Send a DHL package to the centre of Amsterdam and there is a good chance it will take an unconventional multimodal journey. Bikes, with their ability to navigate the last mile in the narrow, busy streets of Amsterdam’s old centre, act as the last link in an unconventional logistics chain.
Here’s the chain in full:
Step 1: Plane
Packages arrive at Amsterdam Schipol airport by plane and are sent to a nearby DHL sorting centre. So far, so normal.
Step 2: Electric Vehicle
At the sorting centre, electric vans collect the packages and take them to a dock on the northwestern edge of the city centre. This involves a road journey of around 22km, much of which necessarily takes place through urban areas, so electric vans are used to avoid emissions.
Step 3: Boat
At the dock, packages are transferred onto a specially adapted boat. Dubbed the “DHL Express Floating Service Centre”, it travels down Amsterdam’s iconic canals to a pre-arranged city centre mooring.
Step 4: Bike
Packages are then transferred onto bikes and taken to their final destinations.
Arguably the most unusual part of this journey is the boat-bike combination. ‘Hollands Glorie’, built in 1947 as a pleasure cruiser, was converted and is now a multi-functional space; part delivery vehicle, part container, part sorting office. The bikes are also stored onboard at night – which involves a slightly awkward lifting process from dock to boat. DHL began using the boat to deliver to the centre of Amsterdam in 1997, complimented by a fleet of 6 bikes, a number which has now grown to 9. The scheme was made permanent following a successful 18-month trial.
Switching to the boat/bike combination allowed DHL to reduce their city centre vehicle fleet from 10 to 2 at the time. This amounted to 150,000km less travelled per annum, saving 12,000 litres of fuel. All whilst the agility of the boat-bike combination allowed overall capacity to grow. To this day however, DHL does still deliver larger packages to the centre with vans, some of which are also served by the boat and some of which are not. Some of these vans are electric and some diesel.
This multimodal chain is also reversed for collections – with bikes taking on the first mile and the boat meeting the electric vans again at the dock, before a return journey to Schipol… and then the world.
Innovations: multimodal, boat-bike
Country: The Netherlands
Bike Manufacturer(s): Larry vs Harry/Bullitt
Facebook: DHL Facebook
Twitter: DHL NL Twitter (Dutch)
Carlos Ocampo-Martinez (2015): “Transport of Water versus Transport over Water” p421
Volkskrant: “Pakjesboot DHL mag langer door grachten” (August 1999)(Dutch)
Nieuwsblad Transport: “DHL-boot zorgt voor laag ziekteverzuim” (December 2001)(Dutch)
Reuters: “In Amsterdam, packages travel via canals, bicycles” (July 2009)
Kombuispraat Forum (Feb 2014)(Dutch)
Vereigninging ‘De Binnenvaart’: “Databank: De Binnenvaartschepen > Hollands Glorie” (Dutch)