8th April 2019

Emerging last-mile delivery and mobility solutions – the benefits and challenges

The term ‘last-mile’ used to primarily be associated with supply chain logistics, deliveries and other commercial operations, essentially referring to a product or service’s final journey to end customers. As wide-ranging automotive, environmental, governmental and other bodies strive to clean up the environment and enrich people’s lives through ever-improving mobility, ‘last-mile’ has also become an intrinsic part of various mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions. We look at noteworthy recent developments in both spaces.

Last-mile solutions address irreversible trends

While the UK city of Plymouth1 may unusually be bucking the trend with a 6.6% increase in bricks and mortar footfall during Q1 2019, online shopping has grown exponentially in recent years, Royal Mail’s Delivery Matters report2 identifying for example that online shopping increased to comprise 87% of its business during 2017.

Citing studies and statistics from McKensey & Company and Inrix that respectively point to parcel deliveries across Europe doubling in the next decade and London journey times having risen by 40% in just the last three years, the UK’s most popular van manufacturer, Ford3, has announced a new digital delivery service in partnership with Gnewt by Menzies.

Mobile warehouses from Ford

Dubbed a ‘warehouse on wheels’4 by Ford, teaming up with the UK’s largest fully-electric delivery fleet and last-mile pioneer will surely reap collaborative rewards, the multi-modal project using the blue oval’s intelligent cloud-based MoDe:Link software to handle routing and logistics in real-time from depots all the way to customers.

Last-mile deliveries

Ford’s vans will essentially act as mobile warehouses that then drop parcels off at strategic locations for foot couriers and eventually cyclists to facilitate the last mile. We certainly recognise the venture’s goals of reducing congestion and disruption in urban areas, while making the customer experience more accommodating through reduced delivery windows. Combined with the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning4b, the future of autonomous routing and dispatch is exciting.

Last-mile from a different perspective

In the UAE, where Trak Global Group has operated since 2014, FODEL5 is addressing consumers’ frustrations with often unhelpful and uncertain delivery slots by encouraging parcel recipients to collect them at a time and place convenient to them. Of course, this isn’t a new concept when it comes to the UK, with various ‘click & collect’ services having been in full swing for years, but it surely helps reduce the unnecessary emissions, fuel and congestion often not consciously thought of when it comes to repeated redeliveries.

Dublin’s last-mile focus begins

A year on from posting their original tenders aimed at enhancing “the efficiency and effectiveness of deliveries [and] reducing the number of goods vehicles in their respective urban centres”, which we agree would improve the lives of many citizens, the councils in Belfast and Dublin6 are now beginning to award last-mile delivery contracts.

It was somewhat surprising to learn that the majority of the Irish capital’s retailers said they’re mainly content with current delivery processes, as surely no city is yet as free of congestion as possible and the ubiquitous problem affects Dublin to the tune of €350 million per year, the well-publicised knock-on effect on public health an inseparable consequence. However, retailers’ feedback looks set to lead to safety improvements surrounding deliveries, from cellar doors being closed to commercial vehicles being reminded not to mount kerbs. It’s encouraging to see start-ups like Australia’s Passal plus other relatively new names such as Parkunload and WeDispatch among Dublin’s winning bidders, alongside major operator UPS.

Last-mile’s influence on commercial vehicle design

Deliveries come in all shapes and sizes and it’s entirely feasible that a lorry or large van may at various times carry white goods and bulky furniture at the same time as books, clothes and other smaller parcels, meaning that to be as efficient as possible, courier vehicles need to be able to handle all of those items on one route.

Commercial vehicle conversion specialists, or body-builders as they’re sometimes called, are being forced to innovate in this day and age when box-like bodies are no longer the universal answer, especially when deliveries are now commonly made by drivers. The market space is booming for customising or originally designing medium-duty trucks to meet the proliferation in online shopping, a prime example being Morgan, based in Pennsylvania and with some of its plants facing 3-month order backlogs.

In an interview with Freight Waves7, they revealed that refrigerated bodies with multiple chambers are a key focus, enabling couriers to deliver chilled and frozen food alongside dry goods of a wide variety. It’s very positive that innovations such as pull-out steps and fold-down ramp doors are simultaneously bringing significant improvements for drivers.

A three-wheeled EV targeting the last mile

Sparking thoughts of featuring in a modern version of Only Fools, US startup Arcimoto has released a very promising commercial delivery vehicle called the Deliverator8, which sounds decidedly purposeful. It’s a three-wheeler and, commendably, fully-electric, intended for dense urban areas perfect for its size, which is between a motorcycle and a smallish car. Its 75mph top speed seems superfluous to quote in its publicity, but the Deliverator’s hoped electric range of around 100 miles sounds reasonably decent, especially given its affordable price of just under $20,000.

We can certainly see Arcimoto’s latest innovative vehicle being much easier to manoeuvre in busy cities, and its 350-pound carrying capacity and over 20 cubic feet of cargo space should enable it to be versatile. Even if the Deliverator does turn out to be primarily used for fast-food deliveries, it will still be greener than using motorcycles or small, usually old and potentially unroadworthy cars, and is a step in the right direction.

Local and national government strides

In the UK, the Department for Transport (DfT) has set up a £2million eCargo Bike Grant Fund9 to stimulate interest in electric bikes amongst wide-ranging entities from charities and SMEs to large corporations, to facilitate deliveries whether groceries or vital medicine.

Jesse Norman, the DfT’s Cycling and Walking Minister, has highlighted in the media that the fund is intended to encourage organisations to think, plan and act in more environmentally-friendly ways, and to improve air quality and reduce congestion, sustainable deliveries contributing to a zero-emission world.

Across the other side of the world, in India10, the government is turning attention to last-mile connectivity in metropolitan cities, encompassing electric rickshaws, rented bicycles, bus services, electric scooters, trams, monorails and taxis. States across India including Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi must now incorporate last-mile connectivity from their metros to commuters’ end destinations in a safe, environmentally and economically manageable way.

Hundreds of feeder bus services will play a pivotal role, battery and compressed natural gas (CNG) power are being tendered for to fuel 427 buses in Delhi, and taxi aggregators will operate outside stations. It’s highly encouraging to see multi-modal mobility solutions, including last-mile components, being embraced by a country known for a number of its cities being densely populated.

How OEMs are responding to last-mile demands

Alongside moves such as Ford’s aforementioned collaboration in the commercial last-mile space, car manufacturers11 are increasingly announcing solutions for personal last-mile mobility, with the humble bicycle often at the core. Peugeot recently launched a range of eight e-bikes powered by Bosch batteries, priced from €3,199 and sold in conventional cycle shops rather than through the marque’s dealerships.

The French car-maker has also specifically introduced the eFO1 folding electric bike for its 5008 model, which can be charged using the mobile dock located in the boot, providing a claimed range of up to 40km. While such an offering may not appeal quite as strongly to Peugeot drivers in the UK, we can understand its appeal throughout continental Europe, where bicycles are generally more popular.

It may conceivably become confusing to recall which bicycle is from which manufacturer, as Volkswagen’s commercial delivery proposition is called the Cargo e-Bike. It cleverly incorporates self-levelling to keep its loads stable and upright, and the 250-Watt motor is reportedly good for a range of up to 100km. The chief appeal of VW’s Cargo e-Bike is that no driver’s licence or indeed insurance are required to ride it, although this could be construed as a negative in certain respects.

VW12 additionally showcased a couple of micro-mobility e-scooters at the Geneva Motor Show, namely the Streetmate that can be ridden seated or stood up, and the Cityskater, a collapsible scooter aimed at last-mile users. Recharging in fractionally over two hours at a 500-Watt public station sounds very promising and practical, but the battery can also be recharged in a domestic socket for added flexibility.

Connectivity is increasingly featuring on electric bicycles and three-wheelers, and VW’s Streetmate incorporates a large, weather-proof display through which the control centre is accessed. The rider’s smartphone can be mirrored, which is especially useful for sat nav. An alarm app is provided for remote security alerts, and multiple users can ride the scooter by means of digital key technology.

In the cities of Cologne and Dusseldorf in Germany, Ford has teamed up with Deutsche Bahn Connect as part of its concerted strategy to expand into mobility services and has released over 3,000 FordPass bikes that can be shared via the train operator’s Call a Bike app.

Challenges remain amidst the positivity

With public transport in many of the world’s cities and towns primarily used by the elderly who are less likely to be physically able to utilise scooters, bikes and similar vehicles, by the disabled and by the less affluent, some of whom may not be able to afford smartphones required for so many transport apps, there is the risk that some sections of society may still feel and indeed be left out despite such widespread mobility projects including first and last-mile.

The Linden neighbourhood of Ohio has launched the One Linden Plan13, focussed on low-income users who don’t all have smartphones or even bank accounts. Disabled people and pregnant women are identified in the area’s plans, too. Meanwhile, New York, for example, subsidises rental bikes for lower-income residents, while in places like Brazil and China, bicycles can often be hired equipped with child seats, all such initiatives improving quality of life in ways not often considered, such as the arranging and attendance of health appointments that may otherwise have been avoided due to inaccessibility.

First, last-mile and other components in the journeys of people and goods clearly come in all shapes and sizes and although some solutions carry limitations for certain service-users, the overall direction points to societies of the near future certainly generally becoming less congested, greener and quieter, for the benefit of everyone.

 

Sources:
1. https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/business/its-official-more-shoppers-visiting-2721791
2. https://www.onepostoffice.co.uk/secure/latest-news/our-products/who-are-our-e-commerce-customers/#
3. https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/feu/en/news/2019/02/18/ford_s-new-take-on-getting-parcels-to-your-door-could-help-speed.html
4. https://www.businessvans.co.uk/van-news/ford-trials-last-mile-delivery-warehouse-on-wheels/
4b. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613181/how-machine-learning-is-accelerating-last-mile-and-last-meter-delivery/
5. https://postandparcel.info/103693/news/fodel-puts-an-end-to-the-uncertainty-associated-with-last-mile-delivery/
6. https://fora.ie/dublin-city-last-mile-delivery-companies-4564910-Mar2019/
7. https://www.freightwaves.com/news/equipment/last-mile-driving-change-in-truck-body-options
8. https://www.engadget.com/2019/03/19/arcimoto-deliverator-electric-delivery-vehicle/
9. https://www.shdlogistics.com/news/2m-last-mile-delivery-bike-grant-fund-available
10. https://urbantransportnews.com/govt-of-india-shifts-focus-to-last-mile-connectivity-in-metro-cities/
11. https://www.fleeteurope.com/en/last-mile/europe/analysis/car-makers-explore-bicycle-solutions-last-mile
12. https://www.electrive.com/2019/03/09/volkswagen-reveals-the-streetmate-and-cityskater/
13. https://www.popsci.com/last-mile-public-transit#page-4