Finding the right space for Urban Logistics: a framework for open parcel locker systems

The surge in e-commerce is transforming urban landscapes, as consumers increasingly demand swift, direct-to-home deliveries. To maintain orderly and liveable public spaces, the implementation of city-wide parcel locker networks is emerging as an important tool for consolidating urban logistics. Our Future Mobility consultants, Lorena Axinte and Víctor Ferran, are supporting the City of Groningen in addressing the rapid expansion of these services and managing their impact on public spaces. They have produced a new framework for parcel lockers in collaboration with the city and the University of Groningen within the ULaaDS (Urban Logistics as an on-Demand Service) project, a landmark EU initiative in the realm of urban logistics.

Groningen’s approach to parcel lockers

Like many innovations, parcel lockers took cities by surprise, developing much more rapidly than associated policies and regulations. Some public authorities are trying to find a middle ground between allowing such services to spread freely on streets, whilst managing the additional pressure they might bring to public spaces, traffic, and overall quality of life.

The City of Groningen is one of the very few public authorities that has developed a framework for an open parcel locker system. The extensive development process involved:

  • Interdepartmental collaboration within the city
  • Stakeholder engagement via logistics fora in the ULaaDS project
  • Academic research led by the University of Groningen, which informed the framework to ensure it was grounded in the latest scientific findings.
  • Support from Bax & Company through:
    • International benchmarking of best practices in collection and delivery points.
  • Strategic spatial analysis, a key aspect of the framework showing how parcel lockers can be integrated into urban spaces to increase accessibility for Groningen’s inhabitants.

Our new publication summarises the benchmarking exercise, as well as the process and results of the spatial analysis conducted by Lorena and Víctor. 

Despite the limited number of good practices, other parcel locker frameworks and approaches from Austria, Norway, the UK, the US, and Singapore were analysed and compared. The search for other examples from around the world led to the conclusion that work in this direction is still emerging. When led by public authorities, most parcel locker programmes are rather experimental in nature, and only some of the existing guidelines (e.g., from Austria) provide a thorough overview of aspects to consider for implementation.

Key recommendations for public authorities include: 

Public authorities should regulate parcel lockers in public spaces and intervene in private areas if they cause disruptions like traffic or noise. These areas may be handled by different departments, requiring interdepartmental collaboration.

Encourage an open parcel locker system to allow various providers and users, but be aware of potential increases in delivery vehicles and the risk of a monopoly if consolidated under one company.

Ensure parcel lockers are safe to use (e.g., well-lit), accessible (e.g., wheelchair-friendly), and do not obstruct public spaces (e.g., pedestrian paths).

Implement data reporting agreements to gather information on urban logistics, monitor parcel locker usage, and make necessary adjustments.

Barrier-free design of the installation site | Visual inspired by Bernhard Hruska / Architektur B4

The aim was threefold:

  1. To ensure accessibility for active travel, avoiding car travel for parcel pick-ups
  2. To complement the existing private parcel locker networks, adding facilities in underserved areas
  3. To develop an integrated approach which embeds logistics services in the city’s wider mobility hubs strategy

In this sense, the spatial analysis encompassed three steps: 

  1. Understanding the city context: Where do most people live? Where are people most likely to walk and cycle? Where would the city prefer to locate parcel lockers?
  2. Finding the most accessible 10 public spots: If we were to allocate 10 parcel lockers to maximise coverage (without considering the existing private networks), where would these be?
  3. Filling the gaps in existing private networks: Considering the current private offer and the city’s preferred locations, which locations would best fill in underserved areas?

We see parcel lockers spreading rapidly across European cities. While the practice has evolved quickly, the policies and frameworks to ensure parcel lockers serve as a public good are largely missing. This collaborative work kickstarted by the City of Groningen offers an example that other cities could follow, not just for parcel lockers, but also for other transport developments (loading zones, drop-off areas for shared mobility, etc.) which will require more and more public space.

Lorena Axinte

The map below shows the coverage of private networks from PostNL (orange) and DHL (yellow) for pedestrians, as well as the recommended locations for the open parcel locker system (green). The three spots highlighted are our recommended locations for parcel lockers, if the city aims to open a tender to complement the existing private networks.

Recommended priority locations for parcel lockers

Overall, the insights gathered in the report can serve as a guide for public authorities looking to develop a well-thought-out, coordinated approach. They are also beneficial for parcel locker providers interested in improving their services and adapting to different city requirements, including accessibility and aesthetics. 

Although complex, Groningen’s approach is replicable in other contexts, too, allowing public and private stakeholders to work together in the transition towards sustainable urban logistics. This way, municipalities can ensure that their ambitious zero-emission policies can be implemented with less pushback from the local community. This is bolstered by tangible support for businesses and citizens, ensuring sustained economic activity within the city.

Bax & Company’s contribution to ULaaDS

Bax & Company has been involved in ULaaDS since its inception. 

We have dedicated our efforts from the outset to assist our partners in developing and testing a range of innovative, shared, and zero-emission logistics solutions. Our focus has been on addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the burgeoning on-demand economy. In the 360º observatory, we compiled our partners’ experiences, as well as noteworthy developments from across the world.

The framework for parcel lockers is an example of the policy and planning support we offer in the ULaaDS project. In the following months, using the lessons learned in ULaaDS, we will be highlighting best practices for implementation for industries and public authorities, along with a policy paper on future on-demand urban logistics.

The ULaaDS consortium recently concluded with a final event held in Barcelona. During the first day, Lorena and Víctor held an interactive session centred around the new parcel locker framework, alongside Paul Buijs (University of Groningen) and Sjouke van der Vlugt (City of Groningen). On the second day, they gathered insights on frameworks, policies and planning for sustainable logistics with Hassan Hussin and Katy Huaylla (Rupprecht Consult), asking the audience questions such as:

  • What are the main aspects that should be included in a SULP?
  • Which stakeholders are typically engaged in urban logistics planning?
  • Which innovation(s) do you think will have the most significant impact on urban logistics in the next decade?
  • What is the primary driving force for change in urban logistics in your area?

You can download the results of the live survey, as well as the full day 1 and day 2 presentations.

Photos from the ULaaDS final event in Barcelona, November 2023

What’s next for urban logistics?

The new framework for parcel lockers is more than just a logistical solution; it represents a forward-thinking approach to urban planning and community engagement. By prioritising accessibility and the needs of local communities, we hope to set a new standard for how urban logistics challenges should be addressed. Spatial analyses like this can be applied not only to urban logistics but also to other aspects of urban mobility and urban planning.

The insights gained from this framework, coupled with the overall learnings from the ULaaDS project, are set to influence future urban logistics initiatives across Europe.

If you’d like to know more about our work in ULaaDS, or how your city can transform its urban logistics infrastructure, get in touch with a member of our team!

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