Using public transport to help move city freight

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City planners are increasingly investigating how to leverage integrated transport opportunities to maximise transport network efficiency, improve the environment and best utilise available resources. This can be achieved by diverting some freight tasks from the road network to utilising spare capacity on public transport to reduce the number of trucks and vans on city roads, cutting both congestion and emissions. A new project from iMOVE, Transport for NSW, and the University of Sydney is investigating the feasibility of this idea.

Organisation/s: iMOVE Australia, The University of Sydney, Transport for NSW

Funder: iMOVE Australia, Transport for NSW, and the University of Sydney

Media Release

From: iMOVE Australia

Over the last few years in the transport industry there’s been a lot of comment on the congestion caused by ‘little white vans’. This three-word catchphrase refers to the many shapes and colours of small to medium delivery trucks that congest the streets of cities. It’s not a new phenomenon, but the explosion in online commerce has certainly introduced more of these vehicles on city roads. And Australian cities are no stranger to this state of play!

Suggestions to overcome this form of congestion have been put forward: smaller electric vehicles, be they vans or bicycles in combination with distribution centres on the edges of CBDs, or delivering only in off-peak times, or even the time-sharing of delivery docks.

Numbers tell a story, and here’s a set for the Sydney CBD. The 630,000 people who work and/or live in the CBD generate around 35,000 commercial vehicle movements each day. Global figures put CBD freight activity to increase by 36% in the next decade.

But a new project from iMOVE, Transport for NSW, and the University of Sydney is looking at a new, innovative way to make a difference to this particular form of congestion – making use of the public transport system. In this case, the Sydney train network.

During peak hours, this system is extremely busy moving commuters, but out of these hours the system has capacity to do more than move the diminished number of commuters. There are potential efficiency gains from developing and optimising an integrated system capable of using the spare capacity of public transport vehicles for freight transportation. This concept is referred to as co-modal integration or co-modality.

Specifically speaking, this isn’t a new idea. A similar solution is already in place in in St Etienne, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Dresden, Zurich, and cities in Japan. And generally speaking this idea of co-modality has been used in the air travel industry for quite some time now. Passenger aircraft are used to move freight ('belly hold' freight), that generates additional revenue for airlines. Approximately 80% of airfreight arrives into Australia as belly hold in passenger aircraft.

This project is not one of implementation, but rather the feasibility of the idea. Potentially it helps the little white van congestion problem and its attendant environmental issue, plus adds another strand of monetisation of the train network.

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