Smart Transport

Collaboration will be key as cities plot a more sustainable future

Trevor Hoyle, Senior Vice President, Ground Operations Europe FedEx Express

Collaboration will be key as cities plot a more sustainable future, says Trevor Hoyle, senior vice president of ground operations at FedEx Express Europe.

What does life look like after Covid-19?

This is the question on all of our minds as European countries start easing restrictions and we begin to see signs of life in our cities again.

The scale of the Covid-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it will almost certainly lead to permanent, profound changes in how we live our lives.

Attitudes towards home working have changed dramatically. Some businesses have already declared they are moving towards 100% home working.

The role of technology will be even more dominant, as modern communications have shown what is possible despite physical social distancing.

The pandemic has also breathed new life into the sustainability debate, as governments ponder the positive environmental impacts of wholesale societal change.

According to the International Energy Agency, the impact of the pandemic has been so significant that 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, 8% of the estimated total for the year, will never be emitted into the atmosphere.

Accounting for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, many cities in particular are looking at economic recovery through a sustainability lens.

Amsterdam is already designing a post-Covid-19 future based around the so-called ‘doughnut model’, and aims to make the city’s economy fully circular by 2050.

In Milan, officials are resisting a return to pre-Covid-19 traffic emissions, announcing the transformation of 35km of streets into citywide cycling and walking spaces to protect residents after restrictions are lifted.

In the UK, Scottish authorities have announced £10 million to create pop-up walking and cycling lanes, and a number of boroughs in London have announced plans to widen pavements, close roads and improve walking and cycling.

It is critical that the logistics industry plays a role in designing this sustainable recovery – and it has never been a better time to bring our expertise to the table.

The fight to contain Covid-19 has relied on the free and frictionless flow of critical goods such as medical supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, testing kits and ventilators.

These goods are often shipped across continents and into our urban spaces, sometimes in carefully temperature-controlled conditions, requiring capabilities that were simply not on people’s radars in normal times.

Furthermore, more people at home has led to a surge in demand for goods delivered to people’s doorsteps. People had expectations about fast, reliable delivery of goods before the global lockdown. This expectation has only strengthened in recent months.

The criticality of logistics has taken centre stage in our lives. We should use this opportunity to encourage stronger collaboration between those designing our future cities.

A perfect example concerns the historic movement of logistics infrastructure out of our cities.

For decades, ‘logistics sprawl’ has been driven by land scarcity and the search for economies of scale.

Ever-larger regional, national and European warehouses have moved further away from city centres (since 1970 the average distance between warehouses and Paris city centre has almost tripled), and this could accelerate as cities plot a more sustainable future.

However, this might be counterproductive. Greater distances mean more vehicle miles on the road and higher emissions. Bringing logistics closer to the heart of the city makes it easier for transportation companies to electrify fleets, as the infrastructure is superior and vehicles can cover the necessary distances.

Finally, a tightening of logistics infrastructure around the city allows for greater experimentation and use of different solutions to complete the last mile, including cargo bikes. This will be critical as online buying continues to surge.

Bringing logistics closer to the city would require a change in thinking. Land prices would need addressing. Logistics infrastructure would need considering in urban planning decisions earlier. As operators, we would need to think more innovatively about how we work together more closely.

This is just one example of the sort of joined-up thinking that can help make our cities future-proof. However, it requires closer collaboration between industry, policy-makers, urban planning authorities, real estate experts and even architecture professionals.

At the heart of this debate is a big question we are all wrestling with: How do we balance the health of our cities with the wealth of our cities?

Cities are the engines of economic growth, and as the world rebuilds after the Covid-19 pandemic we need them to thrive again. How we do this in a sustainable way is a huge challenge.

Logistics are the arteries of trade, and if there is one thing we’ve learnt in the last few months it is that we have an important role to play.

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