Image by Gemeente Groningen
Capturing insights related to the implementation of urban logistics, an interview with Damien Stubbe from the ULaaDs project details how pilots in the lighthouse cities - Mechelen, Bremen, and Groningen - were planned and where they currently stand, as well as the challenges that the cities faced when defining the pilots.
Q: How were the ULaaDS pilots in Mechelen, Bremen and Groningen planned, and what is their current status?
“The process of setting up trials has turned out to be an incredibly difficult, but highly educational process.”
DS: The initial planning of the trials took place during the proposal phase of the project, and all three cities took a different approach.
In Mechelen, three commercial parties were invited to join the project, with a focus on cargo bike logistics, but the trial was not defined in detail. During the project, the partners came together to define the trial, focusing on collaboration for pickup at local shops; however, it turned out to be very difficult to define a framework for collaboration. Due to commercial concurrency, the use of subcontractors, and insufficient buy-in from the director’s board, this trial unfortunately never reached a real testing phase.
The second trial in Mechelen was about cargo-hitching with an autonomous vehicle. During the project, the opportunity arose to join forces with another European project, ART-Forum, to enlarge impact. The joint effort led to the effective testing of an autonomous vehicle to transport people and packages at a business park during the summer of 2022, and to the identification of possibilities for future business models related to the topic. The trial resulted in meaningful insights, including the conclusion that autonomous vehicles are maybe not yet ready for full immersion in daily city logistics, certainly not in a cargo-hitching scheme.
Bremen took a different approach by chosing two existing trials and scaling these up in ULaaDs. The first trial is about standardised micro hubs and cargo bikes, and the delivery of goods inside the city (infrastructure and bikes delivered by Rytle), while the second trial focuses on private logistics in which citizens can book a cargo bike for a day and save a car trip this way. The trials are currently running and already have quite promising results. It also shows that too much new and combined innovation in a trial can be a blocking factor when it comes to achieving positive results.
Groningen is trialing both a schared (rental) sustainable logistics vehicles scheme among local shopkeepers, as well as public parcel lockers at a mobility hub (park and ride zone) outside the city. The trial involving the lockers is, for practical reasons, turning out to be a very difficult trial. Firstly, it was a difficult to get electricity at the necessary space, and secondly – when everything seemed ready to start – the internal land use planning department highlighted safety concerns since the lockers would block safety cameras, which meant that solutions needed to be found. This case shows that there are always more implications than expected in the definition of trials.
Q: Why were these pilots chosen for these specific cities?
DS: The cities were in the lead when defining the trials. They did have to take into account the basic principles of the project, namely to create sustainable business models for collaborative and shared city logistics solutions, or the integration of passenger and urban freight transport. Where Bremen opted for realistic, yet less innovative solutions, Mechelen chose to radically innovate and learn. Groningen is, in my opinion, somewhere in between. It all depends a bit on the local needs and possibilities, and the city’s willingness to participate.
Q: What were the main challenges in defining pilots in ULaaDS?
DS: Defining pilots in a European project is a challenging process. To create a project proposal, you need to define the pilots a year before the project even starts, without knowing if the proposal will be accepted. Effective trialling does not usually start during the first year of a project that has been accepted. Therefore, you have to convince stakeholders to become project partners two years in advance to join and define a trial. In those two years, a lot can and will change, especially within the participating businesses, and considering that new technologies and policies may also be introduced, making it challenging to stick to the original plan. Therefore, it is good to leave room for further definition, but finding the right balance can be tricky. Too many unknown factors can make partners less committed to the project’s end goal. If you have a strong and positive connection with all stakeholders, the process can be easier. If you have to create a new collaborative relationships, however, it can be a challenging and exhausting process.
Q: What have been the strengths and weaknesses of running the pilots and collecting data from the three cities?
DS: When considering the project timeline, the idea was to first define the KPIs (and therefore linked data) with the trial partners, to ensure that the data was available. This turned into an exhaustive long list, a data ‘wish list’. The partners were not willing to give away any of the data without being sure that it was in line with their role in the project. Therefore, we changed the strategy and worked with each individual partner to gather meaningful data. This was (and is) a very intense process, where the responsible partners (Fraunhofer from Germany and Transport Economic Institute from Norway) are gathering data-driven results. Additionally, there are stakeholder fora that are organised by the cities, with help of the Austria-based knowledge institute, IFZ. They also had to play with the possibilities and opportunities that arose within the cities and among the stakeholder groups. In the end, I believe that all participants in the project are showing tremendous flexibility and willingness to bring this project to a successful end; however, the initial plans as they are described in the proposal saw a 180° change.
Q: Do you think the lighthouse cities will transform the pilots into fully-fledged initiatives that continue past the project’s lifetime? What is needed to continue their implementation?
DS: The likelihood of transforming the pilots into fully-fledged initiatives that continue past the project lifetime depends on each trial. As mentioned before, Mechelen took a leap of faith in testing very innovative and difficult setups, and the trials are not yet ready for real implementation. In Bremen, though, since the trials had already existed before ULaaDs, I believe there are good chances for continuation and even replication by other cities. As for Groningen, the trial on shared logistic vehicles has a strong chance of continuing, but it might be more difficult once the financial support stops. It will be very important to clearly define the business model in a practical sense, together with stakeholders to ensure an embedded adoption.
Q: What are the key lessons learned to replicate the pilots in other cities, particularly in the ULaaDS satellite cities?
“A strong stakeholder participation forum, not only in the context of a project but also for city logistics in general, is necessary to implement any type of sustainable innovation.”
DS: There are so many lessons, and if we had to do it all over again, it would have been a different project, with other difficulties and mistakes, of course. However, my learnings can be summarised into the following:
- A strong stakeholder participation forum is important for sustainable innovation implementation (not just within a project, but for city logistics in general);
- It is crucial to set out clear and specific expectations, and to have these in writing;
- It is important to define clear expectations on data-sharing, collaboration, meetings, and dedicated working time at the beginning;
- Maintaining promises and agreements that have been made several years ago is difficult, particularly if there are changes in priorities or circumstances;
- The time span between agreements made on trialling and the start of the actual work to be done should be minimised;
- The understanding that if circumstances change, the rules of the game will change as well.
Q: Based on your experience in ULaaDS, how do you now see the future of urban logistics?
DS: Throughout the course of the ULaaDS project, I have observed a significant transformation taking place in many cities. Logistics, which was once considered just a small part of mobility or economics, has now emerged as a spearhead domain in its own right. Cities are now recognising the urgent need to create a clear vision for sustainable and safe logistics that is seen as a necessary component of city life, rather than a burden.
I have seen that a lot of cities have gained knowledge and experience in this area and have recruited dedicated professionals to help shape their future plans. They are creating Sustainable Urban Logistics Plans (SULPs) that are integrated into their mobility plans, and they are doing this in strong partnership with stakeholders from the quadruple helix: local shopkeepers, citizens, logistics companies, and experts. This collaborative approach represents a significant evolution, in my opinion. Cities are no longer just experimenting with ideas, but are actively seeking the best proposals and solutions that align with their unique needs.
Policy will be a strong trigger in levering the shift towards sustainable city logistics, something that all cities acknowledge today, as well. It will require significant political courage to implement these regulations, as they may not make all stakeholders equally happy. Strong and effective stakeholder management will be the key to successful implementation.
I am optimistic that a real shift towards sustainable logistics will be created in the next few years, perhaps by 2030.
Read the full interview on the ULaaDS website.
Author: Amy McCready