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Smarter and cleaner urban freight, now!

My street is in the top 10, but that’s no cause for celebration. We rank eighth among the most polluted streets in the Netherlands. Exhaust fumes from diesel engines are carcinogenic. The poor air quality in Amsterdam takes a year off the lives of its citizens. I’m concerned.

Day and night, trucks drive past my door to deliver shoes and put fresh fish on the table; they deliver packages from web stores, they come with building materials, and they pick up lots and lots of garbage. And then there are the thousands of touringcars packed with visitors. It’s a fascinating conundrum to ponder if you like transport as much as I do.

My neighbors aren’t as excited about transport. They complain about the air quality, the lack of safety, the noise, the parking problems and the inaccessibility of the neighborhood.

Also business owners are unhappy about it. Their customers are complaining. It’s really not much fun to sit down for a beer at an outdoor cafe with all those rumbling trucks and fume-belching tour buses going by.

Air quality

The air quality in the larger Dutch cities is poor, as the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) reported two weeks ago, and that is mainly due to all the traffic. If cities fail to implement more stringent low-emission zones in response to polluting diesel engines, the Netherlands will fail to meet the European standards once again in 2015, according to the city council members in the larger cities.

Is the situation really so hopeless? Each day, some 200,0000 smaller and 50,000 larger trucks bring supplies to city centers in the Netherlands. Most of the trucks are for the catering industry, for building sites or for all the garbage that needs to be removed from the city. The number of parcel-delivery vans is clearly on the rise.

With an eye to the ongoing process of urbanization, urban distribution is a problem. Measures are needed to ensure cleaner vehicles, the strict enforcement of low-emission zones, a better flow of traffic, transport over water and especially smarter stocking, which boils down to more freight in fewer vehicles.

Amsterdam

For years now, Amsterdam has been working to improve the air quality in the city. In 2011, it was the first municipality in the Netherlands to do a cost-benefit analysis of its air-quality measures and to draw up a long-term plan on the basis of that. For its ambitions with respect to urban distribution, Amsterdam received the Lean and Green Award from Connekt, the Dutch public-private network for sustainable mobility.

According to the city government, the approach is on track and is seeing to it that almost the entire city will meet all EU air-quality standards in 2015. That would be good news for those in Amsterdam who are concerned about the RIVM’s figures.

Trade associations have agreed with the city to work out a set of collective measures that would not only contribute towards improving the air quality and the climate, but also encourage innovation in terms of smarter and cleaner transport. In exchange, plans for a low-emission zone may well be scrapped for passenger cars and delivery vans.

The business community is naturally pleased with that prospect. But the city councilman’s proposal is not without strings attached: the companies will need to take action. In addition, Amsterdam is tackling the canal-tour boats, public-transportation vehicles and older cars. The city is also asking the tourism sector, including all its tour buses, to work towards cleaner air.

Policy

Businesses are eager to work on improving urban distribution. They are also tired of the traffic jams, and their drivers are realizing that residents are losing their patience with them. Those businesses are sometimes stymied by the lack of knowledge they encounter among civil servants or by vacillating municipal policies. Continuity in government policy is one of the three pillars of successful urban distribution, along with the right logistics concepts but also clean technology.

A timely and unobstructed flow of goods to and from stores, hotels, cafes and restaurants, building sites and residents of cities can only by ensured through joint efforts to be undertaken by the business community and governments. Companies that often enter city centers need to sit down around the table with municipal civil servants more often to ensure that expertise on urban distribution will be included in the formulation of policy before it is too late. Amsterdam is currently in discussion with local front runners to look at smart solutions for road traffic and more freight deliveries via water canals.

Recent city council elections

Urban distribution requires local solutions. But there also needs to be coordination on a national level, for example to be able to successfully implement European legislation and regulations for cleaner vehicles.

No fewer than 1600 unnecessarily different regulations are in effect in Dutch municipalities. Moreover, each municipality measures the effects of traffic in a different way. Coordination on a national level is crucial and municipalities need to build up their knowledge collectively.

Urban distribution needs to be smarter and cleaner. Not only for clean air, but also for better accessibility, less noise, enhanced safety and more economic vitality.

That will only work if local authorities work closely together with the local business community. With its front runners in business, Amsterdam is showing that it’s possible. Hopefully my street will once again be a clean and healthy place to live in 2015.

Walther Ploos van Amstel is a lecturer in City Logistics at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA) and associate professor at VU University Amsterdam. Follow Walther on https://twitter.com/citylogisticsnl

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