Whether it's a health concern, added traffic disrupting commutes, power shortages and outages, business models changing to address demands, or a combination of effects from the population boom, the compounding growth of cities like New York affects everyone.
In the New York City area alone, the population reached 20,153,634 in 2016, and daily shipments increased almost 6% from 2010 to 2013. This small region is the most densely-populated in the country, and those numbers will rise as more people follow jobs into the city.
In a more focused scope, Manhattan and the other four boroughs had 11,101,852 registered vehicles in 2016, including commercial and personal. This number does not account for the roughly 97,000 additional vehicles that come into and out of the area every day.
Efforts to respond to the growing dilemmas this creates have initiated multiple projects. It's good news for the trucking industry, as the results show the way to economic and environmental gains for fleets.
Already some years ago in 2002, the New York City Dept. of Transportation (NYCDOT) led a project called Potential for Off-Peak Freight Deliveries to Congested Urban Areas to find ways around delivering during peak times and traffic congestion.
The pilot project used GPS technology and shared data on arrival times and delays, ensuring the participants' compliance. It forecast how the program would affect carriers, receivers and traffic, and fleets in cities across the country can employ its overall structure.
The Integrative Freight Demand Management for the New York City Metropolitan Area program began in July 2007. The goal was to improve traffic congestion by encouraging companies to deliver off-peak, specifically emphasizing urban deliveries, which the pilot report noted comprise more than 80% of all freight traffic.
The participating companies shifted delivery times to off-peak for one month, with their trials running independently in 2009 and 2010. They saw a 30% decrease in expenses, even after factoring in higher employee wages these companies offered drivers as an incentive.
Office of Freight Mobility Director Diniece Peters said the pilot produced information that was used to craft a strategy for freight deliveries. Another trial round in 2010 was reviewed, modified, and just launched full-scale in June 2018 aiming to alleviate congestion, reduce business costs and improve quality of life for residents.
The 2010 trial included more than 30 businesses and 400 locations that agreed to move deliveries from peak times of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. to off-hours between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Peters said the pilot focused on commercial areas "with high pedestrian volumes and limited curb space" including Lower Manhattan, Midtown, downtown Brooklyn, Jamaica and Flushing. The delivery shift resulted in shorter transit times as well as lower fuel and delivery costs.
According to the pilot report, "a truck that travels for 10 miles making deliveries could save 1.25 hours of travel time if the average speeds are assumed to be 8 mph (off-hours) and 4 mph (regular hours), respectively. Obviously, the longer the tours are, the larger the economic savings associated with a switch to the off-hours."
In short, this means potential savings of 1.25 hours or more for each delivery route shifted to off-peak hours, depending on length.
The delivery drivers reported a number of good things: faster travel speeds, less congestion, more parking, shorter service times, less stress and improved safety. There were also some challenges that turned up, however, including labor rules and restrictions pertaining to freight elevator operations, building leases and increased neighborhood noise.
"We have worked with equipment manufacturers to identify and trial some quiet delivery technologies such as quiet pallet jacks and back-up alarms," Peters noted.
The trial determined that the financial gains are sufficient to encourage enough of a shift to off-hours to have the desired reduction in peak-hours traffic. Receivers are compensated for the costs they incur accepting off-hours deliveries, while carriers see lower delivery costs and service times along with higher driver satisfaction.
The pilot results predict a 10-20% shift to off-peak deliveries if appropriate incentives are put in place. The savings and improvements from off-peak-hours delivery should encourage others to follow suit, explained Charles Ukegbu, assistant commissioner of regional and strategic planning at NYCDOT.
"There are real operational and financial benefits for off-hour deliveries that companies can realize as part of their delivery strategy for New York City," Ukegbu said.
Not only the five NYC boroughs but the extended metropolitan region stands to benefit from a greater shift in deliveries. Peters urged companies to visit NYCDOT's Off-Hour Deliveries website to examine the logistics of such a change and potential savings it could produce.
Other urban areas across the country are experiencing similar population growth, though not on the same scale and starting from the existing density of NYC. Even so, the fundamentals of this program can be applied to help prevent traffic disasters and save costs at the same time.
With the rush to live and work in cities, people bring their growing expectations of food, clothing and daily amenities, propped up by the online marketplace and promises of rapid delivery. Other metro areas and fleets and trucking companies stand to gain from a switch to off-hours deliveries to fulfill their transportation needs.
While the off-hour trial addressed delivery times and congestion, New York's energy reduction plan addressed power consumption and grid stress. Businesses can use the methods that the city employed to reduce electricity use and save money.
The NYC Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) received $9.3 million in April from two companies that oversee the state's energy. The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), an organization that directs the electricity grid for New York, and electric utility company Con Edison gave DCAS the funding for successfully reducing energy use during peak demand.
Groups were encouraged to lower their energy use as much as possible at peak times such as during high heat, when people turn to air conditioning in droves. These instances threaten brownouts or blackouts.
"You can't have the city that doesn't sleep if you have a city that doesn't have power," said NYC DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo.
Adaptive public transit
Fleets are also coming up with smart ways to supplement available public transit—even making it a new business model. That's literally the case with Ford Motor Co., which acquired San Francisco-based Chariot shuttle van services in 2016 and has since grown the Ford Transit van-based alternative to public transportation, ride sharing and the like.
After Austin, San Francisco and Seattle, NYC became the fourth city to have Chariot when the crowdsourced transportation company began carrying passengers last year. John Kwant, vice president of city solutions for Ford Smart Mobility, said it is important to plan for the growth predicted of these cities.
Big cities are facing a mobility paradox, he pointed out: some 60-70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. "It's not going to happen if it's in today's transportation paradigm," Kwant stated. "We really have to think about how we're going to move people around."
Initially, Chariot used a crowdsourced method of gathering a sufficient group of people who wanted a similar route, creating a new route when enough riders had joined in. Then businesses began using Chariot as well to transport employees or clients in the service's 14-seat vans.
The first two routes in NYC run along the east side of Manhattan and in Brooklyn. As users request additional routes, Chariot will offer more options.
Shifting delivery times and replacing single-driver cars with 14-passenger vans are only small parts of a larger solution. The trucks themselves must be addressed, which is why NYC is exploring alternatives.
According to a report last month by the Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education, switching to electric school buses can save almost $2,000 in fuel costs and $4,400 in maintenance per bus per year. Adopting electric buses is the precursor to adopting heavy-duty electric trucks, the report argues, which contribute more than 25% of harmful emissions.
NYC's municipal vehicle force has pledged to add 2,000 electric vehicles by 2025, and already has more than 1,000 electric sedans and more than 75 electric ambulances.
But in order to support this move and encourage private trucking companies to do the same, the city must have the charging facilities to support a fleet of electrically-powered vehicles.
In March, DCAS installed 500 electric vehicle chargers and reached the end of a first round of solar-powered electric carports. These 37 stations are managed by government agencies and can replenish vehicle batteries without even tapping into the city's electric grid.
Using these stations for the city's approximately 1,300 electric vehicles will save 13,000 gal. of fuel per year and give the fleet a range of 500,000 miles, DCAS noted. Keith Kerman, NYC's chief fleet officer and deputy commissioner at DCAS, said this technology has experienced rapid growth in the past five years that will likely continue.
"We expect this to expand to SUVs, vans, pickups and trucks in the next five years," Kerman said. "Growing our charging network will be critical to supporting this electric fleet of the future."
"When New York City steps up to lead, the rest of the world takes notice," according to Costa Constantinides, chairman of the city's Council Committee on Environmental Protection. "Over 20% of the city's greenhouse gas emissions come from cars, trucks and buses, so when we as a city chow that electric vehicles are a solution for both the public and private sector, that creates a model for everyone to emulate."
In addition to cutting energy usage and looking to sustainable electric power, DCAS has also pledged to turn away from diesel. DCAS announced its plan to use 900,000 gal. of renewable diesel in more than 1,000 city vehicles in efforts to deviate from nonrenewable energy sources.
Compared to traditional petroleum-based diesel, renewable diesel is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60%. Mark Chambers, director of the NYC Mayor's Office of Sustainability, has called fossil fuels "outdated" and "damaging."
"Incorporating biofuels into our city's fleet sets the example for the market, and furthers our transition to clean energy," Chambers said.
Benjamin Mandel, northeast regional director at the nonprofit clean transportation organization CALSTART, explained how private and public sector companies can benefit from exploring alternatives. Mandel said this resource can be implemented immediately without requiring a drastic change in operations.
"Renewable diesel bears immense promise to greatly cut climate and air emissions—today—from trucks and buses that are already on the road," Mandel said, adding that the city's announcement as an early player in renewable diesel "will help to build volumes for this fuel and other clean transportation technologies across the Northeast market."
While some city leaders support these alternatives, other groups have called on NYC to pave the way with fleets fueled by renewable natural gas (RNG). Organizations including WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Energy Vision, and the New York League of Conservation Voters as well as health experts have urged NYC leaders to transition to RNG trucks instead of other alternative fuel proposals.
In May, the groups released a report highlighting the advantages of RNG compared to diesel and other fuel types. NYC has committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from municipal trucks by 80% by 2035, and the report claims that "natural gas vehicles equipped with the new ultra-low-emission Near Zero natural gas engines and powered by RNG offer by far the fastest, healthiest, and most cost-effective way for the city to attain its climate and air quality goals."
Instead of the city's plan to use renewable diesel, these groups are pushing for RNG. As a liquid fuel, renewable diesel requires transportation across the country, which would cost roughly $26 million per year, making it more expensive than current diesel. In contrast, RNG can be delivered through current natural gas pipelines and could support the city's vehicle needs using the 1.2 million tons of leftover organic food from NYC yearly, the groups argued.
They further explained why they support RNG as the desirable replacement in their report, urging the city to stop allotting funds for new heavy-duty diesel trucks and transit busses and instead invest in RNG-powered vehicles.
Matt Tomich, president of Energy Vision and co-author of the report, said the city should focus on RNG trucks and not waste the potential resource of fuel produced from organic waste.
"The city spends $400 million a year—a third of which is organics—to ship its waste out of state," Tomich said. "Instead of discarding them, New Yorkers would get powerful benefits from harnessing its organic wastes to produce RNG for its own fleets."
NYC already has a natural gas refueling infrastructure, with seven CNG stations in the five boroughs that can support hundreds of vehicles. Though it currently offers CNG, it could supply RNG as well, and has the potential to be offered to private trucking fleets.