The Week in Mobility News — O5 November 2020

Lockdown 2.0 — lifting the lid on logistics

I ordered a light bulb from Amazon and I’m moderately ashamed about it. I could have bought the same light bulb by walking 600m to Gill’s Hardware store, in doing so upping my step count, engaging with humans and supporting a local business. Instead I opted to further line Jeff Bezos’ already deep pockets.

As we enter Lockdown 2.0, my choice of lightbulb source switches from one of laziness to one of necessity. Lockdown online shopping will be amplified by Diwali, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Hannukah and Christmas, as well as boredom combatting pledges for indoor activities. This will be evidenced by a swathe of delivery vans dropping off troves of assorted packages and cardboard boxes.

We have seen a radical shift in moving towards stuff to stuff moving to us. My question is, does e-commerce add more or less vehicles and congestion to our roads? There are innumerable variables that make it near impossible to make a meaningful conclusion.

In Cong Peng’s Thesis “Does E-Commerce Reduce Traffic Congestion? Evidence from Alibaba Single Day Shopping Event” (larger in scale to Black Friday) he estimated that a 10% increase in online shopping reduced traffic congestion by about 1.4%. Vans delivering to a dense area of homes is better than those same households performing multiple single trips to shops.

However many shopping trips are not singular or discrete, rather people perform their own consolidation of purchases and activities. The extreme of that possibly being Aldi. A meander down Aldi’s central aisle makes it possible to buy and transport home a lawnmower, the complete works of Shakespeare and eggs in one go. Additionally, it’s likely that that Aldi trip was completed on the way home from work, meaning those purchases won’t add an additional vehicle or vehicle trip to the road.

Logistics companies do this on a much grander scale. The algorithms that go into the aggregating of deliveries into a dense area is critical to maximising profit by delivering as much as possible with the fewest vehicles and drivers possible.

However bulk deliveries of goods to shops and warehouses doesn’t take up the same space as goods delivered directly to your home. If I ordered a tube of Smarties online, its packaging would likely resemble a fortnox style game of pass the parcel. However, in February 2005 Smarties swapped their cylindrical packaging to a hexagonal tube owing to its ability to tesselate and therefore reduce the volume of empty space being transported.

Logistics companies’ real bug bear comes in the form of missed deliveries. The “Sorry we missed you” notice should be read in a passive aggressive tone from someone in the delivery company’s finance department. Missing a delivery means that journey will be repeated several times — driving to Tescos multiple times to find it closed each time would be a terribly inefficient thing to do.

Perhaps the next month of lockdown, which comes armed with increased online spending, reduced commuting and reduced likelihood of missing a delivery, may at least remove a few more variables to offer us a clearer view of what the answer might be. A logistics silver lining…

Ultimately if switching almost entirely to e-commerce does indeed reduce congestion, it is only really replacing one behaviour with a slightly better one. What if it was the aspiration of customers, retailers and logistics companies alike to ultimately reduce the net number of vehicles on the road and the number of vehicle trips. How could this change purchase behaviour? The complexity of a supply chain could become partly the responsibility of a consumer, electing to consolidate, aggregate, locally source and walk where possible. Naive certainly, but also possibly the only route for sustainable and resilient spending that can help keep high streets and communities thriving.

Elsewhere in the industry

  • Pneumatic underground tubes for waste removal are gaining traction in the US — Axios
  • Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo will remove half of the city’s parking spaces — Forbes
  • Inside Alibaba’s new retail strategy
  • Architect Bjarke Ingels proposes plan to redesign Earth and stop climate change — Dezeen
  • Uber’s driver rating system is biased — NPR
  • Tesla to launch a new service centre every week in 2021 — Electrive
  • GM announces e-crate conversion kit — Electrek
  • California voters approved Prop22 meaning Uber and Lyft can continue to classify drivers as independent contractors -Business Insider
  • Alphabet’s latest moonshot is a plant inspecting robo-bugg — TechCrunch
  • Korea’s delivery drivers demand change — BBC News

Miscellaneous

Gartner’s Hype Cycle is a graphical depiction of a common pattern that arises with each new technology or other innovation. Each year, Gartner creates more than 90 Hype Cycles in various domains as a way to track technology maturity and future potential. This 8 minute video shows what 25 year of plotting the Gartner Hype Cycle can tell us.

Imogen Pierce — Head of Experience Strategy

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Fully Charged, ex-Arrival Ltd —Sustainability, Mobility, Tech, Books and anything in between

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Imogen Pierce

Fully Charged, ex-Arrival Ltd —Sustainability, Mobility, Tech, Books and anything in between