvement in vehicle efficiency and thus environmental benefits.
Table - Strategies adopted in solving urban freight problems

Experts are now arguing that traditional strategy of banning trucks during day time or restricting truck movement or banning NMT freight may cause environmental damage.  The external costs of trucks are high and urban freight is as big a problem as passenger transport. Increasing population, economic growth, motorization and sprawl are all affecting freight movement as passenger movement. Following are some of the aspects that need to be considered before considering solutions for urban freight:

1.     High Intensity of urban freight movement – Research shows that in India, the urban freight VKT in total metropolitan VKT is substantial with 37% contribution. Latest research from China indicates that cars and trucks tend to be the largest contributors to CO2 emissions in urban areas. The larger cities with high industrial sectors or ports activity, such as Guangzhou, Chongqing, and Wuhan, tend to have at least half of their energy use and CO2 emission coming from trucks. In Bangkok, delivery motorcycles make nearly 4.6 million vehicle-kilometers per day. The main reason for such a high intensity is the existing traffic management strategies which are conducive for motorcycle freight. Investigations in Hong Kong reveal that on an average, goods vehicles made approximate 7.4 trips per day. Goods vans, light goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles made an average of 7.7 to 7.9 trips per day. Medium goods vehicles made fewer trips per day (6.7 trips per day) while container vehicles made 6.4 trips per day. Interestingly, the total travel/day on an average was 87 km. 

2.     Myth about city registrations – Latest survey in Guangzhou, China shows that majority of trucks operating in the city/region is registered elsewhere. The number of heavy/medium duty trucks registered outside Guangzhou outnumber the trucks registered in Guangzhou by 2.6 : 1, to 36.7: 1. For light duty trucks the ratio is about the same, and for mini duty trucks the ratio is reversed.  At 2 cargo centers surveyed in Guangzhou, more than 95% heavy duty trucks were registered outside Guangdong Province. This shows that trucks registered outside Guangzhou contribute significantly to the freight transportation. This makes it very difficult to look for city based solutions.

3.     Composition of operating cost of city trucks - Survey in Hong Kong reveals that salary costs account for 60-70% of urban freight movement. Fuel costs are only 10-30%. This is a significant point often missed by policy makers.

4.     CO2 Emissions – Consider the case of Manila, experts have analyzed the impact of large freight restrictions and found that such measures are not effective from a regional point of view though may be effective from an area specific scale.  The researchers have found that abolishing the existing truck restriction would lead to lower traffic and environmental impacts among the scenarios, this alternative might encounter difficulty in implementation and resistance from the stakeholders.

5.     Air Pollution - Consider the case of Delhi, experts here used the traffic management option commonly adopted in Asia i.e. to ban truck movement in daytime. Though this initially reduced the PM levels during the daytime, however, due to the rapid growth in truck numbers during the night time, the contribution of trucks to day-time PM levels is increasing as night time emissions linger into the daytime. 

6.     Air Pollution – Experience from Bangkok and Tianjin shows that Trucks contribute 59% and 44% of PM emissions from transport.

7.     Research from Europe has indicated that a leading freight provider like La Petite Reine with 50 employees and 53 bikes by 2007 had transported 700,000 packages, a total of 210,000 km. In the process they displaced nearly 600,000 tonne-kilometres of van transport in Paris alone and saved 204 tonnes of CO2 emissions.  Research also indicates that the most customers for cycle freight cite the environment as a factor in their choice, but consider cost, speed and reliability to be of higher priorities.  This necessitates a discussion as to if the freight NMT transport share would increase if there is some kind of restriction on motor vehicles.

Finding solutions to urban freight is very important. Currently, in midst of urbanization and motorization, the policy makers are struggling to find solutions for sustainable urban freight and thus initiating policies which creates conflicts with passenger transport and which are contradictory in nature.  It’s not an easy task. Efficient freight solutions need careful planning and vision.

[1] It is also to be noted that research from India has in fact shown that the composition of freight vehicles in the total fleet is significant ( 5-30%) and the quantum of freight flow has exhibited no correlation with the size of city in terms of population and the dominant commodities were food products and building materials. The solutions for such commodities need to be different. The freight sector in general has been a victim of policy neglect.