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Roadblocks to Sustainable Urban Freight

Start Date: January 2020
Funding: Amazon
Project Budget: $50,000
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Anne Goodchild
While freight transportation is a necessary activity to sustain cities’ social and economic life, enabling the movement and deployment of goods and services in and between urbanized areas, it also accounts for a significant portion of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and therefore it is a major contributor to climate change. Guaranteeing an efficient and sustainable urban freight transport ecosystem is necessary for cities to survive and tackle the climate emergency.
Several stakeholders in the private and public sectors are currently taking action and drafting roadmaps to achieve such goals. However, as the urban freight ecosystem is a complex network of stakeholders, achieving such sustainability goals requires collaboration and coordination between multiple agents.
The project will collect and synthesize expert views from both the private and public sectors on what is needed to sustainably deliver the last mile and aims at identifying the roadblocks towards this goal. All types of goods and services will be considered, with the end goal of raising the entire industry’s understanding of the barriers to achieving sustainable urban freight.


Task 1: Research Scan (September-November 2020) Subtasks:

  1. identify an accepted and shared definition of sustainable urban freight;
  2. identify and classify the main agents of the urban freight system from both the private and public sectors and their main role in the last-mile ecosystem;
  3. identify and classify the main accepted strategies currently adopted towards sustainability.
The research team will also define the boundaries of the study, including the geographical region of concentration.

Task 2: Private sector expert interviews (December 2020-April 2021)

The main private sector agents identified in Task 1 will include vehicle manufacturers, retailers, carriers and more. The research team will identify and reach out to representatives of at least 15 companies. Participants will be interviewed using an open question format and will have an optional follow-up online survey. The objectives of the interviews and surveys are:
  1. listing the current strategies adopted to reach sustainable urban freight;
  2. understanding what the impacts are of other private and public sectors agents’ decisions on their sustainability strategies;
  3. identifying agents’ needs and obstacles to achieve their stated sustainable goals.

Task 3: Public sector expert interviews (December 2020-April 2021)

The research team will identify different urban typologies, classifying cities into homogeneous groups according to economic, demographic, urban form, mobility and sustainability indicators. The typologies will be used to sample cities from each identified urban typology.
The team will then reach out to representatives from the public sector agents from the sampled cities, including regulators, planners and public utility representatives, and perform a combination of online survey and online/phone interviews. At least 15 representatives from public sector agents will be contacted. The objectives of the interviews are:
  1. listing the current policies adopted by cities towards sustainable urban freight, including infrastructure investments and transport demand management;
  2. understanding what the obstacles are to achieve sustainability goals.

Task 4: Synthesizing research and identifying roadblocks (May-June 2021)

Synthesizing the work of the previous 3 tasks, and applying the research team’s own expertise, this task will identify the key obstacles to sustainable urban freight. Through a review of existing writings, discussions with experts, and their own domain expertise, the research team will identify the obstacles in the areas of transportation technology, infrastructure, and policy. This review will consider the obstacles in public sector, barriers to private business decision making, and where the two sectors need to take a collaborative approach. The results obtained in the study will be made available publicly as a white paper or submitted for scientific journal publication.