A new franchising model for last-mile urban freight deliveries could cut down on road miles, fuel and maintenance costs while delivering the same volume of freight, according to a new report published today by Eunomia Research and Consulting.

The model would resemble how municipal authorities currently deal with residential waste collection through a single competitively tendered franchise operator.

The current free market means delivery companies compete for business with faster and faster delivery times and often overlap routes, sometimes even making multiple deliveries to the same address on any given day.

Having a single operator would enable last-mile delivery routes to be planned with a full picture of the freight that needs to be transported rather than the piecemeal approach currently in place and prevent duplication of routes which in turn cuts down the necessary number of vehicles and distance required to deliver the same volume of packages.

The new approach is estimated to yield almost £5m in economic, environmental and social benefits over a 15 year period. These benefits include reduced fuel and maintenance costs, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality and a reduction in road traffic incidents.

The report, produced by circular economy specialists at Eunomia with funding support from the Foundation for Integrated Transport, uses Bristol as an example of how the model would work and what benefits it could provide. It estimates that 1.29 million miles are driven by delivery and courier services in Bristol each year and that the new model could reduce this by more than 75%, or just over a million miles down to 287,063 mi.

It would however necessitate a shift in consumer behaviour and expectations as some of the fastest delivery options, namely two-hour and same-day, would likely need to be scrapped as they prove to be a barrier to more sustainable operations.

Improvements to the sustainability of urban freight deliveries often focus on a shift towards the electrification of delivery fleets but this doesn’t address the inefficiencies in total distance driven by competing companies.

As we shift away from fossil fuels and more of our energy needs are provided by renewables it will become increasingly important to consider energy usage and efficiency. Cutting the total distance needed to deliver the same amount of freight will result in huge energy savings for both electric and fossil fuel powered vehicles.

Lucy Eggleston, Senior Consultant and author of the report at Eunomia said: “We looked at the Bristol municipal area for this study and modelled multiple scenarios based on fleet electrification and vehicle utilisation. The new franchise model was shown to be most beneficial for fossil fueled fleets which use less than 100% of available space but the benefits were still substantial at over £4m for the most utilised and electrified fleets. We have also made some recommendations for next steps through gathering primary data to reinforce the findings and scoping potential depot size and locations.”