Friday, October 19, 2012

Advancing Research and Practice for Urban Freight for Livable Cities

This past week I had the honor and privilege of being a participant at the Future Urban Transport Symposium in Gothenburg, Sweden with the provocative theme Urban Freight for Livable Cities.

I have been writing about this symposium and today am focusing on some of the highlights of the last day's events.

What impressed me most was the openness of the discussions that took place among the academics, practitioners, policy-makers, and even the top transport journalist in the United Kingdom, Christian Wolmar, who was a moderator for the final day's discussion and his humor had us laughing out loud! For example, since one of the major themes was that of the sharing of urban space by passengers as well as freight he noted that when an ambulance brings you to the hospital it is doing passenger transportation and when the hearse carries you out, that is freight transportation!

Mr. Christian Wolmar being introduced (he is seated).

In his commentary, he emphasized the importance of scientists cultivating relationships with journalists and how words are important -- a lively discussion ensued when he said that he did not like such awkward to him language as multicriteria decision-making  with multiple actors. Professor Cathy Macharis of Belgium, who also is a Visiting Professor at the University of Gothenburg in the group that I am visiting, spoke on this topic. I even congratulated her on her recent research paper in the European Journal of Operational Research on the subject.

One colleague in support of such language, which we in operations research use frequently, defended such terminology and said that we should not be "dumbing down" our concepts, language, and methodologies and the educational systems!

I was on the final panel of the symposium, which was moderated by Professor Michael Browne of the University of Westminster who is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Gothenburg, as I am. He was heavily involved in the transport and logistics studies surrounding the 2012 Olympic Games in London and, as we heard, on the first day, from Peter Hendy, the Commissioner of Transport  for London, despite the negativity in the press prior to the Games and concern for gridlock and that beer would not make it to the pubs, money would not make it to the cash machines, and blood to the hospitals, they all did!

However, the behavior of passengers and freight carriers did change and it is believed that 1 out of 3 have permanently changed their travel behavior, which is a great success from the transport demand management perspective. For example, cash (ATM) repair folks used the tube (subway) to maintain the machines (since without money the economy grinds to a halt) rather than driving around in vans and taking up more of the urban space. They found that this was also more efficient, which is great. Many van operators have now switched to using public transportation.

Participants in this symposium came from 6 continents and we heard from our colleagues in India, where certain cities only allow freight to come into the city at night! We heard from my colleague at RPI, Dr. Jose Holguin-Veras about his work in NYC which has led to off-time deliveries and the challenges of instituting such changes as well as the positives -- from truckers feeling less stress and the flow of freight improved.

We discussed the importance of context, whether local, regional, or national.

There was also a lot of discussion as to the size of trucks that should be allowed into cities and the impacts on efficiency and emissions.

I spoke on our work on supply chain networks -- from analysis to design from a sustainability perspective and the importance of a system-wide and holistic point of you. I also emphasized the importance of methodologies from game theory (both competitive and cooperative) as well as optimization and network analysis.
The Forward Looking Panelists (l-r): Dr. Michael Browne, moderator, Dr. Bengt Holmberg, Dr. Rosario Macario, Mr. Michael Replogle, me, and Mr. Anders Roth

It was great to hear language such as that of equilibrium, optimization, different criteria, carbon imprint, the minimization of emissions, equity, accessibility and mobility being used so fluidly in the discussions.

Many disciplines were represented at the symposium from economists and urban planners to transportation professionals and logisticians to operations researchers and management scientists to design architects.

It was also fascinating to hear about the initiatives taken by certain cities (although still rare) in taking freight transport, front and center. The initiatives in Berlin were especially laudatory.

One of our discussion groups on Sharing the Urban Space

Freight has been rather invisible in terms of policy-making and even data collection, which is ironic but many cities and regions have focused exclusively on passenger transportation. Freight's impact on local, national, and global economies is immense as is its impact on congestion and environmental emissions and, hence, research in this area and collaboration among corporations, universities, policy-makers, and even politicians, and citizens is sorely needed.

I'd like to thank and to congratulate Volvo, VREF, and the city of Gothenburg as well as the International Program Committee, led by Dr. Arne Wittlow, for the success of this symposium.
Dr. Arne Wittlov concluding the conference

A group of us enjoying the last lunch at the conference, which took place at the Clarion Post Hotel