“Why deliver two-pound burritos in two-ton cars?”
That’s the question posed by sidewalk delivery robot company Serve, which is delivering food in places like Los Angeles. Sure, using something other than a car for items like a burrito makes sense. But what about a sofa? Urban delivery is all about right-sizing, context, and connecting logically and efficiently to the broader delivery network.
At the Urban Freight Lab (UFL), we talk about things like sidewalk delivery robots and e-bikes as microfreight. Microfreight is about moving goods using smaller, more sustainable modes where possible. Think micromobility, but for moving goods, not people, in the last mile of delivery.
Microfreight was one of the four topics UFL members voted to explore as part of the Urban Freight in 2030 Project. In the right city context, using microfreight can be both economical for freight businesses and more sustainable in terms of decarbonization and city dweller quality of life. We intentionally chose to hold the UFL spring meeting on microfreight in New York City, a city on the leading edge of the multimodal goods movement. The city’s perch on that leading edge makes sense, as the densest city in the U.S.; a city with sky-high delivery demand coming from people living in sky-high towers; and a city government working to proactively manage that reality. To be sure, NYC is one of a kind when it comes to dense, vertical living. Because of this density and intense interaction between modes, the Big Apple is an important place to watch — and a great place for us to share learning, expertise, and ideas.
And when we watched the Midtown Manhattan streets during that UFL meeting, we saw throngs of people on e-bikes and cargo bikes making food and ecommerce deliveries. But microfreight is about much more than just bikes. It includes personal delivery devices (PDDs) and drones. It even includes walking, an element that permeates nearly every last-mile delivery segment, especially the final 50 feet of a trip. Yet walking is something normally talked about for moving people, much less so for moving goods. To be sure, we saw plenty of deliveries being made on foot while in NYC, too!
Here’s a rundown of what we consider to be microfreight.
"What is Microfreight? Downsizing Delivery for a Multimodal and Sustainable Future." Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, June 19, 2023. https://www.goodsmovement2030.com/post/microfreight-downsizing-delivery-for-a-multimodal-and-sustainable-future.