The “Motor Transition” in Urban Freight Distribution

The Motor Transition in Urban Freight Distribution

Source: adapted from Dablanc, L. (2009) Freight Transport, A Key for the New Urban Economy. World Bank, Freight Transport for Development: a Policy Toolkit, July.
Note: Alternative refers to modes such as electric and CNG vehicles as well as bicycles.

What can be labeled the “motor transition” for urban freight is the change from predominantly pedestrian or animal powered transport of goods to motor vehicles, mostly diesel powered trucks and vans. Four conceptual stages can be inferred:

  • Informal Logistics City (Stage I). Tends to reflect city logistics in large cities of the least developed countries where freight distribution is disorganized and dominantly assumed by the informal sector. A significant share of the urban movement of goods comes from non motorized traditional means of circulation assumed by small independent operators (such as the rickshaw). Dualism is also an important attribute of urban freight distribution as modern means (many operated by multinationals) are interacting with traditional means.
  • Motorized Transition City (Stage II). As income and levels of economic development rise, city logistics undertakes a transition towards higher levels of motorization. While non-motorized means are still significant, diesel trucks and vans are assuming a growing role; dualism is receding.
  • Motorized Logistics City (Stage III). The majority of cities in advanced economies have fully motorized city logistics, with adapted vehicles like vans and small trucks assuming the majority of deliveries. The urban economy is complex, reflective of a consumer society. This is linked with high levels of energy consumption and salient congestion problems, which underlines the potentially unsustainable character of this form of city logistics. Greener forms of city logistics are starting to emerge.
  • Green Logistics City (Stage IV). Facing an array of environmental, economic and social challenges, city logistics adapts, notably with a growing reliance on alternative modes of transport (electricnatural gas or clean diesel vehicles and even non motorized means of transport). Such strategies are increasingly be seen as a desirable goal to be achieved by many large cities in the world. However, the transition to alternative vehicles has so far been marginal. For instance, even after a decade of strategies and incentives to promote alternative vehicles, they still account for less than 1% of urban deliveries in the city of Paris.