Residential communities across the country, including homes, apartment buildings and condominium complexes, are experiencing a huge increase in package deliveries – and the accompanying problems these are creating.

Consumers today are spending less time in retail stores and more time purchasing online, buying not only consumer goods or office supplies, but a burgeoning amount of groceries. According to the Los Angeles Times, the surge in deliveries is due to, “the rise of e-commerce and the allure of next-day and same-day delivery, for all its convenience to consumers.” In turn, such buying activity “has hit transportation like a tidal wave.”

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board estimates that, on average, each person in the U.S. generates demand for roughly 60 tons of freight each year. In 2010, the United States Post Office —which has overtaken both FedEx and UPS as the largest parcel-delivery service in the country — delivered 3.1 billion packages nationwide. That amount grew to 5.1 billion packages in 2016. In turn, the explosion of e-commerce is fueling a corresponding rise in the number of delivery vehicles — box trucks, smaller vans, and cars alike — on city streets.

While truck traffic currently represents about seven percent of urban traffic in American cities, it bears a disproportionate congestion cost. Cities, struggling to keep up with the deluge of delivery drivers, are seeing their curb space and streets overtaken by double-parked vehicles, and on top of it, the increase in pollution and road wear.

Here are six ways cities are dealing with the deluge of packages hitting their communities:

1. Off-Hour Deliveries

In 2010, New York City launched its Off-Hour Deliveries Program, in which participants agreed to shift their delivery windows to between 7 pm and 6 am. Residential offices receiving packages found that deliveries made outside standard business hours saved their staffs from cumbersome package management, reduced traffic and enabled more time to serve residents. Carriers found that their trucks could make more deliveries in the same amount of time, they saved money on fuel costs, they could use a smaller fleet by better utilizing daytime and nighttime deliveries, and that legal parking was more readily available. In addition, their drivers reported feeling safer and less stressed.

2. Shipping and Transportation Collaborations

The creation of two collaborative efforts is breathing new life into the sustainability of urban freight.

The new Center for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems seeks to create a framework that fosters collaboration between cities, the private sector, and academia to tackle the emerging package delivery challenge. Center researchers seek to develop and identify a holistic, integrated suite of technologies, regulations, and incentives to help shape a new paradigm of freight transportation systems that are more cost efficient and energy efficient, and less disruptive to urban commuter traffic.

Meanwhile, the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics (SCTL) Center at the University of Washington has formed a new Urban Freight Lab to solve delivery system problems that cities and the business sector cannot handle on their own. Funders of this research partnership include the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and five founding corporate members: Costco, FedEx, Nordstrom, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service. The Urban Freight Lab unites building managers, retailers, logistics and tech firms, and city government to develop advanced solutions to reduce dwell time and reduce failed first deliveries.

These two collaborations understand Why Goods Movement Matters, and are working on improved solutions for moving goods within metropolitan areas.

3. Parcel Lockers

As cited in the report, "Residential Parcel Deliveries: Evidence from a Large Apartment Complex," multi-family housing has nearly doubled their influx of incoming packages over the last three years. In turn, such communities are turning to parcel lockers as a permanent solution to the delivery challenge – and offering these as a benefit to residents. “A lot of residents want to get their packages after hours,” said Justin Langenberg, the Leasing Manager at Shea Properties. In 2014, the company switched from accepting hundreds of packages a week in their office to utilizing lockers. “Residents now enjoy the 24/7 safe and secure access.”

Other countries are also seeing success with parcel lockers. According to a MetroFreight report, more than 20% of internet orders in France go to automated parcel systems, located in gas stations or subway stops, allowing consumers to pick up packages 24 hours a day. Recipients receive text messages when their packages arrive; a feature that has been received very warmly. Meanwhile, shipping companies enjoy the benefit of making bulk deliveries – what used to take hours to deliver 60+ packages to doors around an apartment complex, can now take in only 10-20 minutes by delivering to parcel lockers.

4. Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to help oversee the parcel delivery process. After all the IoT is capable of connecting everything online, and enables package recipients to control all aspects of their package deliveries. For example, authorized participants within the delivery process would be able to call up the delivery parameters at any time – sender, recipient, form of delivery, content, necessary declarations, etc. In addition, the parcels themselves will be able to actively communicate with their immediate environment. For example, when passing a pre-set location, packages can relay instructions communicating the next steps on its journey to the recipient. It might also convey additional information, such as whether its contents are getting too warm.

UPS is integrating across its U.S. routes its new big-data tool, Orion, or On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation. As a UPS driver travels his route, Orion works in the background considering up to 200,000 possible routes before picking the most optimal path for a driver to take to reduce the overall time spent driving around from delivery to delivery. By maximizing the benefits of IoT, parcel delivery services will become intelligent and dynamic, decrease unnecessary delivery times and more efficiently serve customers.

5. Self-Driving Vehicles

Many experts are foreseeing the day when deliveries are made without the need of human driver. UPS , FedEx, and many other shipping companies have been experimenting with autonomous delivery, while Uber’s self-driving truck made its first delivery in 2016. Driverless cars promise not only efficiency, but safer roads for all. Some 400,000 trucks crash each year, according to federal statistics, killing about 4,000 people. In almost every case, human error is to blame.

6. Bicycle Delivery

One delivery vehicle that is small, quiet and emission free is the bicycle. By bypassing traffic gridlock, bicycles can deliver packages more quickly than delivery trucks.

As a sign of the times, the big shippers are moving into cycle logistics. DHL Express, a large shipping company in the Netherlands, said at the ECLF conference that it wanted to replace 10% of its fleet with bikes, and that 65% of its urban routes would be delivered by bicycles. That means wider bike lanes, better connections between cities, and allowing more space in urban centers for pedestrians and bikes. In addition, Germany is pushing ahead with a 62-mile bike superhighway that connects 10 cities in the Ruhr area. Other cities such as Bogota, Boulder, Copenhagen, Melbourne, and Amsterdam are proof that it is possible to get huge segments of the population on their bikes.

Delivery companies are also experimenting with ways to reduce their impact. Late last year, UPS introduced its first “eBike” deliveries in Portland. Their aim is twofold: Reduce carbon emissions while putting a delivery vehicle on the road small enough to take advantage of curb space.

By utilizing a combination of technologies, incentives, data, and creative planning, cities around the world are making the receiving of online goods as efficient as ordering them – without clogging their roadways.

Mike Downey is a guest blogger for Parcel Pending, a leading provider of package management solutions to simplify and secure the parcel delivery business. Visit www.parcelpending.com for more information.

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