Publication Date
Topic(s) Covered:
  • Transportation
  • Urban Logistics

Urban mobility architecture must undergo fundamental change in response to rapidly changing city landscapes. In our book Faster, Smarter, Greener – The Future of the Car and Urban Mobility (MIT Press, September 2017) * we proposed a framework for future passenger mobility which would be Connected, Heterogenous, Intelligent and Personalized (CHIP). 

Changes in mobility are being driven by the challenges of congestion and long commutes caused by increased urbanization, societal shifts such as increased sharing, developments in vehicle technology, and an increased emphasis on reducing environmental pollution. 

Freight transport will also face significant upheaval soon – possibly with even greater challenges in urban environments due to the growth of e-commerce and home deliveries.

Current mobility practices are unacceptably inefficient. In Boston, US, for example, over 40 % of cars in rush hour traffic are single-occupant. Most delivery vans have less than 50% capacity utilization. It takes a lot of energy to move those vehicles in city traffic for such small loads. Delivery companies are converting their fleets to electric or hybrid powertrains – but zero tail-pipe emissions do not mean zero carbon emissions for the trip. Today, over 50% of the electricity generated in the UK and over 65% of electricity generated in the US comes from fossil fuels estimates Energy-UK and the US Energy Information Administration.  The planet’s carbon footprint will improve by barely one-fourth if we all switched to electric vehicles, though local pollution will move to the point of generation.

Vehicle-dependent mobility architectures also demand considerable allocation of valuable urban land for roads. The city of London in the UK allocates almost 24% of its land area to roadways and supporting infrastructure. In many US cities this can be as high as 40%. A World Bank study points out that most surface streets and main roads in urban areas are under-priced, even after the taxes imposed on fuel sales are considered.

Traffic congestion is also a growing economic burden for most cities. A study in India has determined that traffic congestion can account for the erosion of almost 3% of GDP for the sprawling New Delhi metropolitan region. Studies also show that while delivery vehicles today account for less than 5% of traffic, they cause over 20% of the congestion on narrow city streets.

Electric vehicles alone will not solve the problems cities are grappling with. Cities need fewer vehicles per capita in a mobility architecture that increases and enhances both people and freight mobility with a wide variety of modes including walking, bicycles, mass-transit and shared vehicles

The challenge for supply chains is how to integrate these delivery modes, meet regulatory requirements and satisfy increased customer expectations for delivery.  Each stakeholder approaches this challenge differently. For example, companies must decide which mode and which route to use for a specific delivery, while urban planners are more concerned with how to rapidly and efficiently accommodate continuously evolving mobility solutions with existing modes. 

Though developed for personal mobility, CHIP mobility works for last mile delivery challenges as well.  Any solution for improving urban deliveries will depend heavily on being:

  1. Connected (e.g., communication alerts to receiving customers, traffic and weather conditions, schedule changes).
  2. Heterogenous (e.g., Modes that include not just delivery vans but tricycle delivery vans, electric autonomous package shuttles, drones, and backpack carriers!).
  3. Intelligent (e.g., dynamic routing and change of modes, integrated collection and delivery, shared service even among competitors).
  4. and Personalized (e.g., customized drop off points and protocols, time specific requirements).

Limited parking capacity, restrictions on entry into city centers, and congestion charges are just some of an array of financial and non-financial interventions introduced by city administrators to motivate people to gravitate to travel modes aligned with societal goals. And the alternative travel modes must be convenient, cost efficient, quick, and comfortable.

Similarly, the current “Wild-West” state of delivery operations by a horde of delivery cowboys will soon become subject to interventions; already there are restrictions on delivery traffic and hours of operations in certain cities.  It remains to be seen whether the lighter hand of a CHIP framework with creative market forces or the heavy hand of authoritarian laws prevails in urban delivery!

If mobility architecture is inclusive across economic and demographic sections, satisfies the needs of both people and freight, and is open to continuous innovation, then a combination of technology and entrepreneurship can deliver faster, smarter and greener mobility to our cities.

* Faster, Smarter, Greener – The Future of the Car and Urban Mobility (MIT Press, 2017) by Venkat Sumantran, Charles Fine and David Gonsalvez.

Venkat Sumantran is Chairman Celeris Technologies & MISI Adjunct Professor. Charles Fine is President & Dean, Asia School of Business, and Chrysler LGO Professor at the MIT Sloan School. David Gonsalvez is CEO & Rector, Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain Innovation.

For further information on the book or related research please contact the authors at:

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