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Buckinghamshire Live Labs - last mile mobility

Our latest guest blog is the second from Buckinghamshire on their partnership with Connected Places Catapult (CPC). Georgina Box, Systems Engineer from CPC talks through their work across the county on last mile mobility.

Let’s recap: what is last mile mobility?

Last mile mobility has many definitions. For the Buckinghamshire Live Labs study, we defined last mile mobility as the movement of goods or people over short distances to facilitate either:

  1. end-to-end journeys between a precise origin and destination, or
  2. modal connections as part of a longer journey.

What’s wrong with the status quo?

In Buckinghamshire and across the UK, there is now an overreliance on cars to move people over short distances. Likewise, in freight logistics, vans are a dominant means of fulfilling last mile deliveries. Many people and businesses opt for cars and vans over active travel or public transport due to the perceived convenience, safety and low cost of private motorised transport.

We know that when everyone chooses to drive, we end up with congested streets, queues for parking spaces and more frequent road collisions. In addition, the total cost of owning a vehicle once tax, insurance and depreciation are factored in, is higher than you’d expect. If we add into the equation that petrol and diesel cars and vans are contributing heavily to greenhouse gas emissions and poor air quality, then we can easily conclude that must be better ways to do this.

How hard can change be?

Last mile mobility is notoriously challenging, typically being inefficient and expensive for both the movement of people and goods. While there are many factors contributing to this, it boils down to the difficulty of consolidating many journeys with unique origins and/or destinations in an efficient way for all parties without an individual vehicle needed for each trip. 

The good news is that there have been many innovations in last mile transport which can help to diversify the options available and reduce reliance on private motorised vehicles. The bigger challenge is determining which of the wide offering of solutions will be popular with residents and benefit Buckinghamshire the most. 

One size does not fit all.

Many of the challenges experienced by Buckinghamshire in its transport network, such as heavy goods vehicles being routed through town centres, inefficient public transport systems and political and public perception restricting active travel funding are common across other authorities. However, the solutions are not always directly transferrable from one authority to another. This is because the geographic, demographic and cultural context is extremely important to the successful deployment of any new mode or technology. Here are a few examples to highlight the importance of context in transport interventions:

  • Automated delivery robots: Milton Keynes has seen the successful deployment of Starship robots for on-demand deliveries of small packages. These small electric robots travel smoothly along wide, flat shared use paths with bikes, e-scooters and pedestrians. However, if the same solution was attempted in a dense urban area such as Oxford Street, their movement would be restricted by crowded pavements and delays in deliveries would likely occur.
  • Buses: buses can be an effective way of consolidating passenger journeys along key travel corridors. Where there are dedicated bus lanes, journey times are reliable and customers benefit from avoiding sitting in traffic. However, where buses are deployed without dedicated lanes, they are caught in the same congestion as cars and become far less attractive to potential passengers. 
  • E-scooters: the legislation to permit trials of hired e-scooters came into effect in 2020 and they are becoming a common sight on UK roads. They can be a great addition to the last mile transport network when used safely along permitted cycle lanes and roads but when used illegally on pavements they can cause hazards to pedestrians and to the riders.

So, what’s right for Buckinghamshire?

We set out to find the most suitable transport solutions to trial in Buckinghamshire which meet the objectives of improved air quality, accessibility, journey time, ease of movement and safety. 

Firstly, we carried out a literature review to explore the existing, emerging and future last mile mobility solutions for moving people and goods. This determined the art of the possible. Secondly, we defined the challenge by developing a problem definition using interviews with Buckinghamshire council to define a set of targeted problem statements. Thirdly, we developed a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) framework to evaluate the different last mile options and identify a short-list of solutions that satisfy the key needs. Examples of criteria include cost to user, carbon emissions per kilometre travelled and physical accessibility requirements. The criteria were weighted based on their relative importance and the total scores were used to determine rankings which reflect their potential to overcome the challenges and meet the transport objectives of Buckinghamshire council. Crucially for Live Lab dissemination, the MCDA framework can be adapted for use by other authorities by changing the criteria headings and weightings to fit different objectives.

The top 5 solutions for the movement of people and the top 5 solutions for the movement of goods made up the short-lists of solutions to be considered for pilot development.

What’s next?

CPC designed three pilots which incorporated some of the highest scoring solutions from our multi-criteria decision analysis. We also presented the business cases for these proposals. The pilots are designed to deliver a subset of the following objectives:

  • Improve air quality through reduced congestion
  • Improve accessibility through increased transport options
  • Drive behaviour change by making it easier and more attractive to use active and public transport modes
  • Enable the ease of movement in town centres and other urban areas through improved transport access
  • Improve journey time by balancing demand across transport modes
  • Increase transport safety by reducing the risk of death or injury on the network

Finally, we created a roadmap to 2040 highlighting the areas of prioritisation for Buckinghamshire against the expected trends in technology and local economic activity. 

To find out more, download our report Last Mile Mobility: In-depth feasibility study from the ADEPT website or read the Executive Summary here. You can also have a look at our webpage and the Future of Last Mile Mobility video

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