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Rethinking Road Freight In An Era Of Smart Cities

Data Blocks
Data Blocks

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates there are 1760 more people in Melbourne and 1600 in Sydney every week. Our growing cities present challenges for the freight and transport industry because an increasingly large number of people need things brought in and out of their lives.

More people in cities also means more congestion, which increases the difficulty of servicing their needs. Even when governments are willing to invest in infrastructure, there are still first and last mile issues, where freight operations hit bottlenecks at the point of departure or arriving at a destination, which are both usually in more densely populated areas.

Cities often grow in a haphazard fashion over decades, or even centuries, and the road networks end up slotting into the gaps. Further complicating matters is the attitude to the industry, which as Peter Anderson, CEO of the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) noted in his speech at the ITS World Congress 2016 in Melbourne recently, can sometimes be fractious.

“We have the growing demands from the community, who at times seem disenfranchised with supply chain logistics, demanding that trucks don’t drive through their communities but expecting goods to magically appear,” he said.

This means freight operators need to play a part in the development of increasingly smart cities. By harnessing technology, we can create more intelligent systems to deliver a better outcome for both operators and the community at large.

Improving Safety

Fatigue management is a key issue in the transport industry. Electronic Work Diaries (EWDs), which can be used instead of paper diaries from next year, make the calculation of work and rest periods easier, but they are just the start of the ways we can harness technology to make city roads safer. Biometric devices that track eye movements or note when a driver is showing signs of fatigue are becoming more commonplace.

GPS fleet management systems make it easier for operators to manage and pinpoint potentially dangerous problems with their fleet, such as a speeding driver, ensuring they meet chain of responsibility obligations. GPS is more than a device to guide trucks from A to B. By taking everything from road conditions, regulations and traffic into account when planning a journey, smarter systems ensure drivers take the safest route.

As we move more into the realm of semi-automated systems, the traditional convoy will be replaced by platooning. Here, a line of trucks constantly communicates with each other to synchronise movements. While drivers remain in ultimate control, if the lead vehicle suddenly swerves to avoid a collision, the following trucks will also react, improving response times.

Less Congestion

Platooning works best on highways, but it still offers benefits for city driving. Because they’re so responsive, platooning trucks can drive closer to each other, physically occupying less space on the road. And advanced warning of the need to stop eliminates sudden breaking and other issues that impede the smooth flow of traffic.

Already, GPS tracking give dispatchers the real-time visibility to push turn-by-turn directions to drivers or have the best route automatically calculated for them, so that drivers can avoid getting caught in traffic without driving on roads that they’re not authorised to use.

We’re starting to see the use of signal priority systems in which traffic lights can detect the approach of freight vehicles and minimise their need to stop, avoiding the impact of slow start and stop processes on traffic flows.

There will also be innovations outside of the transport sphere that will be able to help deal with city congestion. The rise of safes and locked boxes, which can be securely open and closed by delivery drivers, along with RFID chips that can track goods, makes delivery times more flexible. In the US, the Department of Transportation is running a pilot program to encourage overnight deliveries to ease traffic congestion caused by trucks blocking lanes because there’s nowhere else to stop.

Environmental Benefits

No city of the future wants to be a smog fest like Los Angeles in the 1980s. Easing congestion and taking shorter routes will obviously go a long way to reduce fuel consumption by minimising time wasted in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just as platooning reduces the amount of space trucks take up on the road, it also decreases the space between the trucks in the convey so they can lower the amount of wind resistance and consequently, fuel use. Since driver behaviour is also a component of fuel consumption and fleet management systems help identify issues such as harsh braking or excessive idling that can also be addressed, which is good for the environment and avoids unnecessary wear and tear.

The knock-on effect of using technology to improve how freight is moved around smart cities is that it also allows fleet managers to run a smoother operation, reduce fuel consumption and better utilise fleets. With investment in the right technology, you can play your role in the smart cities of the future, improving safety and your bottom line, as well as help make cities more liveable.

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