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Scenario developments for forecasting urban freight shifts

urban freight shifts

This project will develop a market analysis of current trends in urban freight and commercial services with specific focus on the vehicles used in these services (i.e. vehicle type, drive type, mass).

It will develop a framework/tool for forecasting future scenarios of urban freight and commercial services in informing planning and regulation (transport and land use), with the associated implications for road safety, emissions, urban amenity, and road wear.


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Project background

A major driver of increased freight volumes in Australia over the last four decades has been strong growth in both urban and inter-urban non-bulk freight (4.8 and 4.4 per cent per annum respectively), which is primarily carried by road transport. BITRE has forecast urban freight to grow by nearly 60 per cent over 20 years to 2040.

It is essential to better understand what the future needs of urban freight providers will be in order to service this growth in freight volumes. These needs will vary with factors such as vehicle size, mode, and technological requirements.

The need for this better planning aligns with the National Urban Freight Planning Principles, which Infrastructure and Transport Ministers endorsed in May 2021. These principles bring together transport and land use planning and are intended to flow through to strategic planning and detailed planning guidance documents over time.

Of note, one of the seven principles is to respond to changes in freight movements, including smaller scale freight movement and emerging technologies. Responding to changes in urban freight, as well as non-freight commercial vehicle movements may call for new investments.

For instance, there may be an increased need for electric and hydrogen vehicle charging/refuelling infrastructure (partly driven by the increasing demand for reduced emissions). As freight of the future may also be carried by connected and automated vehicles (which will most likely offer electric, and potentially hydrogen fuel options), investments in relevant supporting digital and physical infrastructure will also need to be considered.

Responding to changes may also call for existing regulation, pricing, and maintenance arrangements to be re-examined. For example, the impacts from the emerging trend towards smaller trucks providing urban freight and commercial services could be reflected in maintenance decisions. Factors when considering this trend include understanding:

  • The balance of smaller and larger vehicles used by freight and other commercial businesses currently and in the next few years given light commercial vehicles (LCVs) (e.g. small trucks and vans) less than 4.5t gross vehicle mass (GVM) fall under demarcation thresholds, which exempt them from special licencing required to operate and pay heavy vehicle road user charges. However, larger vehicles pay less fuel excise due to fuel tax credits;
  • The impacts of increased volumes of LCVs on urban amenity that need to be planned for (such as kerbside access, curfews, congestion);
  • The effects of fewer large vehicle movements on urban road maintenance costs, given the impact of vehicles under approximately 10t GVM on road wear and tear is not significant; and
  • The drivers to uptake in electric vehicles (EVs), current uptake rates (given EVs do not pay a fuel excise), their impact on urban amenity and cost to freight companies in urban last mile freight.

An increasing amount of data is becoming available to track and analyse urban freight movements. Some of this is already occurring through the development of the National Freight Data Hub and with Freight Data Exchange pilots. There is scope for this new data to be complemented by information to understand the drivers of emerging urban freight trends, to inform an understanding of what future scenarios may develop.

The scope of this report will also complement three key priorities in the National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30 by providing an understanding of the changes to road use by heavy vehicles and related heavy vehicle safety, as well as flow on effects to infrastructure planning and investment, and vulnerable road users.

Project objectives

This project aims to (within the scope of available data and other relevant information):

  • Collect evidence on current and emerging urban freight trends towards using road vehicles with lower mass and emissions, including an analysis of what is driving those trends;
  • Identify trends in other non-freight commercial vehicle movements in urban areas (e.g. tradespersons and other vehicles supporting commercial, construction and building services (excluding ride share and fleet vehicles);
  • Where possible, consider the road safety implications of changes to urban freight, including anticipated changes to the quantity and type of vehicles in urban areas and under what scenarios they are anticipated to be used; and
  • Apply the above evidence and analysis to forecast what future urban freight and commercial vehicle scenarios could look like.

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