Cities Seek Deliverance From the E-Commerce Boom
April 24, 2017 4:19 PM   Subscribe

It’s the flip-side to the “retail apocalypse:” A siege of delivery trucks is threatening to choke cities with traffic. But not everyone agrees on what to do about it. "While truck traffic currently represents about 7 percent of urban traffic in American cities, it bears a disproportionate congestion cost of $28 billion, or about 17 percent of the total U.S. congestion costs, in wasted hours and gas. Cities, struggling to keep up with the deluge of delivery drivers, are seeing their curb space and streets overtaken by double-parked vehicles, to say nothing of the bonus pollution and roadwear produced thanks to a surfeit of Amazon Prime orders."
posted by AFABulous (84 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I do note that Jet is sending me three different packages for a single order for no reason. Well, I suppose they want to be able to claim "next day delivery", which seems to necessitate splitting into at least two packages, but they have never actually achieved next day delivery. It's not immediately obvious to me how you could disincentivise such shipping practices.
posted by hoyland at 4:32 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm sure Amazon's drone-delivery plans will resolve this issue with no down side or unforeseen side effects.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:38 PM on April 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


Something something externalities. *handwave*
posted by hades at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2017 [10 favorites]


Oh man... I am so glad that the bike model isn't rolled out everywhere. The UPS driver that would have to bike our hill and deliver to my wife would be either in the best shape of his or her life or dead as my wife orders 200lbs of weights regularly... I mean... even if they don't have to deliver training equipment... I still feel for the person the first time someone orders something big from Wayfair...
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:17 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Are they... disposable weights? Most people use the same ones over and over.
posted by ctmf at 5:39 PM on April 24, 2017 [83 favorites]


I appreciate that that box of my cat's prescription canned food was heavy, but throwing it down the steps to my apartment door and denting every can just made it so I had to make you handle it again during the return as well as deliver a replacement case. *You* didn't have to deal with a bitey she-beast while we waited.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:43 PM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


Thank you for posting this article. It's given me a lot to think about. I live in Cambridge and I don't have a car and I bike everywhere, so I am looking at this from a biker's perspective. One the one hand, there have been a couple tragic collisions of trucks and bikers in the Boston area in very recent memory, and people often wonder if it makes sense for large trucks to drive through busy city streets, which this article seems to say is a trend that is only going to increase.

On the other hand, I take issue with the description in the article of the deliveryman "delivering stuff that shoppers could easily pick up on their own at area stores. " While I currently don't heavily use delivery services, I can see how they make car-free living much more tenable, especially for people who are responsible for several dependents. Like if you have 3 kids to feed, of course hauling all of those groceries in your backpack on a bike, or buying clothes or house supplies, is going to suck majorly and you're going to look for more convenient alternatives if you can afford it.

On the third hand, the author writes, "Addressing consumer behavior directly is perhaps the most difficult part of this. How do you ask urbanites to stop buying stuff online and getting it delivered to their homes when it could easily be purchased at a local store conveniently situated in their dense urban environment?"
I'm not sure why the article doesn't mention the possibility of adding a tax to these consumer deliveries so that people think a little harder about whether they really need that cat toy delivered overnight.
posted by loquacious crouton at 5:59 PM on April 24, 2017 [12 favorites]


At least for us, in Chicago with my lack of doorbells and safe package entry/drop off, Amazon locker and or UPS pickup is now a familiar task.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:00 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


kinda wondering about the weights too
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:07 PM on April 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


So, I'll bite: 200 lb of lettuce? Regularly?

WHY?
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:26 PM on April 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


how many wives are there

do you run a rabbit farm

wat is hapen
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:29 PM on April 24, 2017 [42 favorites]


So, I'll bite: 200 lb of lettuce? Regularly?

WHY?


Stampy, no!
posted by asperity at 6:30 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


This will be interesting to contrast with the Uber thread - there will be people who think that [new technology] is a net benefit despite the externalities, and people who think the cost of the externalities is too high and that consumers should change their behavior (or revert to old behavior). (See also the recent Amazon thread.)
posted by AFABulous at 6:36 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


kinda wondering about the weights too

As part of his pact with the Devil down by the crossroads, in return for cult musician status, Tom has to travel by a very particular means.

This is why he tours so infrequently.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:40 PM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


No disrespect intended to Mrs. Nanukthedog. I mean, if she's lifting like, 1200 by now, uh, it's cool. We're cool. *backing away cautiously*
posted by ctmf at 6:50 PM on April 24, 2017 [17 favorites]


More trucks, but if those replace car trips to buy stuff, and the trucks quickly double-park instead of taking up parking spaces at shopping destinations, it still seems like a net win.
posted by davejay at 6:54 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


if those replace car trips to buy stuff, and the trucks quickly double-park instead of taking up parking spaces at shopping destinations, it still seems like a net win

Fresh Direct basically uses the streets as day-long parking lots, constantly running generators to keep the food refrigerated. It's cheaper for them to pay the tickets than to pay for their own lots. This is where my sympathy died.
posted by praemunire at 7:03 PM on April 24, 2017 [12 favorites]


Meanwhile, police are keeping their eyes peeled for the first person to order a ton of pea-tacks.
posted by Mchelly at 7:06 PM on April 24, 2017 [17 favorites]


I'm sure Amazon's drone-delivery plans will resolve this issue with no down side or unforeseen side effects.

They've crawled up on land!

Delivery robots: a revolutionary step or sidewalk-clogging nightmare?
posted by XMLicious at 7:08 PM on April 24, 2017


The article mentions the difficulty of delivering to locked apartment buildings and I've experienced this, anecdotally. My previous apartment—in Seattle, like in the article—was managed by company that staffed a single office worker and a single maintenance person at our building at any time. If the office worker wasn't in the office to buzz in the delivery person, the door would simply be festooned with ten or so "sorry we missed you" stickers from various companies. (USPS had a key to enter but there were no parcel lockers in the mail area so the letter carrier would just put the stickers in or on the mailboxes.)

If the office worker did let the delivery folks in, the number of packages would quickly overwhelm the small storage room they had on site. I remember getting more than one e-mail asking tenants if we could please either be home for delivery (easy for me to do, I worked nights at the time) or have packages sent to work.

I don't really know a point to this story except that I switched to using a nearby private mail receiving company. $100/year and they'd receive and sign for any parcel, letter, or other delivery that I wanted. They'd even store perishables in their comically large refrigerator. I had a key for after-hours mail access and had a standing request to put medium or small packages in a locker for retrieval. Bonus is that the receiving company has its own small loading dock and parking lot so delivery companies don't have to double park or obstruct traffic.

This sort of delivery seems to be really popular around here. All of the Amazon Lockers near me are almost always full. I don't live in an apartment any more but I keep the mail receiving box because it's so much more convenient...
posted by fireoyster at 7:14 PM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, I take issue with the description in the article of the deliveryman "delivering stuff that shoppers could easily pick up on their own at area stores. "

Yeah. I'm sure you can get anything you want in DC, but...here in the frozen north, I can count the number of, say, local shopping options for kids clothing on one hand. (Seriously. Realistically my options are Fred Meyer, Walmart, Old Navy, the dying Sears. After that, there's a couple consignment stores, a couple high-end boutiques with women's clothing but not kids, and then outfitters like REI. Which are great and all, but I'm not buying all their school clothes at REI. And I'm sure I have it better than lots of folks, because we are the nearest major urban center for 350 miles.)
posted by leahwrenn at 7:15 PM on April 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


Biking to the store in DC today, I was passed on a sidewalk by one of the dog-sized drones being used for food delivery by Starship Technologies.

I know I should hate it and intellectually, I do - but I have to admit that my first thought was, "man, that's way better than Amazon Fresh drivers double parking and blocking the alley all the time." Which is a regular occurrence on our block.

Delivery robots: a revolutionary step or sidewalk-clogging nightmare?

I guess if they achieve big numbers, but for now, it wasn't so bad. Of course, if they DO get big, I assume hordes of starving people will be attacking them for their cargo.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:22 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


That's why they'll come out with the parkour bots. You'll get your stuff, it will just sound like there's a herd of elephants on your roof all the time.
posted by XMLicious at 7:28 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Meanwhile, police are keeping their eyes peeled for the first person to order a ton of pea-tacks.
posted by Mchelly at 7:06 PM on April 24
[1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Aww... You beat me to the Pushcart War reference... If anyone has not read it, now is the time. Also, this would make an excellent film adaptation. You're welcome John Lasseter!
posted by latkes at 7:31 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Pushcart War was my first thought too!
There is nothing new under the sun, after all.
posted by Princess Leopoldine Grassalkovich nee Esterhazy at 7:39 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm an Amazon Prime member, because of the TV programs (I've watched Man in the High Castle and maybe one other series and a few movies) and mostly because of the free delivery. But when I order a single book on a whim, I really don't need it in two days. This Amazon Prime thing is going overboard to get customer buy-in.
posted by kozad at 8:33 PM on April 24, 2017


I do note that Jet is sending me three different packages for a single order for no reason.

I'm pretty sure the reason is just "we have no inventory and just relist other etailer's inventory at a lower price."
posted by pwnguin at 8:42 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is a better use of roads than ferrying the equivalent number of shoppers to and from the store?

Or maybe we should give some critical thought about why we drive so damn much when toting out those "congestion cost" numbers? Does anybody calculate the equivalent numbers whenever a house is built out in the suburbs?

Those numbers always bother me because they only care about the percentage of time that a vehicle stays in continuous motion, giving no regard to the distance traveled, necessity of the journey, or other externalities created from driving.
posted by schmod at 8:45 PM on April 24, 2017 [13 favorites]


Yeah. I'm sure you can get anything you want in DC, but...here in the frozen north, I can count the number of, say, local shopping options for kids clothing on one hand.

Sure, but you're not the problem. I'm guessing UPS doesn't need to double park wherever you are, and isn't appreciably increasing congestion. You really are replacing a car trip.
posted by AFABulous at 8:48 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Maybe this is a better use of roads than ferrying the equivalent number of shoppers to and from the store?

The cities mentioned in the article are Washington DC and New York. Very dense cities with thousands of stores and ubiquitous public transit. Especially in New York, most people are not using cars to go buy books or batteries or whatever they're ordering on Amazon.

Or maybe we should give some critical thought about why we drive so damn much when toting out those "congestion cost" numbers?

I'm confused. There are probably hundreds of books on why we drive so much.

Those numbers always bother me because they only care about the percentage of time that a vehicle stays in continuous motion, giving no regard to the distance traveled, necessity of the journey, or other externalities created from driving.

No, you've got it backwards. "Congestion cost is the yearly value of delay time and wasted fuel by all vehicles. (Wasted fuel – Extra fuel consumed during congested travel.)" Page 7 of this PDF, which was linked in the FPP article.
posted by AFABulous at 9:00 PM on April 24, 2017


This is all a lovely diversion, but seriously people, let's focus on the important matters: lettuce.

What is up with the lettuce?
posted by steady-state strawberry at 9:19 PM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


Hey Kozad, in Japan next-day delivery is the default for Amazon Prime, but you can still choose regular delivery (and I do, after reading several news stories about how getting the delivery contract from Amazon basically means that delivery folks have to work much harder for the same wages because of all the must-be-next-day stuff).
posted by No-sword at 9:19 PM on April 24, 2017


How about this: convert all streets into parks with raised cycleways three feet off the ground down the center, and the dog-sized delivery bots crawl underneath the cycleways.
posted by XMLicious at 9:20 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


What is up with the lettuce?

It's just a smokescreen, and you can safely ignore it. When they ask "How many were going to St. Ives?" answer "just one".
posted by Meatbomb at 9:54 PM on April 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


I have Amazon Prime and I use the subscribe and save to get staples and bulky stuff delivered once a month. Most of my deliveries come by a bike similar to this. For regular deliveries I specify end of the day so I'm always home. The subscribe and save stuff is harder because you can't specify the time of delivery (cheaper logistics company for that). I used to order cases of bottled water but stopped because of how often the guy had to redeliver. All this makes not having a car easier. The density where I live in Tokyo combined with everyone using Kuroneko means the branch logistical center is just about 200m away. The trucks are just not as big an issue. Density works.
posted by Gotanda at 10:15 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


So here in Singapore, we have these things called POPStations, which are like the storage lockers the article talks about. I'm sure there are similar things in other countries. Almost every subway station has one, and you can arrange for your parcel to be delivered there instead of to your house. That way, you can pick it up when you're heading home. It's really convenient, and perhaps a model better suited for large and dense cities. But of course if you're buying a 20kg bag of rice, you might prefer that it is sent all the way to your house instead.

Sadly Amazon packages don't get sent to the POPStation because courier deliveries require signatures and so must be delivered to your door.
posted by destrius at 11:23 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Staple your lettuce leaves together.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:27 PM on April 24, 2017


Delivery robots: a revolutionary step or sidewalk-clogging nightmare?

Those things would never make it here, our neighborhood sidewalks are way too broken up and uneven for wheels that small.
posted by octothorpe at 3:30 AM on April 25, 2017


I remember when if you wanted to buy your 200 lbs. of lettuce for the day you would walk (yes I said walk) down to the Mom and Pop lettuce store where they knew your name and let you buy on credit because your word was good and the whole thing only cost a nickel and it was real lettuce, "analogue" lettuce, not like the digital lettuce they have today which they can change whenever they feel like it without telling you and no I don't want "popular highlights" enabled by default on my lettuce, why would I want to know what other people thought about my lettuce while I'm eating it or lifting it and the digital lettuce just doesn't sound as good anyway, it's not as warm and you can tell, and also I don't need you to send me an e-mail telling me I just ate the lettuce after I eat the lettuce, I know I ate the lettuce I just did it, and I don't know about this drone thing because if you've ever had 200 lbs. of lettuce dropped on your roof it's loud and dangerous, and the kids used to play outside.

I like the free home delivery, though, that's pretty nifty.
posted by kyrademon at 3:33 AM on April 25, 2017 [27 favorites]


The cities mentioned in the article are Washington DC and New York. Very dense cities with thousands of stores and ubiquitous public transit. Especially in New York, most people are not using cars to go buy books or batteries or whatever they're ordering on Amazon.

But your assumption about DC is incorrect. I cannot speak for NY, but DC is not a dense city (about the size of Baltimore or Milwaukee with regulations that limit vertical building) and public transit is NOT always an option, particularly for shopping. Also, as NY is the "city that never sleeps," DC has a reputation as a city of long work hours. When you are working 60-70-80-more hours a week and raising a family, who wants to go wandering around a sprawling maze of traffic choked narrow-streets looking for that one shop that has the one particular item you are looking for when a two second finger wiggle on your smart phone has the item on your doorstep withing 48 hours or less?

With that I can actually see the delivery trucks REDUCING traffic in that a single truck eliminates many drivers performing said treks through the narrow byways or out to the big box stores in the fringes and burbs, leaving shoppers free to visit places that are actually accessible by public transit or walking.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:59 AM on April 25, 2017 [7 favorites]


As a bicyclist in DC, I mostly wonder what it'll take for the police not to ignore drivers parking in the bike lane. It's nice think that we'd replace a couple of parking spaces on each block with a dedicated loading zone but I know that'd be a long uphill slog against people claiming that the city economy will collapse if a couple more drivers have to pay market rates for parking.
posted by adamsc at 5:04 AM on April 25, 2017 [6 favorites]


"The delivery bot lays on its side, its cargo baking in the hot sun, spinning its wheels trying to turn itself over. But it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping."
posted by notyou at 5:26 AM on April 25, 2017 [19 favorites]


How do you ask urbanites to stop buying stuff online and getting it delivered to their homes when it could easily be purchased at a local store conveniently situated in their dense urban environment?"

Build better public transportation, that's how. People get stuff delivered to their homes *because* it's not convenient to carry home from the store. Too big of a box to carry for the distance they have to go.

But really, a lot of this issue is that we are a very young country with comparatively fast population growth. Most European cities had several hundred years to grow from 30,000 people to a million people (just picking numbers out of a hat) whereas American cities have done it in 100 years, or 50, or 20. How do you urban-plan for that? If a highway costs millions to build but becomes obsolete in terms of capacity in 20 years, do you spend the money and hope your population predictions follow suit, or build for existing/short-term capacity and hope you have the money to do it over when you need to? There are plenty of examples of cities who, using their best judgment, picked one and the other happened. And that doesn't include the demographic of the population that consistently votes against improving infrastructure, because they don't understand that infrastructure costs money and requires maintenance.

So, here we have a problem that arose because of the dramatic change in people's shopping habits in the last 5-10 years. That is a crazy fast change. And it's not because there are houses in the suburbs, or lazy urbanites who don't feel like going to the store. It's because our social habits are changing much faster than we build.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:34 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Is this the first salvo in an attempt to tax delivery trucks and therefore deliveries? Sure seems like it.
posted by Ausoleil at 5:40 AM on April 25, 2017


Nothing wrong with that. Corporations should have to pay for the infrastructure from which they benefit.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:43 AM on April 25, 2017 [9 favorites]


the digital lettuce just doesn't sound as good anyway, it's not as warm and you can tell

have you tried going around the outer leaves with highlighter? i heard that helps
posted by entropicamericana at 6:13 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I hate lettuce anyway.
posted by briank at 6:13 AM on April 25, 2017


Isn't the solution rather trivial and obvious? crtl-F ' night '

There is no need to tax delivery trucks specifically. Increase taxes on gasoline, dramatically. Increase taxes on larger vehicles, dramatically. Increase taxes on commercial vehicles and licenses.

In the longer term, institute taxes on road usage during the day time, and especially busy times, using a privacy preserving system based on blind signatures.

In fact, David Chaum originally invented blind signatures specifically so that paying tolls electronically could be privacy preserving. Taler is a modern web oriented version of Chaum's DigiCash, but even simpler schemes work for tolls.

All this plays nicely when you automate all the driving involved since your robot truck drivers do not mind working nights and need not depend upon the sun for light. And road taxes make providing ground-level power for electric vehicles easier.

posted by jeffburdges at 6:15 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Hmm not really understanding why 100 people travelling 1 hour to go to a shop and back (and doing this usually in peak hour) is less of a nightmare than 1 guy with a van doing 100 stops in 10 hours (usually when the 100 people are at work). I mean if you remove the delivery trucks you have the actual after-work traffic AND people trying to get the shops at the same time.

Suggesting "pick a bus / subway and pick your things up" (and usually at a higher price) looks like a exercise in stupidity - even in Switzerland where public transportation is king they had to open the supermarkets in the train stations to get people to buy things "on the way home".

We might as well advocate the old little stores everywhere (but please with all the latest thing ever, and open till 23 pm, and lower prices than online retailers).
posted by elcapitano at 6:19 AM on April 25, 2017 [15 favorites]


Well, and there's lots of ways to help address the infrastructure challenges from a taxation level. Not just taxing "deliveries," but in lots of cases (Amazon being the large exception), e-commerce isn't taxed at all, and states and local governments would love to get that sales tax revenue to at least patch up the wear and tear from delivery vehicles. And the way that we're taxing driving to pay for roads right now doesn't really make sense for the vehicles of the future (fixed cents-per-gallon gas tax vs. a percentage of price or taxation based on miles traveled), so that's another way to ensure that the companies using the roads are contributing adequately to their maintenance.

I would rather go naked than go back to the days of having to take entire weekend days to drive all over town to maybe find the various items I need, so obviously I'm biased towards my own self-interest, but I think there's a way to improve mail-order without fighting it.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:24 AM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


But increasing the gasoline tax places a disproportionate burden on the poor, whereas taxing delivery trucks puts the cost directly on the entities who are creating the issue.

Hmm not really understanding why 100 people travelling 1 hour to go to a shop and back (and doing this usually in peak hour) is less of a nightmare than 1 guy with a van doing 100 stops in 10 hours (usually when the 100 people are at work).

Because the guy in the truck is impeding the 10,000 people who have to use the same road, by double-parking and obstructing traffic.

And 100 people aren't driving an hour to go to a shop, during peak hours. They're driving 5 minutes out of their way to go to the store on their way home, which saves gas and time.

The bottom line is that the purpose of business is to serve the population, not the other way around. Let the businesses figure their shit out, that's literally their job. Telling the citizenry to stay home so delivery trucks can drive around unimpeded isn't the answer. Nor should we be squeamish about taxing corporations for the impact of their businesses on infrastructure. Socializing corporate business expenses of for-profit companies among taxpayers, while allowing them to maximize and privatize their profits, certainly has been a disaster for the economic power of the American population. I think we should stop doing that. Not all at once, but the attitude that we shouldn't tax corporations has got to go.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:29 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Build better public transportation, that's how. People get stuff delivered to their homes *because* it's not convenient to carry home from the store. Too big of a box to carry for the distance they have to go.
I don't know. My experience is that trying to get groceries home on public transit is kind of a nightmare. Wrangling a granny cart filled with groceries on the bus is really no fun. Even if you make smaller, more-frequent grocery runs, sometimes you have to buy heavy stuff that is a pain in the ass to lug home.

I guess that I truly think that deliveries make car-free urban living more feasible for most people, and we're going to have to figure out some way to accommodate some level of door-to-door delivery. That doesn't mean that people have to order a toothbrush from Amazon.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:34 AM on April 25, 2017 [10 favorites]


When you order from Amazon Prime, they offer you free two-day shipping, or you can take the "No Rush" shipping option and they give you a credit for something. Usually it's a $1 credit for a digital download, and I almost always take that option. There are very few things I can't just wait a few days longer for, and I like to think the longer shipping time allows them to do it more efficiently and less abusively.

I have said it here before, I think - I would gladly pay more for shipping and/or accept longer delivery times, if there were an option for "ethical shipping" which is more environmentally conscious and treats the workers better.
posted by elizilla at 6:40 AM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't know. My experience is that trying to get groceries home on public transit is kind of a nightmare. Wrangling a granny cart filled with groceries on the bus is really no fun. Even if you make smaller, more-frequent grocery runs, sometimes you have to buy heavy stuff that is a pain in the ass to lug home.

I agree, and that's what made me think about the population density/urban growth issue. Like, no doubt Europe has heavy things to lug home sometimes, and of course they drive too, so what's their system? How do people habitually balance the issue of daily commuting and shopping/occasional need of heavy items? In my extremely limited experience in one European city (Dublin), I observed that there was TONS of traffic on the roads, but also tons of public transportation, so you were never waiting for a bus or a train more than 5-10 minutes. And it's also a small city by area, so the population density made for a good reason to use public transposition. And the city is also a thousand years old, so there is that, too. To compare, Dublin is slightly smaller in area than Minneapolis, but has 3x the population, and MPLS is only 150 years old. I mean, 50 years ago, most of the Twin Cities was a corn field, whereas all of Ireland has been settled and re-settled since the Roman Empire. That makes a big difference.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:49 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Wrangling a granny cart filled with groceries on the bus is really no fun. Even if you make smaller, more-frequent grocery runs, sometimes you have to buy heavy stuff that is a pain in the ass to lug home."

Part of better public transit is busses that better accommodate granny carts (also strollers, walkers, service animals, and wheelchairs). The accessible busses in my town for instance have flip down boarding ramps and seats that fold up to allow "parking" space on the bus. Some of our busses also have seasonal bike racks to allow people to bus through areas that aren't bike friendly (or for longer distances) while keeping the flexibility of bike commuting. These features don't help with really big & heavy purchases obviously, but they do provide more car-free/delivery-truck-free options.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:54 AM on April 25, 2017


Like, no doubt Europe has heavy things to lug home sometimes, and of course they drive too, so what's their system?
My sense is that grocery delivery is much more common in Europe than in the US. But people in Europe also shop for groceries more frequently and buy less stuff.
The accessible busses in my town for instance have flip down boarding ramps and seats that fold up to allow "parking" space on the bus.
This stuff works best when not that many people use it, though. Buses in New York, for instance, get crowded enough that they might run out of space for strollers, walkers, wheelchairs and grocery carts.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:02 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hmm not really understanding why 100 people travelling 1 hour to go to a shop and back (and doing this usually in peak hour) is less of a nightmare than 1 guy with a van doing 100 stops in 10 hours (usually when the 100 people are at work).

Because the guy in the truck is impeding the 10,000 people who have to use the same road, by double-parking and obstructing traffic.
But should not be the other way around ? The 10,000 people (each loaded with 1 person and eventually 1 package) are clogging the road for the delivery truck that is efficiently loaded with 1 person and 100 packages ?

Even if the single people in the car are travelling because of work, how will adding more people (now that delivery has been made un-economical etc) to the road benefit them ?

The logical solution would be to greatly raise taxes for one-people car travelling in the city, and create more space for the trucks so they don't have to double-park - as they are way more efficient in terms of delivered packages per mile traveled.
posted by elcapitano at 7:02 AM on April 25, 2017 [23 favorites]


elcapitano.

elcapitano gets it.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:09 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


In Italy, outside of the main cities, public transportation is non-existent. So is grocery delivery. Sure, most (but certainly not all) town centers have small shops that you can walk to (or supermarkets that you can walk to) but if you're buying cat litter? You're going to drive.

There is no magical solution in most of "Europe" that fixes problems we also have in the US. People drive to the grocery store and drive to work and drive to the bars and drive school and and and.
posted by lydhre at 7:33 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Increasing the gasoline taxes, and revoking all gasoline subsidies, also disproportionately benefits the environment, Autumnheart, so I'm happy about any excuse to do so.

There are more small-ish grocery stores in Europe, so city dwellers can normally you can reach one in a 5 min bike ride or 20 min walk. Importantly, these groceries remain vastly larger than the worthless corner shops from which New Yorkers buy their groceries.

Yes, waiting time largely determines your public transit experience, but layout and technology helps too : Paris and London have extremely dense subways, which makes them painfully slow. Berlin has more widely separated subway stops, but you travel across the city far faster once you reach the subway, and you can use a bus or tram to reach the subway there of course. Tams can be fast too if you make the road inaccessible to cars, like Paris' ring. Subways can be even faster if you (a) add mechanical doors and (b) automate them removing the driver, like the 14 in Paris. Rennes has these wonderful automated subways that are super-short, maybe saving them money in station construction, but also super frequent.

I agree with elcapitano too that American driving to the store to buy one item is disproportionately harmful for all concerned. Also, deliveries could become more efficient if they were "batched" by delivering to different neighborhoods on different days. You loose next day delivery of course, but that's basically pointless anyways.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:39 AM on April 25, 2017


How is this even a question this has been solved a million times over. I'm reading all this hand-wringing about it and I'm like, c'mon America, you can do it...

And in case anyone wants to tell me it doesn't work, the trike boys know me. They deliver my meals. In a house of four people, our doorbell must ring 10 times a day. All deliveries, all brought by train, truck to local distro station, and then electric trike last mile. I'm in Beijing, population density is half New York's, and even in my compound, delivery lockers and distro station pickup (we've got four in the building in facing the alley downstairs, but they serve 10 blocks around us) are very much a thing.
posted by saysthis at 7:51 AM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


And in case anyone asks how the garbage gets hauled out, same vehicles. Who backs an actual garbage truck up to a garbage can wtf. Trikes and shovels.
posted by saysthis at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2017


So here in Singapore, we have these things called POPStations, which are like the storage lockers the article talks about. I'm sure there are similar things in other countries. Almost every subway station has one, and you can arrange for your parcel to be delivered there instead of to your house. That way, you can pick it up when you're heading home. It's really convenient, and perhaps a model better suited for large and dense cities. But of course if you're buying a 20kg bag of rice, you might prefer that it is sent all the way to your house instead.

There are plans to do logistics hubs for Malls and districts. So Little India (eg) would have one shipment center to which supplies would come from a bunch of central distribution centers. There would then later be supra-regional deliveries (on bike or smaller trucks) from there. Or there'd be POP Stations.
posted by the cydonian at 8:04 AM on April 25, 2017


If they made all the delivery trucks twice as tall, they would only need half as many.

You're welcome.
posted by etherist at 8:10 AM on April 25, 2017 [8 favorites]


Berlin has more widely separated subway stops, but you travel across the city far faster once you reach the subway

But the most challenging distance for a person carrying a heavy or bulky package to travel is not the subway, even though that poses its own set of problems: it's that walk to (and from) the subway. If you asked me to pick between a system where I walk with my bag for two minutes and then sit or even stand on the subway with it for twenty and a system where it's vice versa, I'll pick the former every single time.
posted by praemunire at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2017


Amazon delivery has been driving me nuts lately, because they keep trying to deliver packages to my office on weekends and holidays. I can't have them deliver to my home, because there is nowhere for packages to be left. I try to pick delivery options so that stuff will come on weekdays, but often they "helpfully" try to deliver faster than they've promised. Probably 2/3 of my packages require multiple attempts because of this, which is colossally wasteful and contributes to these congestion problems, but Amazon.ca doesn't offer any way for me to indicate that they shouldn't make delivery attempts outside of regular business hours.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


So. I'm a person who owns a car but lives in a dense city with decent public transit. Sometimes I order stuff online, sometimes I go out and get it myself.

As a cyclist, I really feel the frustration of all the Amazon and Peapod and UPS delivery trucks parking in bike lanes and otherwise blocking the roadway.

But I'm pretty sure me going out all by myself in my car to go shopping locally isn't the more efficient solution, as many have noted above. And it *is* a separate trip because as stated I'm in a dense city with public transit so I'm biking or public transit-ing to work, not driving. I'm not sure it makes sense to say in one breath "those people should take public transit to get their stuff" and then say "or if it's too heavy they can just pick it up in their car on the way home from work" in the next. Work is the thing people are most likely to use transit for, and shopping (at least for large items) probably the least.

I now live 3 blocks from a grocery and bought a granny cart so I can do that by walking, but a granny cart on transit can be virtually impossible if your train station doesn't have working elevators or your bus is frequently very crowded. I still take my car to get dog food or buy a new toaster oven at Bed Bath and Beyond. Even in large cities the small neighborhood shops and hardware stores that carry small appliances, clothing, specialty goods, etc have largely vanished and been replaced by fewer and farther away Target/Home Depot/BBB/Petsmart.

To be honest, it's the proliferation of Uber/Lyft/etc drivers that is having the most noticeable impact on traffic around here, IMO.
posted by misskaz at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2017 [7 favorites]




why 100 people travelling 1 hour to go to a shop and back (and doing this usually in peak hour) is less of a nightmare than 1 guy with a van doing 100 stops in 10 hours

It's not usually 1 guy doing 100 stops in 10 hours; for that kind of service, you use the USPS. It's 10 guys-or 20 guys-each doing a few stops. (I've gotten 3 different deliveries from Amazon on the same day.) They're double-parking because (1) they don't want to leave the van out of sight and (2) they don't know the neighborhood, at all, so they don't know that there's always a parking space around the next corner.

The PrimenNow deliveries, and maybe Amazon Pantry deliveries, and all the "order meals" services, can include "deliver within a specific 2-hour window;" those drivers aren't taking full-day loads, and new ones are constantly being sent out.

Also, people doing grocery shopping, or other store-shopping, are doing so in places that provide parking. The new delivery hassles are like "neighbor is throwing a party so the streets are crowded," all the time. Once is fine; a few times in the course of one week is a hassle but okay; several times a month - every month - is too much.

(Solutions: Increase gas taxes; subsidize public transit; remove the class barriers from public transit shopping.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:39 AM on April 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


It's 10 guys-or 20 guys-each doing a few stops.

From a 2013 Wired article: "At UPS, the average driver makes about 120 deliveries per day, says Jack Levis, the shipping giant’s director of process management. " This 2015 quora thread says it's 160-200 stops per day.

Surely you can see that one truck is more efficient than 120-200 cars.

they don't know the neighborhood, at all, so they don't know that there's always a parking space around the next corner.

Really? My parents' UPS guy is almost always the same guy. He brings treats for their dog. Maybe this is different in very dense areas but it seems super inefficient. The post office generally maintains regular routes, why wouldn't package delivery companies?

Also - for those commenting from suburbs and rural areas, this article isn't about you. Residential suburban/rural roads are not being clogged because delivery trucks almost never need to double park. That's what low density is.
posted by AFABulous at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not getting the problem here. It's much more efficient for the UPS and USPS guys to deliver to our door daily while they work they rest of the street than for each of us on the street to do the equivalent runs to the mall.

(Of course, it's not either/or. It's both - deliveries *and* trips to the mall. And yeah, where I live is equivalent to suburbia. And I have no standing here - I ordered an 18 foot awning for our deck that was so big that the giant delivery truck had to gingerly reverse down our street. But I couldn't have bought that product without home delivery in any case, so ...)
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


My parents' UPS guy is almost always the same guy.

UPS guys have reliable schedules and often know the neighborhoods. The new flood of Amazon and other private-company drivers don't. And even UPS is being thrown by the new dynamics - they used to mostly deliver to businesses; they're doing a lot more individual residential deliveries now.
Demand is being driven by people in their individual homes and apartments ordering smaller amounts of goods with higher frequency: groceries one day, several items from Amazon the next. “Instant” deliveries are now in vogue. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a global studies and geography professor at Hofstra University, recently completed his own delivery survey of a 300-unit apartment building in northern New Jersey. Over the course of 2016, more than 23,000 packages were delivered, which breaks down to about 65 packages per day.
While that does reduce some shopping, it doesn't eliminate it - most online shopping is not for groceries, and a person who'd make one trip to a shopping center to get groceries, and stop in at the drugstore next door and maybe the nearby Bed Bath & Beyond, is now likely to shop at the grocery store - and buy new interesting kitchenware at Amazon, putting 2 vehicles on the road where there used to be one.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:47 AM on April 25, 2017


Regular orders of 200 lbs. of lettuce... Does your wife have pet giraffes? Does she need help caring for them?
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:06 PM on April 25, 2017


As a person with reallybwonky ankles the whole granny cart thing is nightmarish Dollie me, especially when you add in a bus. I loved a good while in Sarajevo. There is no area where you don't have a shop or two per block. They had SamShop which was a huge, Walmart like place, and the municipal markets. Basically, if I did a very heavy shopping, or had to bring perishables a long way, I got a taxi. There isn't that much door to door delivery in Sarajevo.
There are daily deliveries to small grocery stores and cafes and bars. I sometimes was cheaper off going to a soup restaurant as opposed to cooking for myself.
Poor people eat out more in Europe than they do here because food cards are not a thing in Europe.
In Dublin I stayed in hostels. There were endless little places to buy food. I never had to truck food home more than a couple blocks unless I was buying something special.
Busses in Sarajevo were not handicap - accessible. Same went for Dublin when I was there. Same goes for London. Severely disabled people aren't seen out and about much, unless they are reduced to begging, which basically is really rare in Ireland, also just didn't see that in the short time I was in London.
In my town if a bus has two wheel chair spaces in use, if I'm alone, I go get a coffee and wait for the next bus. Steps on busses are not my friend. If I'm with Mr. Roquette I have no real choice but to go ahead and ride that bus anyway. He gets upset at such a delay. I also wish bus and power chair designers would work together and make their products fit together better.
Also MUST Baby -strollers be so herking big? AND must such herking big strollers be damned un-foldable? They are seriously the size wheel chairs used to be. Add in the huge granny carts...
granny carts really hurt people when the sidewalks are all buckled up like they are in my town. Me. Roquette has hurt himself using his oft-repaired granny cart several times.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:53 PM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that this is primarily a New York City problem?

I mean, this is the city with nowhere to put its trash. In Chicago, I hear, they have little alleys for trash pickup? Other cities, you'll see curbside trash only in the residential areas. But here, even in TIMES SQUARE, the Disney version of New York, the hub of the wheel, where all roads lead, I have seen bags of trash piled on the curb en plein air with tourists dining al fresco not fifteen feet away. Maybe the real problem here is that Manhattan is just poorly designed? Because it is. It is crowded and horrible and made of trash. While I'm on the subject, there's a godforsaken lake in the intersection of 42nd and 9th and it smells like sewage. Thanks
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 6:10 PM on April 25, 2017 [6 favorites]


wait, none of you are councilmen, shit my bad
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 6:13 PM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Truck traffic in 1946 - 37th Street, NYC (from Mashable 1945-1960: Todd Webb's New York).
posted by cenoxo at 8:59 PM on April 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Taxation based on externalities is a great idea, but it's also stupid to just ignore an obvious demand signal, and there's a historically well-trod path between "covering externalities" and "propping up failing business models who are paying for protection" that needs to be consciously avoided.

People don't want to stop on the way home from work at the store. That's what the popularity of delivery services is saying. Trying to force people to stop on the way home from work, then, is unlikely to be a popular move, and unpopular taxes have a way of going away.

Rather than trying to push backwards towards an outcome (shopping at stores) that people have rejected, the better route would be to tax and otherwise discourage the specific behaviors that are harmful -- double parking, e.g. -- but acknowledge that the solution also might involve changes to the existing urban environment. If some of those "stop on the way home from work" stores weren't stores but instead were logistics facilities for local delivery, particularly delivery that wasn't truck-based, then you'd get fewer delivery trucks. The reason those logistics facilities are located out in the suburbs or exurbs today has to do with costs that make sending trucks into cities from them preferable, but those costs aren't set in stone.

Turning delivery vs. shopping into some sort of moral issue, which sets the semi-mythical Perfect Urban Retail Store on a pedestal, is just kneejerk conservativism, and scratching its rose-colored surface even a bit starts to show an ugly truth underneath: the pre-Robert-Moses 20th century cities that are being implicitly idealized are anything but ideals and are designed around some pretty ugly, by modern standards, assumptions. When you have more people working full-time outside-the-home jobs, suddenly the number of retail stores may need to decrease; shopping generally might not be feasible.

Having a specialist do your buying, and just bringing you the results, is the logical result of increasing the value of everyone's time far enough. Delivery services exist on this spectrum, although not quite that far along -- when your time isn't quite so dear as to justify a personal shopper to actually make decisions for you, but you're still busy enough that the slight risk of buying out of a catalog (online or otherwise) is worthwhile for the time savings vs. going to a store. That's a decision that we should be careful not to disregard, because it may indicate positive changes elsewhere in our society that it would be unfortunate to undermine, while at the same time punishing externalization of costs. The key is not to assume the results (push people back to stores) when considering the externalities.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:43 PM on April 25, 2017 [7 favorites]


So this is the thing that delurks me. Please tell me what is the deal with the weights? Do they get modded and resold on etsy? Is there a trebuchet involved? I will understand if I don't get an answer because look, there's a little note below this text box specifically telling me not to ask questions like this.
posted by turkeybrain at 7:33 AM on April 26, 2017 [4 favorites]


A++++++ would lift bedazzled weights again
posted by asperity at 8:21 AM on April 26, 2017


My ideal for city automobile traffic would be 100% trucks so this seems like an unmitigated good?
posted by ethansr at 11:12 AM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of wasted capacity that you could optimize, or cause to be optimized, given the right incentive structure and how delivery services are currently designed — today you have UPS, FedEx, DHL, Amazon, Target (in some places), Peapod, plus a bunch of other 3PL companies all driving trucks past your house every day, and then going back to their own distribution centers. Most of those trucks aren't full and their routes are frequently duplicative, and the trucks themselves are built for longer distances than local deliveries really require, meaning they're overly large for the purpose.

In an urban area, what you really want is a sort of "mini DC" / crossdock that isn't retailer-specific, where shipments from Amazon, Target, etc. destined for a particular area can come in and be sorted onto last-mile vehicles, optimized for city streets instead of highway driving, such that you don't have as many of them driving past every address, every day.

Ridiculous notion, of course.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:24 PM on April 26, 2017 [8 favorites]


Express package delivery deregulation has a lot to answer for.
posted by asperity at 2:14 PM on April 26, 2017


On the topic of automating parts of the delivery chain, at about 20:30 in this Deutsche Welle documentary published late last year: Robotics - Impacting the workplace, it shows how at a shipping container seaport in Germany described as "one of the most technologically advanced in the world" they have autonomous vehicles somewhat like flatbed trucks with no cab which cranes drop the containers on as they're offloaded from the ship, which then drive the containers across the port to the next stage of their journey.

The guy being interviewed, an official at the port I think? Says he thinks that in twenty years long-distance bulk shipping will in many ways be more self-service in the way that airline passengers now print out their own boarding passes, check their baggage, and pick their seat.
posted by XMLicious at 10:34 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


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