Freight and Last-Mile Delivery

The freight movement landscape has evolved in recent years due to the introduction of new trends in e-commerce, electrification, and the gig economy. The e-commerce industry, already growing in importance due to consumers' changing habits, was additionally bolstered by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaping from 13.6% of total global retail sales in 2019 to 18% in 2020 according to the International Trade Administration. Although e-commerce is expected to generate a large increase in last-mile delivery, a Chicago case study indicates an overall net reduction in VMT (34%–56%) and energy use (29%–54%) when replacing individual shopping trips with a truck delivery. However, urban planners and fleets should also consider the social and environmental implications of increased e-commerce and warehouse and distribution center requirements and changing freight logistics on nearby communities, which could include increased traffic congestion and air and noise pollution.

Furthermore, the industry is poised to change even more profoundly as vehicles become increasingly connected and automated. New forms of last-mile delivery—the last leg of the trip from central warehouse to final delivery destination—could include drones or robots. Drone delivery provides operational flexibility and may offer efficiency gains by reducing the number of miles through straight- line delivery routing and eliminating traffic delays. According to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Energy Efficient Mobility Systems (EEMS) program research, home package delivery by drone could reduce energy use by 30%.

"Intelligent" technologies including connected autonomous vehicles (CAV) and the platooning of trucks, when sensors are used to virtually connect two or more trucks in a convoy, will have profound impacts on truck freight delivery in the future. This technology allows vehicles to save fuel by accelerating and braking together and traveling at a closer distance—therefore improving aerodynamics. DOE's EEMS program has investigated the energy, technology, and usage implications of vehicle connectivity and automation and found that, based on test-track data, platoons of three close-following trucks can achieve a combined 13% reduction in fuel use. If trucks nationwide operated in these CAV three-truck platoons, 2.1 billion gallons of fuel could be saved each year.

The Freight Mobility Energy Productivity metric or score (F-MEP) was developed to quantify freight productivity by evaluating the efficiency of shipping goods around the country by various transportation modes. The F-MEP provides a framework to assess the implications of freight trends on delivery time, energy use, costs, and ease of shipping goods by a variety of modes.