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Intelligente Lösungen für die Letze Meile © Starship Technologies

Intelligent last mile solutions for Hamburg

Environmental approaches needed as e-commerce flourishes

Hamburg is well on the way to becoming Germany’s model city of urban transport and logistic solutions. After the city won a bid last year to host the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress in 2021, Olaf Scholz, Mayor of Hamburg, remarked: “The use of cutting-edge technology and comprehensive know-how will make traffic more efficient and environment-friendly as well as more comfortable for Hamburg’s citizens.”

The Smart Last Mile Logistics (SMILE) project, launched in 2016, tackles the challenges posed by e-commerce such as increasing parcel deliveries by courier, express and package services (KEP). SMILE has been developed by the Ministry for Economics, Transport, Traffic and Innovation together with start-ups and KEP to gather ideas for more sustainable urban logistics. The Estonian start-up Starship Technologies initially launched tests of it’s package delivery per robot with Hermes Germany in Hamburg. Now plans are being made to extend the service to Domino’s and Foodora as well. The city has also tasked the Hamburg School of Business Administration (HSBA) with a study entitled “Last-Mile-Logistics Hamburg” focusing on four decentralised package depots or micro-hubs which UPS is testing in Hamburg.

Cleaner, quieter and more sustainable transport

The micro-hub project is an international model. Parcels from container depots are delivered on foot, per delivery bicycle or luggage carts and without polluting the environment. When the project’s results were presented in late January in the Chamber of Commerce’s Innovationcampus, Frank Horch, Senator for Economics, Transport and Innovation, stressed the project’s emission-free aspect. This comes after the senate approved a clean air plan in mid 2017 to meet the EU’s limits on nitrogen dioxide quickly. Horch noted: “Our mobility must become cleaner, quieter and more sustainable. As one of Europe’s most dynamic logistic centres with unwavering potential for growth, we want to master the switch to sustainable transport and urban logistics using innovative approaches.“

Micro-hub concept lowering pollution

The micro-hub concept is promising, said Professor Dr. Jan Ninnemann of the Hamburg School of Business Administration (HSBA) with responsibility for the study. He added: “There is no single measure. We need a combination of intelligent measures. Some may be more suitable to the city while others work better in Altoona or Bergdorf.” The micro-hubs have saved emissions noticeably. Around 1,200 vehicles deliver around 208,300 parcels on every workday in Hamburg and on 250 days, that means 4,500 to 6,000 kilometres per year and delivery area. Thanks to the micro-hubs, vehicles are not needed on the last mile “and the overall pilot project would reduce inner city traffic by 18,000 to 24,000 kilometres per year,” he noted. The risk of traffic jams and accidents caused by vehicles pulling up alongside others would also be reduced.

Micro-hubs on pontoons

The micro-hubs are positive on balance, said Ninnemann and especially in terms of relieving traffic and the environment. More hubs e.g. in Eimsbüttel, Altona or Winterhude for UPS as well as DHL and Hermes would be the next logical step. Each hub requires ten to 1,000 square metres and a space exchange could also be set up to compensate the lack of urban space. Then supermarkets or filling stations could make free space available. Using expanses of water in Hamburg should also be mulled. “Micro-hubs could perhaps be set up on pontoons,“ he suggested.

Appointing a last-mile co-ordinator

Experiences with many projects show that the political will to implement innovative ideas and concepts quickly falters in view of divergent responsibilities, Ninnemann pointed out. This could be resolved by appointing a last-mile coordinator to act as a point of contact. The co-ordinator could be tasked among others with the SMILE project by the Logistik-Initiative Hamburg.

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