Narrow Streets, Unlimited Innovation

Could an experiment in one European city become the template for urban delivery?
Aug 3, 2016 12:30 PM ET
Campaign: Thought Leadership

Frank Horch | City of Hamburg

Home to the second largest port in Europe, Hamburg, Germany has been a transportation center for centuries, serving as a vital link to trade between the continent and the world beyond.

Since early times, people have settled by great rivers to engage in trade. Ports are vibrant population centers in every continent. They are often characterized by a thriving economy, wide diversity, tolerance and creativity.

That’s how it is in Hamburg, too.

But the city was tailored for waterways, not global commerce in the 21st century. In this age of globalization, we constantly reinvent ourselves and develop with an eye toward the future. Today, Hamburg’s inner city is lined with narrow streets, a bustling pocket of activity in which infrastructure struggles to keep up with modern demands.

Commercial vehicles make streets impassable. Parking is often nonexistent. Something had to be done. The situation was bad for business. And perhaps most importantly, such gridlock was bad for the environment. Additional roads weren’t an option. We needed to find a better way to use the existing space. We needed a big idea. And we needed partners.

Luckily, a few years ago, UPS came to us with an innovative solution.

Harnessing big ideas

The world’s largest transportation and logistics company proposed replacing its large delivery vehicles with a smaller, city-friendly fleet in Hamburg.

UPS drivers would pick up deliveries from a storage container of consolidated shipments in the center of the city.

UPS drivers would then use alternative methods, including walkers, conventional tricycles and electrically assisted tricycles, to make deliveries throughout the city center and in pedestrian-only zones.

UPS would rely on four electronically-assisted bikes, known as Cargo Cruisers. For context, a standard 220-volt electric socket recharges the Cargo Cruiser’s electric motor batteries overnight.

Each stakeholder had a simple goal: reduce traffic in the city center and lower overall emissions caused by package delivery in Hamburg.

Neuer Wall, one of Hamburg’s busiest shopping districts, was Ground Zero for our sustainability efforts. It’s a luxury shopping street – and surrounded by water.

There’s no space for deliveries behind the stores. To call it congested would be an understatement. But this is the price of urbanization. And though a major problem, it’s also a significant opportunity.

The bigger picture

This pilot program has been a game-changer. UPS service providers make fewer trips to package centers, reducing congestion and noise. And the bicycles and walkers are particularly useful in navigating the narrow streets of central areas of the city.

This campaign meshes nicely with Germany’s broader efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The country has committed to reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2020 and about 80 percent by 2050 as compared with 1990 levels. Roads and walking and cycling trails are fixtures throughout Hamburg.

So the city needed a solution that wouldn’t disrupt the infrastructure already in place. And it had to be both environmentally sustainable and economically feasible.

Many cities today are struggling with similar issues.

Not unique to Hamburg

By 2050, two-thirds of all people will live in a city.

With many large cities in Europe and around the world limiting access to their central commercial and residential zones – allowing only zero-emission or compact size vehicles – developing and deploying new and innovative techniques is essential.

This is not a task we can take on alone.

Governments, private companies and nonprofits all have a role in building logistics networks that foster responsible growth. Environmental progress need not come at the expense of economic gain.

Our hope is that the innovative work UPS and Hamburg pioneered together will serve as a solution other cities can replicate. We’re optimistic this partnership can be the springboard for future innovation.

If Hamburg is any indication, we’re on the path to a brighter – and greener – future.

Frank Horch is the Minister of Transport for the city of Hamburg, Germany.

This article first appeared on Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy. Subscribe here to receive new content.