Night-time deliveries are the solution to urban delivery challenges

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Edouard Barreiro, chief expansion officer at Citibox, explains how night-time deliveries, in combination with micro hub networks and environmentally friendly last-mile delivery solutions, can combat the challenges facing the urban delivery market.

Globally e-commerce continues to grow at double digit rates. Transportation companies, especially those involved in last-mile delivery, have had to scale their operations to cope with these rapidly increasing volumes, mainly by adding depots and vehicles in cities that are not structured for that. According to a report produced for the World Economic Forum (2020)[1], the demand for last-mile delivery is soaring and is expected to grow by 78% globally by 2030. The inevitable consequences are increased pollution, traffic jams and noise. This means that urban logistics are viewed negatively by the authorities, especially in cities, and by some consumers as a tangible impact of e-commerce that should be reduced or at least contained by the appropriate regulations.

As a result, various regulations and restrictions pop up around the world including tolling, access restrictions, vehicles bans and more space given for pedestrian areas. While the carriers are aware of this and are working to roll out adapted technologies and operations, there is a lack of truly effective solutions and they are often very expensive when available. With such obstacles, carriers are not able to adapt at the appropriate speed to these expectations of authorities and consumers.

The role of electric vehicles and cargo bikes
It is clear that environmentally friendly solutions such as electric vehicles (EVs) and cargo bikes are part of the solution. However, alone they will never be sufficient and if not thought through properly, they can create more issues than they solve. EVs are an excellent solution to reduce pollution, carbon emissions and noise but they still suffer from the need to add more vehicles as e-commerce continues to grow. More vehicles on the road – even electric ones – means more traffic congestion, and as a consequence, more pollution and more noise from the other vehicles. Saturation of available space, especially when parking to make deliveries, leads inevitably to less space for pedestrians, for bicycles and for ordinary vehicles.

An increased use of delivery via e-bikes and other alternative vehicles can help in avoiding parking issues but creates new problems – for example, the need for a network of micro-depots inside cities, where space is rare and expensive, and which need to be supplied by trucks. Even if this supply can be partially solved with non-peak deliveries, these solutions still require more vehicles on the streets and the smaller these vehicles are the more are needed. So, all those solutions are necessary but not sufficient, and should be carefully thought and planned.

Developing night-time deliveries
Urban logistics needs to be reinvented to cope with these demands, taking consumer preferences into consideration. This means that there are two broad issues to solve – how to deliver efficiently (both in terms of cost and environmentally) while incorporating the strong preference of the consumer for home deliveries. The best way to solve this is through night deliveries. At night, drivers can deliver more quickly, without traffic disturbance and with less negative effect on the cities. However, how can deliveries be made at night when the recipients are sleeping? This is the issue that Citibox proposes to solve.

We do this by installing very convenient parcel boxes inside residential buildings and, secondly, by deploying a technology that enables registered carriers to enter safely into those buildings, thanks to a unique and traceable authorization, during the night. For the consumer this is invisible and non-intrusive. They order a package as normal, but that package can be delivered to the home address during the night while the recipient sleeps. When they wake in the morning, they see a notification in their phone informing them that a parcel waits for them in ‘box X’, and they can then collect it, from the convenience of their home, when they want, with the Citibox app.

The beauty of night deliveries is that you add efficiencies by enabling a carrier depot to work 24/7. Indeed, in the same facility, with the same numbers of vehicles, you can have a day operation, for example for B2B and urgent volume, and a night operation for B2C e-commerce volumes. The number of vehicles and facilities needed is then reduced, and carriers can adapt to e-commerce volume growth while minimizing investments and the impact on the environment and cities’ infrastructure.

Although we are not aware of cities that have implemented night deliveries as a permanent solution, various experiments have been made with different types of deliveries in New York, Paris, Barcelona and Dublin, and the results were always positive with a substantial increase in productivity. The experiments in Barcelona and Dublin indicated that one of the main gains is the ability to replace multiple smaller trucks with a bigger one, and in Barcelona, two trucks could replace up to seven vehicles[2].

The benefits and challenges
Each actor has something to gain in night deliveries. The carriers gain substantial productivity as the driver spends less time on the road. They can then do more stops and deliver more packages. This productivity is also increased by using parcel boxes, as in a building you have a unique point to deliver all the packages to and reduce the cost of failed deliveries.

Cities and communities enjoy less traffic and a reduction in pollution, and more areas can be turned over to cycling, parks or pedestrianized areas. For the consumer, night deliveries mean home delivery can be guaranteed without any specific organization.

Some cities are already seeing the benefits of night deliveries and have adapted their regulations accordingly, such as Paris and several Spanish cities, but more will need to adapt their legal framework to make night-time deliveries a common occurrence. There are also issues with nigh-time working in terms of company culture and making sure working conditions are not negatively impacted by the change. The cost of the labor is also higher at night, but we assume that, if the shift is done properly, the increase of productivity from operating at night should easily close the gap.

How can Citibox help?
Citibox offers the parcel locker infrastructure and a powerful platform that enables companies to deliver and collect packages at any moment of the night and day. It means a 100% success rate for the first delivery attempt to a central delivery point in the building. A lock installed in the building entrance enables the carrier to enter at any time with a one-time authorization. They will be allowed to enter only if they have a package to deliver, and all the information related to their entrance will be recorded. Citibox enables contactless deliveries at home and during Covid-19 lockdown, deliveries to our boxes grew by 67%.

Citibox is currently available in Spain, especially in Madrid where we have 21,400 boxes installed. In October 2020, we launched the service in Paris, with the goal of an official roll-out across the Paris region at the beginning of 2021 and to further big French cities from the second half of 2021. We are also working on launching the service in various new cities in Europe in the next two years and thereafter in the rest of the world.

To learn more about delivering sustainable urban logistics, read The Big City in the December 2020 issue of Parcel and Postal Technology International magazine

[1] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_the_last_mile_ecosystem.pdf

[1] http://www.rupprecht-consult.eu/uploads/tx_rupprecht/7_inner_city_night_delivery.pdf and https://www.atm.cat/web/jornades/20190327/Dum-llibre-blanc.pdf 

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