What are the challenges facing urban logistics in Spain?

Efficient management of urban logistics depends on various stakeholders, and we see a real shift in consumer trends towards e-commerce and immediacy in deliveries.

On March 30, 2022

In Spain, more than 80% of the population lives in cities, and this figure is predicted to rise to 88% by 2050. According to data from Statista, Spain is on top of the list when it comes to the urbanization of population, as compared to 56% of the world’s population, which lives in cities and 75% in Europe. Urban logistics encompasses all product supply and delivery activities within cities. According to a study conducted by Roland Berger for FM Logistic, called “Urban logistics facing economic and environmental challenges”, we found that urban logistics’ market will grow by an annual average of 8% until 2030.

For all these reasons and e-commerce, it is important to understand the challenges facing urban logistics, and Spain is a good “laboratory” for that.

Growth of cities. The population of cities is expected to reach 6 billion by 2045. This translates into the creation of new buildings to live in, more stores, more cars circulating in the city and a greater volume of needs to be met. In many cities, there is no established urban plan, let alone one, that takes urban logistics into account.

Increasing volumes. According to data from the National Commission for Markets and Competition (CNMC), in 2020 e-commerce in Spain grew by more than 20%, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend is still on the rise, because according to data provided by the same source, e-commerce in Spain grew again by 13%, in the second quarter of 2021. Urban logistics is increasing at a faster rate than long-distance transport. 

Wide variety of orders. Urban logistics also face challenges related to the order typology. There are different products that need different types of delivery and vehicles to complete the most efficient and sustainable logistics possible. This action requires a great deal of organizational capacity.

Vehicle restrictions. In many cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, there are restrictions on access to the city center for  pollution-oriented vehicles in order to reduce the emission of polluting gases in the city center. We also find legislation that regulates access times for delivery vehicles which leads to the accumulation of vehicles at rush hours, greater traffic concentration and delays in the delivery of packages.

Insufficient loading and unloading areas. There is currently a demand for more loading and unloading areas as they are currently insufficient. As we have already mentioned, there is an increasing traffic of delivery vehicles as a result of the growth of e-commerce and population. Many vehicles are double-parked, and this results in higher concentrations of vehicles and possible accidents in urban centers.

What solutions exist to address these challenges in urban logistics?

Creation of laws. The logistics sector and, in particular urban logistics, have been calling for years for the creation of common legislation in all cities in order to meet all environmental requirements, reduce pollution and be more efficient with deliveries.

One of the alternatives that can be considered to reduce pollution in cities is to homogenize and regulate delivery companies operating in certain urban areas to avoid dozens of delivery companies in the same block of buildings. It is common to see several delivery vans on the same street, and this could have a solution with benefits, both for urban mobility, and for the sustainability and air quality of cities.

Sustainable delivery vehicles. The solution to decarbonize urban logistics lies in the use of electric or manual delivery vehicles (such as bicycles), for the delivery of packages in the so-called “last-mile”. Many cities, such as Madrid, for example, prohibit the entry of non-electric or zero-polluting vehicles. This is a measure created to eliminate the emission of greenhouse gases in the city center, and increase people’s quality of life, in harmony with e-commerce..

Creation of urban hubs. Many companies in the logistics sector are starting to create hubs, or storage spaces, for packages in the center of the destination city for faster, more sustainable and optimal deliveries. In this way, the packages are already just a few kilometers away from the end-consumer.

Creation of Click & Collect spaces. Many stores and companies have already implemented this service. It is a solution without intermediaries. One buys their products online and picks them up at the store whenever they want. The same method is used for returns; you do not need to go to a transport company to make them.

Lockers. It is increasingly common to see lockers in shopping malls or delivery offices, where the end-consumer picks up his package, at the best suitable time, using a code that unlocks the locker.

Consumer awareness of reverse logistics. It is essential to make consumers aware of the importance of buying the products they need. Many people buy the same product via e-commerce, for example a piece of clothing in different sizes because it is “easy” and “fast” to get, and then keep the clothes that finally convince them and return those that do not. In the end, when we carry out actions like these, we are unnecessarily saturating urban logistics, and this has a significant environmental and operational cost.

Efficient management of urban logistics depends on various stakeholders, logistics and institutions on the one hand, but on the other hand, it also depends to a large extent on the good actions and responsible consumption of individuals. There is a real shift in consumer trends towards e-commerce and immediacy in deliveries. This trend may not have negative consequences for the environment, if we shop responsibly, and are able to decarbonize logistics.

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