Our transport system is currently rather strictly divided in a system for freight transport (rail, trucks, vans, etc) and a system for person transport (cars, public transport, bikes, etc). Only rarely do the two mix, e.g. with a bit of air freight on passenger planes or with taxis doing an occasional courier job.
It was not always like this. 150 years ago the stagecoaches carried both parcels, mail and people. And over the last couple of years I have picked up quite a bit of examples of new freight services showing that the line between the two systems is getting more blurred:
- Most recently, in the US, the some-what hyped taxi / limo / ride-sharing firm Uber is moving into parcel delivery
- And in Denmark, the startup Drivr seems to be riding the Uber tail regarding the taxi
- Danish Bringr wants to do P2P freight (Danish) and so does EasyBring – if you are travelling anyway, then why not bring somebodys stuff with you?
- Friendshippr and PiggyBee are similar, but more focused on ‘if you are travelling anyway, then why not help me bring this/that gadget home (cheap) for me?’
- But also more traditional Deutsche Post DHL are facilitating P2P last-mile delivery
- Urban Consolidation Centres are being made in many cities (e.g. Gothenburg), often involving additional services
- Wal-Mart is considering to get customers to deliver packages to online buyers
- A wealth of cargo bike freight firms are handling an increasing part of city logistics – not only new local ones, but also the larger, incumbent ones like UPS or FedEx
- In Dresden they are using the tram-ways for freight (why aren’t we in Copenhagen too?)
- And even Volvo is experimenting with enabling deliveries to the trunk of people’s cars, using digital key systems
There are probably many more examples our there, but it is interesting to see that many of the examples are sharing economy /peer-2peer ventures (and there is consequently some overlap with Jonathan Wichmann’s excellent list of interesting start-ups in the logistics business). Using a P2P approach usually means that the business can adopt a scalable, low-asset business model, with also few employee obligations as they are merely aggregators and an exchange for freelancer capacity and demand.
I like to optimise the use of our limited capacity and am eager to improve the quality of transport services through a closer integration of transport modes. This is good for the economy and the environment. So I think the development we are witnessing is really exciting. Yet also challenging, as the integration task grows considerably: A couple of years ago I argued that person transport need an aggregator similar to the role freight forwarders are filling in freight transport (Danish). Now it seems those roles would be one and the same.
So, in a sense, we maybe are getting the stagecoach back. At least for the last mile.