The ‘last-mile’ linking Malmö and Montréal

Earlier this summer we were discussing what in urban logistics is known as the ‘last mile’, the final stretch of the transport of goods. We saw how your online shopping (and those of thousands or millions of your neighbours) had disastrous environmental and social effects: from skyrocketed traffic carbon emissions to further precarious working conditions in the ‘gig economy’ delivery culture.  

This is not new, and cities increasingly experiment with solutions to prevent, mitigate, or simply offer an emergency respond to an already chaotic situation. Regarding the latter, see the pilot project that New York City has implemented this summer to test the rapid installation of 20 loading zones –  microhubs – to meet e-commerce demands, and to hopefully encourage shifting deliveries from trucks towards smaller vehicles—like cargo bicycles, handcarts and electric vans. To get a better idea of the situation: New York has almost 9 million inhabitants and over 80% of them receive at least one package per week (while 18% do so at least four times more!), and most of these goods are moved into and around the city by truck. Other cities aren’t (yet, if nothing is done) in this situation and have therefore the chance to act in a more proactive way to achieve long-term sustainability. Namely, implementing measures not only for more sustainable e-commerce deliveries but to prevent with parallel measures (local economy support, behavioural changes…) the unsustainable volumes of goods transportation that New York is facing.

This is the case of Malmö and of Montreal, who, under a Vinnova (the Swedish innovation agency) call, have reunited a mixed group of four organizations from the public, private and cooperative sector to exchange around sustainable carbon-neutral last-mile delivery. In addition to the technical aspects of operationalizing multi stakeholder urban logistics hubs, there is an added interest in the potential benefits of including social solidarity enterprises and cooperatives among city-logistics stakeholders, as ways for a clearer integration of social and environmental aspects in the process. Last week a participant to the project, Malmö-based worker cooperative of bicycle couriers Alternativa Kuriren, took part in a field visit to Montreal. Indeed, since 2019 the city is already experimenting with Projet Colibri the setting of mini hubs between private transporters, local delivery coops, and the local government, to diminish the circulation of trucks in the cities. A differential factor of this experience is that, while it has been initiated by the local government, a third actor, the also Malmö-Montreal project participant Coop Carbone – a solidarity cooperative- is appointed as coordinator of the Projet Colibri. Mini-hubs following such a mixed operation model would have the potential to generate the most positive externalities, by facilitating harmonious collaboration between the various players in the hub, and avoiding a ‘cannibalization’ of strategic premises by private actors who may act in isolation. With a first hub situated in the very central premises of the old bus station at Berri-UQAM, a second Projet Colibri hub – Iberville – was inaugurated last fall and includes shared charging stations for the participant delivery companies. As per the project’s performances measurements, 5 cargo bikes and 1 micro-van would replace 6 delivery trucks! 

While the Malmö-Montreal exchanges will end soon, participants are discussing the possibility to develop a mutually beneficial solution to address the challenges of the last-mile delivery. The options are broad: from the use of technology to develop decarbonized logistic options, to impacting production and consumption dynamics towards economic localisation.