14 Aug 18

City hubs towards emission-free cities

The future of the city is emission-free, but making a fleet carbon-neutral takes time, and money. In the meantime, city hubs can function as an intermediate solution towards carbon-neutral cities.

Many cities are implementing diesel bans and other traffic restrictions for polluting vehicles, aiming to become emission-free. The first cities already want to be carbon-neutral by 2020, such as Melbourne, Australia, followed by Copenhagen (2025), Utrecht (2030), and Washington DC (2050).

Nevertheless, it takes time and money to turn an entire fleet into a zero-emission one. As a consequence, some fleets will no longer be permitted to enter various city centres worldwide, even though that may be crucial to perform their last-mile services. “Getting the last mile right is a challenge which needs imaginative, innovative thinking to allow businesses to contribute to the life of the town,” says Isabelle Maurizi, Head of Sustainability & Environment of Eurocommerce.

Enter the city hub

An innovative way of thinking might be the city hub, which can provide a suitable (intermediate) solution between cleaning up the corporate fleet and the traffic restrictions that already apply, and are about to apply in the near future, while the fleet is not renewed yet.

City hubs can be described as a distribution centre, where the parcels of one or more companies are delivered before the last mile in the city centre. They are strategically located at the outskirts of the city. Smaller centres can even be located closer to the customer in the centre.

Even though such hubs have existed since the 1990s, they are becoming increasingly relevant today. In an ideal and sustainable scenario, polluting bigger vehicles arrive at the city hub, where smaller, and less polluting vehicles take over the delivery to perform the last mile.

Due to their low, or ideally zero, emissions, they can operate under the environmental traffic restrictions. Moreover, since they are executed by smaller vehicles, they can avoid traffic congestion as well. Despite being smaller, their load factor can be higher, because they are being loaded in a centralised storage point.

The future of city hubs

Even though the University of Bergamo notes the high rate of failure of city hubs in the past, the cards might be different now. The case studies of the past show that traffic restrictions are a determining success factor for city hubs. Since they have been increasing for some time, due to environmental concerns, city hubs are on the rise as well, confirms Gerard Gerritsen.
As a result, city hubs might be back from never having been gone and might provide an (intermediate) solution towards completely emission-free cities, saving time and money for companies to clean up their fleet.

Converting Parking Spots

Various studies Deloitte, 14 December 2017, State of the State onderzoek. Ruimtewinst in de stad door smart mobility. 40% minder parkeerplaatsen in 2040. World Economic Forum (WEF) in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, June 2018, Reshaping Urban Mobility with Autonomous Vehicles. Lessons from the City of Boston.  concluded that the increasingly automated and shared vehicles in the future will reduce the need for urban parking spots. Whereas on-street and open-field parking spots can easily be repurposed, this is more complicated for car park buildings. Considering their location and characteristics, they might be suitable to convert cost-efficiently into city hubs.

Also read City hubs today, an overview of various existing city hubs today.

Image: Van in City Depot livery, a city hub operating in various Belgian cities.

Authored by: Fien Van den steen