Logical Logistics

London has seen a rapid increase in light good vans.

A huge amount of transport planning time goes into modelling future mobility, while separately logistics companies use planning tools to plan and optimise operations. If the two worked together, there would be significant benefits for all.

Across the world transport planners design and optimise infrastructure by considering the way people and goods are transported. For example, planners use modelling to predict the effect HS2 might have on demand for roads; how many passengers may switch from cars to rail, or how many extra cars might be used to get people to and from stations? Meanwhile, in logistics, fleet operators use software that helps plan how to most efficiently use vehicles, drivers and depots. The process of transporting goods involves an extremely complex origin-destination network. However, fleet operators often don’t take into consideration the capacity of the network, or how their operations impact on that capacity. Their aim is, understandably, to plan an operation which minimises their own cost by using the best parts of the road network.

A significant proportion of both transport planning and the logistics industry uses PTV software.

Aligning objectives

So we have two very different, yet equally vital, parts of the transportation industry with different objectives: freight uses the infrastructure, while the transport planning industry does its best to manage performance, investment, capacity, and operational needs. The problem is they are disjointed.

The planning process between the two is minimal if at all, integrated. Transport planners don’t tend to get information about where freight vehicles travel, what is their purpose and what they are delivering, plus where they are planning to deliver in the future. They are therefore unable to understand how the freight industry deploys vehicles on the network, nor its impacts. Meanwhile, freight planners do not understand the depth to which transport planners study the network and its mobility patterns. They may use real-time traffic information to plan their journeys but tend not to know about future interventions such as roadworks or major events. Similarly, the freight industry has little influence over how the road network is planned: it develops depots, vehicle fleets, and specifications based primarily on its strategic plans. There are a huge number of freight vehicles on the roads, and Transport for London has observed a rapid increase in the number of light goods vans, largely due to the explosion in online shopping and changes in patterns of deliveries and fleet specifications. These additional trips have put pressure on the road network and increased congestion and emissions. Meanwhile, new restrictions on freight transport, such as clean air and low emission zones, will have an effect that is yet to be understood. It is clear that professionals in the planning process and logistics deployment needs to improve cooperation. A significant proportion of both transport planning and the logistics industry uses PTV software to plan and optimise the movement of people and goods, so we hope to drive some changes in this area. There are always concerns that if the logistics industry shares data there will be an impact on competitive advantage or privacy, but these issues can be managed with technology. With integrated data and planning processes, all partners can increase the efficiency of the planning process and optimise the movement of people and goods.

Real-time decision support

But we can do more than just focus on the long-term; with computer processing power and traffic information quality improving hugely all the time, we can do this in real time too. We can link the current route a freight vehicle is taking with the authority’s traffic control centre, so it can be aware of a freight vehicle’s origin, destination, and its planned route. In this way, in the event of an incident, the authority could have direct access to the driver to send information to help choose the best routes and divert in the most effective manner. PTV Group already has a real-time predictive decision support model, using real-time data to predict what will happen on the network in the near future and implement changes, for example, the phasing of traffic lights, to mitigate problems before they occur. Such technology could also integrate live freight data and use that to make predictions about the impact of incidents in real time, and better influence the users of the road network: an additional big win for a transport authority. With PTV’s access to both the transport planning and freight industry, we have a unique opportunity to help achieve this collaboration.

The A13 example is purely for illustration: A pilot project could take place on any stretch of Highways England’s strategic road network.

A collaborative pilot project

My idea requires the two industries to closely collaborate and I believe the best way of starting this is ‘proof of concept’ and pilot projects. Consider, for example, the development of an integrated transport and freight planning corridor. This is something that could form a blueprint for other strategic corridors and operators of the road network across the country. Let’s imagine a corridor along the A13 which goes from east London to the coast, past a major port, London Gateway, and also feeding into the A12 which is the main artery to Felixstowe and Harwich. Not surprisingly, there are many warehouses and distribution centres along this road. At the moment the corridor is an A road, built to motorway standards in many stretches, and has mostly three lanes in each direction. It is therefore high capacity, relatively high speed with a high proportion of freight compared to other London roads. If there is an incident within London close to the A13, or on it, there is a huge impact on traffic in general and freight operations in particular. What ought to happen in cases of congestion on the A13 is that the freight vehicles deviate completely from their original plans, but as it stands there isn’t enough information they can use to help themselves. A corridor like this can be chosen to demonstrate how the planning process, both in terms of business as usual on the road and traffic, can be informed by a transportation model. Freight planners can use a model to help them decide how they plan to route their vehicles, but also test different scenarios in response to incidents to help them design mitigation plans. This helps them understand the optimal way of diverting, especially at locations where incidents do take place on a more regular basis. The transport model used by planners can be used to help freight managers create better-optimised routes and strategies. It can help them plan their routing more effectively in the future. This will save time, fuel, and therefore costs. In a collaborative approach like this, the freight operators and the authorities will need to agree on future plans that will help both sides deal with incidents in the most effective manner – a true win-win situation.

About the Author

Devrim Kara has been working for PTV Group since 2012. He was appointed Director, UK & Ireland in 2014. Are you keen to get in touch? Connect with him via LinkedIn!

The article above was originally published in Data & Modelling 2019.

This post is also available in: German