Applied research for a new model of urban mobility of goods in Barcelona

How to address the sustainability of the current urban logistics of Barcelona with an Industrial Doctorate project?

The team made up of members of Barcelona City Council and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia comprehensively addresses the sustainability of the current urban logistics of Barcelona with an Industrial Doctorate project.

It proposes harmonization measures between the logistics of e-commerce and goods with the use of public space for other citizen activities.

Photo by Martin Sierra on Unsplash

The challenges of sustainable mobility

The paradigm of urban mobility is in the process of transformation, although it will not be an immediate change. The main European cities have got to work within the framework of the 2030 Agenda to design a new urbanism. The United Nations itself proposes "that all people must have access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems. And that includes road safety, mainly by expanding public transport." While it is true that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do not explicitly talk about sustainable mobility, it is a fact that this is an unavoidable cross-cutting goal to achieve some of the SDGs. The data provided by the European Environment Agency show how transport is the one that contributes the most to the emission of greenhouse gases. In general, greenhouse gas emissions from the EU transport sector increased progressively between 2013 and 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic marks a turning point with a significant drop in transport emissions due to declining activity, but despite preventive measures, transport emissions will not fall to 1990 levels until 2029. For this reason, the European Commission has adopted different transport measures, among other matters, to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.

There are many challenges to achieve the objectives proposed to achieve a good management of sustainable urban centers: urban planning, urban planning and design favorable to sustainable mobility, traffic management and pacification, shared use of the car, renewable energies in public transport, mobility between the metropolitan region and the municipality of Barcelona, etc. It is a very positive fact for the city of Barcelona to be one of the most powerful logistics hubs in the Mediterranean, and the management of the port, airport and the different logistics areas of the city are a management challenge in the field of mobility. The emergence of e-commerce is one of the factors causing the sharp increase in the flow of goods in cities. According to Nasdaq, 95% of all purchases will be made through e-commerce by 2040, a fact that is definitely already transforming the logistics structure of cities. These new online shopping habits not only generate an increase in demand, but also incorporate new actors into the distribution chain and a new profile of demander (individuals and their core of coexistence). Traditional players have tended to transform their business model in order to adapt to new market trends.  

Research applied to urban mobility

These challenges are a small example of everything that the industrial doctorate project, led by Barcelona City Council and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, aims to address in order to find a solution. The team is formed by the researcher Imma Ribas, the deputy manager of Infrastructures and Urban Coordination of the Barcelona City Council Manuel Valdés López and the doctoral student Maria Savall. Her collaborative research work focuses on the city of Barcelona, with a mobility model in the midst of a process of radical transformation. According to data from his study, the old model based on indiscriminate use of private vehicles has generated negative externalities with which the city cannot coexist: pollution, road insecurity and excessive occupation of public space. Other factors such as the climate emergency situation, the annual number of traffic accidents, or the need for public space for activities that provide considerable value to citizens, make the transformation of the mobility model a priority for the current city council. The new Urban Mobility Plan of the Barcelona City Council (2019-2024) has as its main objectives to reduce the accident rate associated with mobility, and to increase safe, sustainable, healthy, equitable and intelligent mobility.

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

When we talk about mobility within the framework of this applied research in Barcelona, we must consider two major mobility groups: the mobility of people and the mobility of goods. To achieve sustainable mobility of people, according to the research team, the population must be made aware so that they can use public transport and thus achieve a reduction in the use of private cars. On the other hand, with regard to the mobility of goods, the project believes it is necessary to replace polluting vehicles with sustainable vehicles and optimize their use. The Urban Distribution of Goods (DUM) supports the distribution of basic services for the urban population, the development of urban metabolism and the economy of the city. According to the conclusions of their research, the team considers that DUM activity tends to be addressed in a fragmented and reactive way, the fact is that defining a DUM policy requires the involvement of different areas of the City Council and the city: mobility, infrastructures, urban planning, economy, commerce, Guardia Urbana and environment.

Recognition at Smart City Expo 2021 in Bilbao

Award ceremony to Maria Savall during FotoCitython

The industrial doctorate project we are talking about is entitled "New integral model of urban distribution of goods in the city of Barcelona: living with public space", and is a collaborative research project born from the work, study and constant analysis of Imma Ribas and Manuel Valdés (the two tutors of the project) to improve mobility, both people and goods, in the city of Barcelona. In this case, the two tutors agree on the need to deepen the urban distribution of goods in Barcelona, and considered the advantages of being able to do an Industrial Doctorate in this topic. Its objective is to carry out an underlying work that allows addressing the problem of urban mobility from a comprehensive perspective: identifying the effect of its development in urban areas, both of the classical model and of the new trends, from the accesses to the last mile and proposing comprehensive measures to harmonize it with the use of public space for other citizen activities.

The team formed by Imma Ribas, Manuel Valdés and Maria Savall already has recognized experience in the field of solutions for urban freight mobility. Recently, the doctoral student has received the Citython award within the framework of the challenge "Solidary and sustainable Urban Logistic for Bilbao" within the Smart City Expo 2021 of the city of Bilbao. According to Maria Savall, who participated in this challenge, the challenge posed by EIT-Urban Mobility was to propose a solution to the impact of e-commerce on the city of Bilbao. As I told us during the interview, the award has been an ideal opportunity to apply all the experience and knowledge acquired during the first year of the doctorate:

"Thus, in order to cope with this exponential increase in online purchases, we suggested a freight distribution model that aimed not only to reduce the environmental impact but also to minimize congestion and noise. In addition, we recommended a campaign to raise awareness among the population of the repercussions of this new habit."

The freight distribution model proposed for the city of Bilbao consisted of three urban consolidation centres (CCU) and a network of convenience points. These urban consolidation centers, understood as logistical spaces located near the area where they serve and from where deliveries are made, should be located at the entrance to the city to prevent distribution vehicles from entering Bilbao, at the proposal of the winning team of the challenge. His proposal also included a distribution with zero-emission vehicles from CCUs to points of convenience. The convenience points would be all local businesses that want to join this new network of collection points. Although this model presented is theoretical and does not include the point of view of distributors, the population, the public administration or consumers, it has had a certain involvement in the research that they are now carrying out in Barcelona. The team acknowledges that this award is a stimulus to continue working on the objective of improving last mile distribution in Barcelona, where they are already working to present a model in which collaboration with the different actors is reflected, with which the improvement achieved can be quantified, and achieve a direct impact on the city of Barcelona:

Photo by Moosa Moseneke on Unsplash

"With the implementation of such a model, a reduction in congestion, noise and environmental pollution could be obtained. In addition, it would also serve to achieve a reduction in the use of public space and, therefore, this space could be improved and could be made available to citizens."

Collaborative research, why an Industrial Doctorate?

Imma Ribas, researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, has repeated her experience for the second time with an Industrial Doctorate, the first was related to the mobility of people and the latter to the mobility of goods. As the whole team involved tells us, the experience of a project of this type is very good and highly recommended. The possibility of combining the experience of Barcelona City Council with that of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia has been very enriching in the academic, professional and personal fields.

The tutor of the project within the Barcelona City Council, Manuel Valdés, details that the possibility of integrating an Industrial Doctorate in the City Council has allowed them to scientifically analyze the possible solutions and validate the practical knowledge they already had: "this allows us to keep in mind the new trends, advances or innovations and then elaborate the application in our city".  Also for the doctoral student Maria Savall to be able to dedicate herself full-time to the analysis, study and development of a new model for distributing goods in Barcelona is a unique opportunity:

"The topic we are dealing with is a topical issue that the different actors are working on in depth and that makes it much more interesting and captivating."

The industrial phD student Maria Savall with the researcher Imma Ribas.
The industrial phD student Maria Savall with the researcher Imma Ribas.
The industrial phD student Maria Savall with the tutor of the Barcelona City Council Manuel Valdés.

Nowadays, technological contributions and different solutions with an impact on society are carried out in a collaborative and global way. This knowledge and technology generation system is made up of both universities and research centres, as well as the different types of innovative companies and institutions. In this system where synergies and interactions are generated, such as the fact that research centers can participate to a certain extent in the R&D&I of companies. The possibility of combining university training and work at the City Council has been a key element in this urban mobility project.

The results of collaborative research have the characteristic of having a direct impact on society. The potentially useful knowledge for society generated in universities and research centers, finds a bridge with industrial doctoral students. Industrial doctors act as bridges for knowledge transfer and contribute to strengthening relations between the industrial fabric of Catalonia and universities and research centres.

The industrial phD student during the fieldwork in Barcelona.

"The university has the tools to know the current trends, make the state of the art of any of the aforementioned measures, know how to carry out the research, etc., while being part of the department of mobility and infrastructures of the Barcelona City Council provides us with a lot of data, analysis, studies or decisive reflections for this Industrial Doctorate."