Research Overview

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Research Overview


MetroFreight Research

The Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF) invest in research that makes a difference. VREF focuses on designing sustainable transportation systems in large metropolitan areas.  MetroFreight seeks to develop solutions for urban freight problems that are collaborative and integrative with larger sustainability goals. Collaboration with practitioners that are intended users of the research results, as well as negotiation between stakeholders that have diverse and often conflicting interests, are critical elements in solving urban freight problems.

Phase I: Freight flows and their impacts

The MetroFreight research program began with a comprehensive data collection to characterize freight flows and their impacts in four case study metropolitan areas:  Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and Seoul.  The data form a resource for comparative research to be conducted over the life of the project.

The Urban Freight Landscape Atlas

The purpose of the urban freight landscape atlas is to provide a collection of maps depicting a comparative perspective about key elements impacting city logistics across the four metropolitan areas of the MF project.

The first stage of the project focuses on the design of a composite map template as well as the production of three comparative maps:  1) Population density, 2) Employment density, and 3) Population density/employment density grid.  The second stage will aim at producing more complex sets of maps related to the transport infrastructure, and elements of urban freight transport supply and demand.

Each metro area is providing a GIS dataset (developed in the first year) using the same units of reference (metric; km and square km) and the same scale.  For the US, census tracks are the unit of analysis.  For Seoul and Paris, units that are as close as possible to census tracts and for which data are available were selected specifically, the district for Seoul and municipalities for Paris.  The time unit for the datasets is around 2010.  Time series may be analyzed later as more data is collected and made available.

Phase 2: Research themes

The MetroFreight research program is organized around five topical themes and focuses on the four case-study metropolitan areas.

Theme 1: Role of policy from industry perspective

Public policy plays a key role in urban freight. Local governments establish operating policies and control land use. They may impose restrictions such as low emission vehicle zones, offer incentives for preferred behavior, or provide subsidies to achieve policy goals. In the US, local and regional governments set overall development patterns and major infrastructure investments.  State and federal governments affect freight via vehicle and safety standards. Understanding urban freight problems requires an understanding of how current policies affect freight.  It also involves understanding why some policies are implemented while others are not, and why some policies are feasible in one circumstance but not in another. This theme focuses on how public policies affect supply chains and freight operations.

Theme 2: Last mile strategies

Local deliveries by truck typically account for about 1/6 of urban traffic and pose many challenges. Businesses and their customers depend on an efficient local freight distribution system of pickup and delivery, but dense urban environments, congested streets, and clogged highways slow down shipments. Trucks generate a substantial share of local emissions, add to congestion and noise, and affect livability. Cities may restrict trucks to certain routes or delivery time periods, promote the use of smaller or cleaner vehicles, or attempt to shift local freight to alternative modes, sometimes with little success, and often generating unanticipated consequences. Seemingly obvious strategies, such as consolidation of freight across firms or off-hours deliveries, are rarely implemented.  Although regulation of local freight deliveries has a long history, we have only a limited understanding of how different policies affect freight deliveries and their impacts. What are the most effective emissions reductions strategies, and what are the implementation challenges? How might we model the effects of different truck management strategies to better understand impacts? Are there urban design strategies that would both reduce impacts on passengers/local residents and facilitate freight movements? Under what circumstances do small vehicles or alternative vehicles make economic sense?

Theme 3: Improving freight/passenger interactions

In addition to the localized problems of first-mile pickup and last-mile delivery, there are the system-wide problems associated with the conflicting interactions of passengers and freight traffic on the regional transportation network. There are many examples of freight/passenger conflicts, from at-grade rail crossings to traffic lanes that are dedicated to bikes or buses. Freight/passenger conflicts are more severe in trade node cities, where international flows add another layer of demand on the system, and decentralization of warehousing and distribution has added to truck VMT. This theme seeks to reduce passenger/freight conflicts and improve livability through more efficient passenger and freight operations. What ITS technologies might improve operations? Could integrated management of truck and rail improve operations and reduce externalities? A systems level approach provides a basis for comparing alternative allocation options with current system performance.

Theme 4: Land use dynamics

Theme 4 is aimed at developing a better understanding of the spatial organization of metropolitan freight activity and its evolution over time, an essential step to developing effective long-term solutions for freight problems. As metropolitan areas grow and dense clusters of activity emerge, land values rise, pushing land intensive activities (manufacturing, warehousing and distribution) to the periphery. These shifts in turn influence the location of population and related services, thus contributing to urban sprawl. These forces may be particularly problematic for trade node cities, as the fixed assets of ports, airports and rail terminals—often located in or near city cores—remain locked in place. How do freight actors make location decisions? How do spatial patterns influence freight flows? How do land use and other policies promote or mitigate the decentralization of freight activity? Are there opportunities for using brownfield sites or other underutilized land to recentralize freight activity?

Theme 5: Changing production and consumption

Theme 5 focuses on emerging trends that will likely change the nature of urban freight distribution in unpredictable but significant ways. Changes in consumer and producer behavior are fragmenting freight flows as well as adding new distribution channels. E-shopping increases small package deliveries and spreads deliveries throughout residential areas. The demand for unique, customized products draws parts and components from more locations and in smaller units. New forms of consumption are also emerging, e.g. roving food trucks whose locations are broadcast via Twitter or temporary (often seasonal) retail stores. Little is known about how these new models of consumption affect city logistics. How are these changes affecting demand and supply? How might these emerging patterns be more efficiently served?