‘Choking’ fears if home delivery left unregulated
The Age, 16 January 2017
Everything we desire from the booming convenience economy is now just a swipe of our smartphones away. But according to Melbourne academic, Australia’s capitals face the same traffic-congested “choking” fate as central London if the burgeoning economy is left unregulated.
Dr Ian Woodcock from RMIT’s School of Global, Urban and Social Science warns inner-city, ‘to-your-door’ services will not reduce time in cars, nor support federal 30-minute “smart city” aspirations.
The global view is a smart city’s residents access services and jobs within a 60-minute round trip because commuter times longer than an hour return undermine physical and mental health.
Woodcock points to London, a city UK transport experts say is “drowning in vehicles” despite a congestion charge introduced in 2003 to minimise the number of private cars visiting the city each day.
He says that while the tax has reduced private cars in the British capital, they’ve been more than replaced by other vehicles, specifically, online shopping delivery vans, and the same fate awaits Australia if we don’t react now.
“Our cities are choked already with car traffic [and] on-demand services that use cars, vans and trucks will add more vehicles to the mix, [in] what is known as ‘induced demand’,” Woodcock says.
“So without strong policy and regulation that recognises the deleterious effects of induced demand related to car-based, on-demand transport and delivery services, I do think our cities will become even more congested and choked.”
Alarmingly, according to the latest TomTom Traffic Index data, Sydney already has traffic congestion greater than London’s.
The telematics company found congestion in the NSW capital increases travel times by 36 per cent, which adds an extra 151 hours to the time motorists spend on the road each year.
In London, traffic congestion increases travel times by 38 per cent, which equates to 149 additional hours.
The index has also found inner-city congestion costs Australian businesses $3.37 billion annually in wasted labour costs because of the extra time courier drivers are spending in traffic.
Woodcock couldn’t point to data directly linking growing city congestion to the on-demand, convenience economy but says debate is more focused on “the broader questions of driverless vehicles of which on-demand services are a subset”.
“Industry and academic opinion varies wildly here,” he says.
“Some argue driverless vehicles will have taken over by 2030, greatly reducing the need for road space; others argue the level of control and reconfiguration of road space required to enable this is highly undesirable, even if it were possible to achieve,” he says.
But not all academics think the burgeoning on-demand industry undermines 30-minute city planning and increases congestion.
Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Peter Newman says “outside peak times is when you are seeing almost no traffic in most cities” and “every city delivers the vast bulk of its parcels in non-peak times”.
“If there is any concrete data on it, I’d be very interested to see it,” Newman says.
In his view, peak-time congestion is “easily fixed” via “simple regulation”.
“It could be as simple as deliveries of non-essential goods are banned during peak times, maybe 7.30am-9.30am and 4pm-6pm, of course if you have to deliver a pizza for example that may be controlled via some [regulatory] exclusions.
“I really don’t see this link between the on-demand economy and any impact on 30-minute city planning but see it rather as another layer of commerce that will have to find its own way.”
Chris Chisman-Duffy of Tom Tom Telematics ANZ, says traffic congestion solutions will play a role in 30-minute city planning by connecting vehicles and road infrastructure via the internet of things (IoT).
“Regulation and, more importantly, smart infrastructure investment will help to ease the [congestion] problem,” Chisman-Duffy says.
City traffic light systems, for example, could be “vastly improved” through car-to-infrastructure communication, he says. Connected vehicles could communicate with traffic lights, to let lights know when to change, and reduce stops.
According to Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman, ideas touted by traders include “some trialling of night deliveries” and lock boxes allowing deliveries to be made and collected after hours via secure boxes on site in CBDs.
Australia Post recently announced it may test after hours package deliveries to residences between 5pm and 7pm.
“We are going to see more and more of these deliveries happening at all hours of day and night, and it is going to start choking our cities so it is important that governments, both local and state, really look at this issue and work with us to find solutions,” Zimmerman said.
Go People links goods with courier drivers and CEO Wayne Wang says while inner-city delivery drivers “are nothing new”, he acknowledges that “we need to be careful the influx of modern on-demand services doesn’t make the situation worse, particularly if they result in sporadic requests across the city”.
Like Chisman-Duffy, he points to routing technology with the potential to ease congestion by reducing reliance on inner-city depots, helping remove trucks from roads.
“The algorithms powering Go People’s delivery drivers analyse the complete network of seemingly independent jobs across the city and then group together multiple deliveries, which enables our drivers to efficiently complete the most jobs possible along a single journey,” Wang said.
“We see competition continuing to spur advances in efficiency, for instance, more jobs could be completed outside of business or peak hours, only helping improve urban traffic flow and assist in making the 30-minute city dream a reality.”
Chief executive of Foodora Australia, Toon Gyssels says his business dispatched “thousands of orders” daily across inner Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and his biggest concern was “the safety of our partner riders as more awareness is needed about cycling and cycling safety”.
Cyclists, both private and deliverers, are at risk because of increased traffic in CBDs, Gyssels stresses.
Drones are another option that could help meet demand while keeping traffic under control.
Melbourne business Flirtey recently trialled drone deliveries in New Zealand for Dominos deliveries and in the US for convenience store franchise 7-Eleven.
Its autonomously driven drones made two deliveries to a customer’s backyard using GPS navigation.
James Eling of Marketing4Restaurants sees the on-demand delivery industry, especially food, maturing in two phases.
“There will be an increase in bike riders in the short term in the inner city, our research with Uber drivers this year suggests their drivers, as with Deliveroo and Foodora, are relying on bikes and scooters because parking for vehicle drivers is too problematic,” Eling says.
“And the two-plus year drive will be around drone deliverability.
“Drones will replace vehicles and drivers as the main source of delivery for takeaway restaurants and it will happen quite quickly.”