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Logistics

Co-modality: Making use of public transport to carry freight

Sydney trains platform. Image courtesy of iMOVE CRC

The last mile freight task is forecast to continue to increase rapidly in the next decade.

The synergies created by combining city logistics with urban public transport, referred to as co-modality, are potentially enormous.

As planning, tracking and managing passengers and freight becomes more sophisticated and transparent, the opportunities to leverage environmental, economic and efficiency benefits from a co-modal approach are becoming apparent.

City planners are increasingly investigating how to leverage integrated transport opportunities to maximise transport network efficiency, improve the environment and best utilise available resources. This can be achieved by diverting some freight tasks from the road network to utilising spare capacity on public transport to reduce the number of trucks and vans on city roads, cutting both congestion and emissions.

Within the context of Sydney’s CBD, the proposed project aims to investigate:

  1. The potential for moving freight within urban areas utilising latent capacity on public transport without disrupting passenger service levels.
  2. The role of public transport station services, with a particular focus on how to move goods through stations.

Participants

Project background

Safe, efficient and reliable transport is crucial to supporting the productivity, liveability and sustainability of cities like Sydney. This applies to the movement of people and goods. Servicing a growing population and delivering greater productivity, particularly in busy commercial centres, results in a need to find capacity to carry more people and goods within the constraints of the broader transport networks.

The $70 billion dollar economy of the Sydney CBD, along with the 630,000 people who work and/or live in the CBD, generate around 35,000 commercial vehicle movements each day. As more people live and work in the CBD, demand for goods and services will increase. Global forecasts predict a 36 per cent growth in freight vehicles in cities in the next decade to 2030[1]. A lot of this growth will come from same day delivery of small eCommerce consignments.

Concurrently, changing urban infrastructure and design will see less available road and kerbside space. This will make managing customers delivery expectations into the CBD an increasingly complex task.

In short-haul transport, people and freight generally share the same infrastructure (predominately road) however they rarely share the same vehicle. There are potential efficiency gains from developing and optimising an integrated system capable of using the spare capacity of public transport vehicles for freight transportation. This concept is referred to as co-modal integration or co-modality.

The best current example of co-modal integration is long-haul air transport, in which passenger aircraft are used to move freight (‘belly hold’ freight), generating additional revenue for airlines. Approximately 80% of airfreight arrives into Australia as “belly hold” in passenger aircraft.

[1] The future of last-mile Ecosystem, World Economic Forum (2020).

High-level justification

Sydney’s train network is highly utilised during commuter peaks. At other times, there is the potential to use spare capacity on the rail network to move certain types of freight. This will improve asset utilisation on services that are already committed, generate additional commercial revenues, reduce the number of freight vehicle movements on the road network both on approach to and within urban centres, reduce pressure for provision of kerbside parking, and reduce congestion and vehicle emissions.

Integrating freight activity into passenger transport systems is becoming more feasible due to advances in tracking, information and communication technologies.

In major cities around the world, there is increased interest in exploiting multimodal synergies. Similar trials and ongoing operations have been constructed in St Etienne, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Dresden, Zurich and cities in Japan.

Co-modality service success factors

The critical success factors are coordination, planning, scheduling policies and operating methods that:

  • Maintain passenger priority while using the latent capacity for freight movement
  • Do not adversely impact the service performance of transport assets at stations or stops
  • Secure, track and record the movement of goods
  • Offer a commercially viable proposition for the public transport operator and customers
  • Suit the design of public transport vehicles.

Project objectives

The critical success factors are coordination, planning, scheduling policies and operating methods that:

  • Maintain passenger priority while using the latent capacity for freight movement
  • Do not adversely impact the service performance of transport assets at stations or stops
  • Secure, track and record the movement of goods
  • Offer a commercially viable proposition for the public transport operator and customers
  • Suit the design of public transport vehicles.

The main objective of this project is to develop a proof of concept for this capability. This will be achieved in three stages:

  1. Understand the opportunities and constraints for the adoption of co-modality in support of the Sydney CBD
  2. Quantify as far as practical the opportunities and constraints of co-modality along with its benefits and costs
  3. Carry out trials involving moving selected types of goods from an origin to a destination, while tracking progress, recording key events, and measuring service levels

In the longer term, co-modality can lead to the following opportunities for Sydney:

Reducing vehicle congestion

  • Reduced truck traffic moving to CBD and within Greater Sydney
  • Alternative ways of servicing CBD developments
  • Transit-orientated design precincts.

Revenue generation

  • Utilising and potentially monetising spare/off peak capacity on public transport.
  • Services development at stations
  • Creating value in land adjacent to outlying and urban stations

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