An array of strategies can be considered to mitigate urban freight distribution problems, most of which are related to congestion:
- Night deliveries are a straightforward option since they open a new spectrum of urban deliveries, and this in a context where there is less congestion and conflicts with commuting. However, they impose important changes in the organization of labor for both the freight forwarder and the consignee. Distribution centers must be open at night, even intermodal terminals, while the consignee must have labor available to receive deliveries. For smaller stores, night delivery could impose prohibitive additional labor costs. In such a setting carriers would tend to prefer night deliveries since their vehicles would operate in a less congested setting with the possibility to use larger vehicles while retailers would prefer regular day deliveries corresponding to the availability of their workforce. In high density areas, night deliveries can also result in local disturbances such as noise.
- Extended delivery windows provide additional options for deliveries, particularly outside peak hours. Like night deliveries, they impose challenges in the organization of labor.
- Cooperative deliveries involve various forms of agreements between shippers and consignees so that vehicles can be shared and loads consolidated. This reduces the number of empty backhauls and increases asset utilization. However, such collaboration is difficult to organize considering the wide variety of loads, delivery times and transport conditions. Cooperative deliveries work well within a sector with similar delivery requirements, such as hotels organizing food deliveries or the pick up of linens.
- Urban freight transshipment centers offer the opportunity to consolidate loads, many which are less than truckload, and organize their deliveries in a more organized fashion. It acts similar to cross-docking facilities that are used by retailers to organize their regional distribution. They incite a better usage of delivery assets leading to less congestion in central areas. This is linked with higher costs as an additional consolidation stage takes place at the urban freight distribution center, which involves additional delays and undermine the potential profitability of such a strategy. It is also likely the common delivery service does not necessarily meet the requirements of the consignee in terms of delivery time and frequency.
- Local freight stations are an additional alternative, particularly for high density areas, by offering a local point of consolidation or deconsolidation for pickups and deliveries. Less trips are required, leading to a lower imprint on local parking space. This leaves the issue of deliveries from the freight station to the consignee, commonly done on rolling carts. There are also costs linked with the setting and management of the local freight station.
- Designated delivery areas can be implemented so that delivery vehicles have a better access to consignees and to insure that deliveries take place in a less disruptive fashion. Less parking space is available for passenger vehicles and in spite of the availability of delivery areas the intensity of freight distribution may create a parking demand beyond the capacity of available delivery areas.
- Urban delivery vehicles can be adapted to suit better the density or urban distribution, which often involves smaller vehicles such as vans and even bicycles. Efforts can also be made to have more energy efficient vehicles, including CNG, which can lead to less energy consumption and lower environmental impacts. However, these vehicles tend to be more expensive, which can be prohibitive for developing economies. Reducing the load unit also leads to more delivery trips.
- Autonomous delivery vehicles as starting to be deployed, but still requires experimentation.
Most of these strategies involve cities in advanced economies and would not apply well in cities in developing countries, which are facing their own array of urban freight distribution issues.