In February, the Passenger Transport Executive Group – pteg – which brings together and promotes the interests of the six strategic transport bodies serving the largest city regions outside London, published a report: ‘Delivering the future: New approaches to urban freight’.
It highlighted the role of urban freight in the UK economy and envisaged that every opportunity should be taken for freight to make its way into urban areas by rail or water or into the distribution parks that serve them.
As the report’s main focus was on ‘last mile’ journeys, it argued that those distribution sites should be located so that goods could travel the last mile(s) into urban centres with as little environmental impact as possible using zero/low emission modes.
The European Commission’s goal is that ‘30% of road freight over 300km should shift to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50% by 2050, facilitated by efficient and green freight corridors.’ The writer is particularly interested in the use of our extensive networks of inland waterways – a neglected and underused resource in comparison with other European countries where larger inland waterways are used as major freight routes as well as for making deliveries directly to city centre businesses. One of the brief case studies cited:
The city of Utrecht in the Netherlands uses a zero emission electric boat to make deliveries in the city centre. Owned and run by the city and known as the ‘Beer Boat’, the vessel makes six trips, four days a week supplying more than 60 catering businesses located along the canal network. Funding for the boat came from the city’s air quality improvement budget.
The advantages of water transport of freight include:
- greater safety: a key advantage of water freight over road freight is that it is largely separated from pedestrians, cyclists and motorists,
- lower emissions,
- lower fuel costs (by water),
- less need for road and track maintenance,
- less road traffic congestion: water freight has the potential to cut congestion. A modern barge operating on an inland waterway can carry up to 550 tonnes in some areas and up to 1,500 tonnes on larger waterways. In the UK most lorries can carry up to 29 tonnes.
- less noise and vibration,
- improved quality of life and urban environment.
To enable more road freight to transfer onto water, ‘network capacity enhancements’ should be undertaken, including the development of a more extensive network of water-connected distribution sites, more support for ongoing maintenance of waterways and the removal of barriers (such as low bridges or narrow locks) to ensure that they can accommodate more freight traffic.
Infrastructure for the loading and unloading of waterborne freight can also be available in cities that have rivers or canals passing through them, although freight must often compete against potentially more remunerative uses for the land, such as residential and office developments.
Government, in partnership with local authorities, could work to ensure that all major new distribution parks are planned with a presumption of rail and/or water connections so that suitable sites are identified nationally and protected for freight use and the development of Urban Consolidation Centres (UCCs) with rail and water-connected distribution sites is encouraged, reducing inefficiencies and ensuring that low emission modes are a practical option for the last mile.
For more news on freight by water go to the Commercial Boat Operators Association