• Transport and Logistics Innovation
  • Electric Vehicles
  • Urban Mobility

Electrifying Logistics Vehicles Can Improve Congestion and Air Quality in Urban Areas: Part 1

William Drier
Jan 09, 2020

EV Fleet

Traffic congestion is a significant concern for many urban centers. Much of this congestion can be attributed to growing urban population and density, combined with rising vehicle miles traveled due to increased rideshare use (Lyft and Uber) and more e-commerce deliveries than ever before. Congestion can lead to worsening air quality and economic losses due to driver and freight time spent in gridlock, which has led many cities to look for policy levers to mitigate these issues. 

Electric logistics vehicles are uniquely suited to alleviate congestion and air quality. As discussed in a previous Navigant Research blog, each electric logistics vehicle can potentially reduce CO2 emissions by 44-88 tons per year. In addition, these vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions, eliminating nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and other criteria pollutants and improving local air quality. 

Enabling Off-Peak Deliveries 

While electrifying logistics vehicles improves the emissions profile and local air quality, it can also help logistics companies and cities tap into off-peak delivery (OPD) windows. OPD programs are a traffic demand management strategy designed to promote behavioral changes and shift deliveries to take place outside of high traffic congestion periods—typically between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Benefits and Challenges of OPD Programs

Some cities have begun testing and have seen the success of such programs, including New York City’s Off-Hour Deliveries Program. Demonstrated benefits of such programs include increased pedestrian and cyclist safety, faster travel speeds for passenger travelers, increased productivity for freight carriers, and increased delivery reliability for receivers. An analysis of New York’s pilot program suggested a long-term OPD program would reduce travel time for all highway drivers by 3 to 5 minutes. 

One of the main perceived challenges for shifting urban deliveries to off-peak hours is the noise associated with delivery vehicles in urban, mixed-use areas. While vehicle noise is only one factor in the overall delivery noise profile (such as off-loading goods and communication among staff), vehicle electrification reduces the vehicle drive, operation, and idling noises considerably. Other challenges of OPDs include business and industry preferences for daytime delivery, geographic location, and the costs associated with companies requiring additional workers to receive deliveries outside of normal business hours. 

OPDs can provide benefits beyond reducing traffic congestion, such as increased vehicle utilization (and potentially smaller fleet sizes) and greater delivery efficiency. These benefits improve the case for electrification by reducing overall fleet costs and providing shorter ROI recovery. 

In part 2 of this series, I will discuss early opportunities for electric logistics vehicles and how they can further improve urban congestion and air quality.