Logistics Micro-depots: successful solutions for last-mile sustainability

Tricycles, cargohoppers, micro-depots: the parcel delivery sector is employing a range of new concepts to reduce its environmental impact. A look at successful recent examples.

Armadillo cargobike in Berlin (Photo: Hermes)

Since the turn of the century, the number of parcel deliveries in Germany has doubled. By 2022, it is expected to reach 4.3 billion per year. Other European countries face a similar situation, with increasingly congested city centres only adding to the challenge. As authorities and logistics companies look to boost sustainability and cut CO2 emissions, they are turning to a range of different solutions.

It measures 1.25 metres wide, 16 metres long and travels at just 25 km/h: the cargohopper has become a common sight on the streets of Utrecht in the Netherlands. After a 2007 ban on diesel vehicles in the city centre, the electric-powered cargohopper was introduced to distribute parcels around Utrecht’s narrow streets, replacing five to eight delivery vans each day. Photovoltaic cells on the roof provide the tractor-like vehicle with solar power nine months a year; the rest comes from CO2-neutral electricity sources. From August 2009 to April 2011, it carried out 18,500 stops and delivered 85,185 packages, replacing more than 200,000 diesel kilometres and reducing CO2 emissions by 73%, a study said.

Encouraging pedal power in San Sebastián

Pedelec delivery bikes and a distribution centre are helping to reduce noise levels and congestion in the Spanish city of San Sebastián. Started in 2009, the system sees trucks take deliveries to a central distribution centre, before parcels are loaded onto cargo bikes and taken to customers within a six-kilometre radius. By replacing around 27,000 kilometres that would otherwise have been driven by delivery vans, this saves 13 tonnes of CO2 each year. It’s part of a wider effort by the city to encourage cycling, with a network of bike lanes added to San Sebastián’s streets to reduce traffic congestion and help the delivery riders to easily reach their destinations.

Paris: three steps to greener delivery

A similar method is also being applied to one of Europe’s largest and busiest cities with Paris’ three-tiered ‘distripolis’ approach. First, parcels are taken to distribution centres around the outskirts of the French capital; then they are taken to eco-friendly BLUE depots within the city centre; and for the last mile, the packages are delivered by electric-powered vehicles or bikes. The solution is precisely coordinated by a central IT system that has managed the expansion of the electric fleet from 400 to 5,200 vehicles. CO2 emissions for deliveries have fallen from approximately 2,000 to 308 tonnes per year.

Cargo bike – 1:1 replacement for a delivery van

A recent study by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Cologne addresses the potential of micro-depots for city logistics. Analyses in various German cities showed that up to 30% of urban parcel deliveries could be covered by micro-depots. Logistics developers and city planners must create more opportunities for mobile and stationary micro-depots, the study says. Co-author Professor Ralf Bogdanski: “Where the concept can be reasonably applied, a cargo bike can act as a 1:1 replacement for a delivery van.”

Hermes replacing delivery vans in Berlin

The potential of cargo bikes to replace delivery vans is also being tested by the KoMoDo project in Berlin. Started in 2018, KoMoDo uses a micro-depot in the area of Prenzlauer Berg to receive deliveries by truck for project partners Hermes, DHL, DPD and other delivery firms. From there, electric cargo bikes take the parcels to customers. In 10 months, the bikes have travelled around 38,000 kilometres and delivered 160,000 parcels, saving 11 tonnes of CO2 versus conventional delivery vehicles.

“Hermes has made 58,000 zero-emission deliveries and replaced three to five delivery vehicles in the area,” says Michael Peuker, KoMoDo project lead at Hermes Germany. “Above all, the key to success and the economic scalability of these concepts is the availability of city centre real estate for the micro-depots.”

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