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Seattle trials zero-emission last mile deliveries

The city of Seattle, Washington has launched a test hub for eco-friendly last mile delivery technology in a response to the rise of e-commerce and growing urbanism.

Led by the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab and the Seattle Department of Transportation, the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub is trialling ways of making deliveries with zero operating emissions.

The partners are working with several tech and delivery companies – AxleHire, Coaster Cycles, BrightDrop and REEF – with a range of potential solutions.

These solutions will play a major role in Seattle’s dual goals of ensuring that 30% of goods are delivered by zero-emissions vehicles by 2030 and becoming a carbon neutral city by 2050.

Through the hub, the city hopes providers will be able to test and evaluate new technologies, vehicles and delivery models more quickly and, in doing so, get efficient solutions to the market in a shorter space of time.

The hub’s trial products are:

Common carrier parcel lockers (Urban Freight Lab)

One solution to last mile emissions is eliminating last mile delivery (at least on the part of the providers). Parcel lockers allow carriers to transport numerous packages during a single stop, reducing congestion and emissions. Customers will complete their own last mile delivery. However, this does not stop customers from emitting emissions in their journey to a locker.

Electric-assist cargo bike fleet (Coaster Cycles)

Customised to carry BrightDrop EP1 electric pallets (see below), Coaster Cycles’ electric-assist tricycles offer an “agile, sustainable” alternative to truck delivery. Ben Morris, founder and CEO of Coaster Cycles, said: “Coaster Cycles exists to be a vital part of the city of tomorrow. It’s easy to ignore what exists between the mouse-click and the package on our doorstep and the true cost of convenience. There is real effort behind making this a better experience and, more importantly, a sustainable and responsible one.”

Electric pallets (EP1) (BrightDrop)

These wheeled electric pallets were designed to reduce package touch points, costs and physical strain while optimising the movement of goods over short distances. BrightDrop said that the pallets enabled couriers to handle 25% more packages per day in an initial pilot.

Last-mile delivery routing software (AxleHire)

AxleHire’s technology promises to give drivers “the fastest, most efficient routes possible” by showing the most efficient route with real-time updates and resource allocation algorithms to match supply with demand in any given area.

Neighbourhood kitchen (REEF)

REEF is providing the hub’s real estate and is operating a neighbourhood kitchen onsite. The kitchen will prepare online food orders for delivery, without front-of-house operations, reducing overhead costs for restaurateurs and providing fast and inexpensive delivery options for customers.

The delivery hub and associated transport modes have been equipped with sensors to provide detailed data about activity. The Urban Freight Lab will analyse the data to evaluate energy reductions and provide feedback to participants about their products and operating models.

Sam Zimbabwe, director at the Seattle Department of Transportation, said: “Over 60% of Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation, so we must change how we move around in order to meet our commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“Rethinking how we deliver goods is a critical part of this, so we are excited to partner with the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab and the private sector to find innovative solutions to meet our aggressive targets towards a more sustainable future.”

The pilot will run through mid-summer and will provide a blueprint for longer-term infrastructure and policy strategy in meeting the city’s climate goals.

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