How UPS Is Delivering Sustainable Urban Logistics

Cities around the world are growing more crowded every day, and this demographic shift is affecting quality of life in urban areas. At the same time, e-commerce is reshaping the way people live and work.
Apr 5, 2019 11:55 AM ET

Customers have become accustomed to getting nearly anything they want, when and where they want it. The convergence of these two issues is creating challenges already evident in some cities: increased congestion, smog, and noise pollution.

In an effort to reach their sustainability goals, attract talent, and enhance economic competitiveness, some cities are taking actions that require new models of transport, including pedestrian-only, low- or zero-emissions zones. This has implications for how people get around, how they buy things, and how logistics companies deliver for customers. 

To ensure a desirable quality of life in increasingly crowded urban areas, we need more intelligent transportation solutions that are both economically feasible and environmentally sustainable. UPS is spearheading partnerships with city officials, urban planners, and other thought leaders to ignite a new conversation about urban mobility and the potential for city-led transportation reform. These collaborations with cities are unearthing innovative ways to pick up and deliver packages while minimizing traffic congestion and pollution, and promoting operational efficiency.

Solutions for Cities Worldwide

The city of London, for example, is working toward ambitious goals to reduce congestion and pollution in its urban center, including instituting ultra-low emissions zones for all vehicles by 2019 and zero-emissions zones by 2025. UPS is responding to these commitments by expanding our fleet of electric vehicles and rolling out smart-grid and energy-storage solutions. As part of the Low Impact City Logistics project organized by Innovate UK, we are piloting a last-mile solution that involves loading packages onto electrically powered trailers which can be operated on foot or by bike at the depot, then delivering them by a single trailer to a central hub located within a busy urban area. The boxes are distributed from the hub via power-assisted trailers equipped with patented net-neutral technology that allows handlers to transport up to 200 kilograms with minimal effort. The packages are then delivered to homes and businesses by bicycle or on foot. 

Similar last-mile solutions are taking to the streets in other European cities, based on the container solution we pioneered in Hamburg in 2012. A new “urban eco package hub” in central Dublin, Ireland, acts as a mini distribution center, with workers making deliveries from the container by foot or electrically assisted cargo tricycles. Similarly, three such containers are instrumental in helping reduce emissions and noise in Munich.

In the U.S., UPS has a long history of alternative delivery solutions. The company was first founded as a bicycle courier service, used early electric delivery vehicles in the 1930s, and today, UPS is collaborating with a diverse set of cities and academic partners to drive a new paradigm for sustainable urban delivery. In 2016, UPS tested its eBikes in Portland, Oregon; and, in 2017, launched similar pilot projects in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. These successful tests have led to other collaborations with likeminded cities looking to address congestion and quality of life issues as UPS continues developing and deploying cutting-edge urban solutions in 2018 and beyond.

In addition to direct pilot project implementation, UPS is also investing in and working with academic partners to engineer last-mile and “final 50 feet” solutions, both in terms of testing new technology and informing municipal policies. UPS’s partnership with the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab has led to new understanding of delivery barriers and the impact of the built environment on city congestion. Similarly, a UPS-led summer studio class with Georgetown University and the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation utilized a collaborative approach to data sharing and applied research, an approach that was recognized by the MetroLab Network and Government Technology magazine as an Innovation of the Month. These efforts set the tone for UPS’s entire conversation with cities, breaking the mold not only in terms of new delivery modes, but also for what can be achieved through public-private partnerships.