The importance of the urban distribution of goods

The urban distribution of goods is undergoing significant transformation due to the enormous growth of electronic commerce and the increase in the last-mile routes. Although the latter operate within a local framework, they have implications at the supra-municipal level. Urban logistics have an essential role in the good functioning of cities, although it is often an issue that isn’t addressed from the point of view of public policy.

For these reasons, the European Commission identifies the urban distribution of goods (UDG) as an essential issue within the package of urban mobility measures. It indicates that measures must be implemented to renew the fleet responsible for distributing goods towards a more sustainable one, while implementing policies against traffic congestion. It also considers that these policies should also “Provide a framework – delivery spaces, regulations, incentives, etc. – than ensures a good business context for investments in new technologies and solutions by private operators.” Some public policies included in the political agenda are presented, considering the transformation of the model of the urban distribution of goods.

One of the measures that has generated ample consensus, especially for urban areas with more urban congestion due to UDG, has been the implementation of Merchandise Pick-up Points (MPP). The MPP model proposes a system in which commercial, storage and similar establishments operate as pick-up points for electronic commerce packages, thus covering that last mile. This not only provides an improvement for urban congestion, but it could also become an incentive so that e-commerce buyers end up consuming the goods and services of these establishments. This system requires a complementary service for the last-mile distribution, as it’s seen as a complementary measure that could benefit e-commerce companies, last-mile distributors, local shops, and buyers.

A second initiative that enjoys great consensus is to include goods distribution services within the digital transformation process. This system allows for the management of loading and unloading areas using a mobile app, which would improve the use of these areas for merchandise couriers, as well as their management by local institutions. It would use integrated metropolitan management to distribute spots by time tables and to pay and collect fines and sanctions. A success case of this measure would be the SPRO application, promoted by the Barcelona City Council, which was launched in the middle of the year 2020.

In conclusion, even though it is not always the central political focus, the urban distribution of goods has to be one of the essential issues to be addressed in the face of the sustainable mobility transformation, since it has an impact on multiple sectors within the city, such as sustainability, local commerce, digital transformation, or urban traffic congestion.