RIPPL #54: A Call to Action for COVID Recovery and Urban Freight – Guest Post by Sam Starr

Sam Starr is a Vancouver-based Sustainable Cities Cycle Logistics Expert & Consultant.

by Sam Starr

As cities reel from the lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, eCommerce has accelerated, streets are being reallocated for active transportation, and small businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Citizens are shifting away from public transportation, leading to a rise in personal vehicle use, and ultimately congestion. Bicycle and pedal-assist cycles are needed as an alternative mode of transport, and cargo cycles as a new sustainable vehicle powering urban goods movement. Resilience in the urban goods transport network can be achieved, through the use of Urban Consolidation Centres (UCCs) or mini-hubs in tandem with these cargo cycles, trikes, and light electric vehicles (LEVs). This triple-bottom-line solution requires a solid strategy and the proper use of tactics and collaboration to achieve success. 

eCommerce meets the street. Source: New York Times

Municipalities should leverage the concept of a Physical Internet®️, and conduct a thorough understanding of the types of freight and all stakeholders involved, to establish a comprehensive Urban Freight Strategy. The strategy should actively be led by a City Logistics Manager, responsible to oversee strategies and deliver pilot projects, policy, and programs to reduce pollution and accelerate sustainable solutions. Policies from Zero Emission Zones, nighttime deliveries, curb management, urban hubs, lockers, and an improved, cohesive cycling network should all be leveraged. Projects such as the London Construction Consolidation Centres (LCCC), act as logistics centres for the construction industry. The project demonstrates that even an industrial industry can leverage cargo cycles and LEVs and reduce emissions and congestion, all while building the urban environment.

The Physical Internet can be applied on a variety of scales. Graphic Source: Benoit Montreuil, Georgia Institute of Technology

Urban consolidation hubs have been piloted across the globe using multiple business models, and those with municipal backing and support are more impactful than others. While large couriers continue to test cycle logistics operations as a first and final mile solution, the business case here in North America has been more challenging with the contractor models and unions involved. Large couriers also have limited interest in other companies performing deliveries for them; however, if forced or incentivized to collaborate, particularly through a public or NGO organization, consolidation and optimization can be achieved.

The fully integrated cycle logistics model, where multiple freight and parcel carriers feed a hub, and local carriers perform deliveries through several cycle logistics businesses like, City Hub, Simply Mile, Binnenstadservice, etc. across the Netherlands. While these hubs do not encompass all urban freight within these municipalities, the program establishes a model and a network that can be further developed through state, provincial, and federal collaboration towards the fully integrated vision.

KoMoDo Projekt Berlin, Germany. Source: Andrea Reidl

Governance structures in these projects are critical to their success; as it is important not to create competition with the private sector, but to collaborate with them, and at the same time provide cost-effective complementary services for the community. Non-profits, NGOs, or public-private partnerships, and co-operatives operating urban hubs reduce the competitive threat. Within North America the delivery business co-operative model has proven successful for cycle logistics companies, like SHIFT Delivery in Vancouver. Another advantage of the co-operative model is that if a municipality deploys a co-operative network of sustainable couriers, the couriers feel empowered, and cartelization can be prevented.

KoMoDo Projekt Berlin, Germany. Source:

Now is the time for action, and municipalities must act quickly and strategically. COVID has highlighted the need for resilient solutions to support the rapid rise in eCommerce, sustain the local economy, and combat congestion and pollution. Incentivizing, subsidizing, and piloting UCCs in multiple forms, with multiple stakeholders, when complemented with pollution-reducing policies and accessible cycling infrastructure, accelerates the shift to sustainable goods movement and cycle logistics. Municipalities should not be afraid to lead the way through collaboration and vision; enabling a more connected, integrated, efficient, sustainable, and equitable framework and platform for urban logistics to thrive in the post-COVID era.

Sam S. Starr is a Sustainable Cities Cycle Logistics Expert & Consultant based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Check out a recent cycle logistics webinar featuring Sam here: Hauling Goods with eCargo Bikes – FORTH Mobility webinar

Header image: SHIFT Delivery Co-operative, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: SHIFT Delivery Co-operative.