Decarbonising the last mile: The challenge ahead

The pandemic has complicated the picture by accelerating behavioural change.

City space especially has seen armadas of delivery vehicles taking to the streets to fulfil deliveries for large bases of demanding customers. Be honest, when was the last time you were happy to wait for more than a couple of working days for an online order? As shoppers, we have become spoiled. We want everything in our hands within hours of checking out.

Now this itself is not necessarily an issue. After all, harnessing technology to make our lives more convenient is a marvellous thing. But we shouldn’t stop there. We also need to be pushing for innovation to deliver that added convenience sustainably.

While we already see creeping deterioration in overall air quality, even in smaller towns and cities, congestion issues, and anti-social use of vehicles – I think we are still yet to see the real effect of this behavioural shift start to bite.

Come July 19th, when the final restrictions on social distancing are *hopefully* lifted, a lot of our pre-pandemic challenges will return and will need promptly addressing. I refer principally here to the challenge of congestion management.

Our streets are fundamentally not built to deal with this additional volume of light goods vehicles. Frankly, they ask too much of their environments. They take up too much space and contribute to already high levels of pollutants, culminating in the degradation of liveability and quality of life for residents. Even the shift to more widespread electric vehicle usage is unlikely to alleviate the issue, as an electric van is still ‘traffic’. It will still possess the potential to hold up other road users whose engines will still be idling.

Technology can save us from the challenges it has created.

So what is the answer? I referred earlier to the application of technology to deliver customer expectations sustainably. The application of emerging technology over the last mile has enormous potential to increase sustainability by offering several viable alternatives to our current reliance on ICE vehicles, as well as new delivery management solutions.

Fortunately, there is a vibrant community of entrepreneurs and businesses working hard to build these solutions and demonstrate an ability to fulfil our changing behaviours and demands as consumers sustainably. I would go even further in saying that I think this community is at the forefront of the dawn of a new age in sustainable transportation innovation.

The signs have been there over the past few years. Microprocessor and lithium-ion battery prices have reduced significantly, while their power has increased exponentially – driving innovation in micromobility and intelligent vehicle design. In particular, the cargo-bike industry has seen a host of manufacturers bringing new vehicle formats to market, including our Nottingham neighbours, Raleigh.

Crucially, public awareness and support for using these new forms of transport are beginning to grow, leading to a palpable sense of change. We must capitalise on this momentum to drive the real change we need, not only for our immediate benefit but for the benefit of future generations. We have reached a turning point where the decisions and commitments we make to sustainable choices today will play an extensive role in shaping all of our futures.

For the city and the community.

The only way I see us making the right decision at this crucial stage is to keep campaigning and demonstrating the capability of alternatives to ICE goods vehicles in populated areas. We must push those that do business in our cities to accelerate the pace at which they shift to these new alternatives.

It is the right thing for our cities and the communities that make them.

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