Urban distribution centers (UDCs) are opening at unprecedented rates to meet rising home delivery demand. The trend has raised concerns over the equity and environmental justice implications of ecommerce’s negative externalities. However, little research exists connecting UDC location to the concentration of urban freight-derived air pollution among marginalized populations.
Using spatial data of Amazon UDCs in metropolitan Seattle, this study quantifies the socio-spatial distribution of home delivery-related commercial vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT), corresponding air pollution, and explanatory factors. Results reveal that racial and income factors are relevant to criteria air pollutant exposure caused by home deliveries, due to tracts with majority people of color being closer in proximity to UDCs and highways. Tracts with majority people of color face the highest median concentration of delivery vehicle activity and emissions despite ordering less packages than white populations. While both cargo van and heavy-duty truck emissions disproportionately affect people of color, the socio-spatial distribution of truck emissions shows higher sensitivity to fluctuations in utilization.
Prioritizing environmental mitigation of freight activity further up the urban distribution chain in proximity to UDCs, therefore, would have an outsized impact in minimizing disparities in ecommerce’s negative externalities.
Fried, T., Verma, R., & Goodchild, A. (2024). Ecommerce and Environmental Justice in Metro Seattle. Research in Transportation Economics, 103, 101382. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.retrec.2023.101382