With 54% of the world’s population living in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050 (United Nations, 2014), these trends are integrally linked to sustainable development. Thus, with good planning and governance, the increasing concentration of people in urban settlements can facilitate economic growth and social development, while also offering opportunities to mitigate against the adverse impacts of consumption and production patterns on the environment. In this regard, advances in urban logistics operations and improved local authority planning, especially in the field of the urban freight transport, can alleviate the associated negative environmental and economic impacts occurring in cities.
Over recent decades, interest and awareness in freight, and particularly urban freight activities, often referred to as city (or urban) logistics has been steadily growing in both the research environment and wider policy context. This has prompted a variety of definitions and understanding amongst academics and practitioners that demonstrate to some extent the complex nature of freight transport at the urban and city level, as well as the lack of consensus amongst researchers and local authorities on how to tackle the prevailing issues. For the purposes of this project, urban freight transport is broadly defined as encompassing “all movements of goods (as distinct from people) into, out of, through or within the urban area made by light or heavy goods vehicles”.
Several types of actors and stakeholders are therefore involved in such urban logistics management processes (Ballantyne et al., 2013). Among them, freight carriers and shippers are interested in minimizing freight logistics costs in order to maximize their profits, while maintaining a competitive level of service to their customers. City administrators and residents are oriented towards a decrease in traffic congestion, social costs and environmental nuisances, even though they are often direct beneficiaries of high quality delivery services. This leads to a multitude of differing and possibly conflicting objectives that are involved in urban freight transport planning and decision making, yielding a high level of complexity.
This provides a main motivation for the development of tools for helping decision-makers to reach higher grades of efficiency.