15. January 2020 | Interview

"There is no single vehicle which is suitable for all tours": an interview with Gerd Seber

DPD guarantees customers and parcel consignees carbon-neutral parcel shipping. To achieve this, unavoidable transport emissions are offset by investment in renewable energy projects. At the same time the company is working continuously to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - for example by investing in e-vehicles. Gerd Seber, Group Manager City Logistics & Sustainability, explains in an interview what opportunities are already available to DPD Germany in this area, but also what the difficulties of expanding the e-vehicle fleet are.

 

On the basis of its DrivingChange sustainability concept DPD has committed itself to carbon-neutral parcel shipping while continuously reducing its CO2 footprint. A number of e-mobility projects have been initiated in Germany in order to achieve this. What vehicles are particularly suitable in practice for emission-free parcel delivery?

Gerd Seber: There is no single vehicle which is suitable for all tours and delivery areas. In the DPD fleet as well as in logistics in general there will in future be greater diversification in the means of transport used - from the electric cargo bike to the e-truck. DPD has already tested a number of these solutions and vehicle concepts together with their suitability for practical use, and is currently in the process of applying the knowledge gained in the field.

Cargo bikes are particularly suitable for mixed inner-city areas, where mainly private consignees and small businesses are located. Here the delivery driver can stop right in front of the front door and thus shorten the walking distances involved, which results in a similar and sometimes even higher delivery performance than a conventional vehicle can achieve. However, due to its low payload a cargo bike needs to start from a transshipment point near the delivery area, in other words from a micro depot. Depending on the size of the delivery area it can be reloaded again – and overnight the cargo bike is then recharged on site. Thanks to modular cargo bikes such as the Rytle Movr or the Velove Armadillo the tour preparation and loading of the cargo bike can take place at the DPD depot - the loaded box is then simply placed on the cargo bike on site and the tour is ready to go.

E-vans are currently still very expensive and are unfortunately only available with limited cargo space. Nevertheless, they can make an important contribution to our CO2 reduction targets, especially on inner-city tours with a high proportion of private consignees. An important factor here is the distance from the depot to the tour area. Because the range of these vans is also still limited, especially in winter, not every delivery area can be reliably accessed. In addition, the electrification of our delivery fleet requires high initial investment in the charging infrastructure, and not every depot has enough power reserves in its electricity supply. In future the topic of electromobility must therefore be considered from the outset when it comes to the construction of new depots and expansion of existing ones.

However, on the delivery route e-vans are a useful and locally emission-free alternative to conventional diesel. They can especially demonstrate their advantages in the stop-and-go traffic of our congested inner cities.

 

On the last mile DPD often uses a combination of e-vehicles and micro depots. What options are there for making the route from the parcel sorting centre to the micro depot emission-free?

On the one hand, emission-free vehicles such as e-vans or e-trucks can of course be used locally. It is important to note that the feeder vehicle to the micro depot represents a significant cost factor in micro depot operation, so in the best case this vehicle should ideally carry out further deliveries or pick-ups in the vicinity of the micro depot after the parcels have been delivered there. Here the reduced payload space of current e-vans is currently still an obstacle, and unfortunately e-vans with a permissible total weight of up to 7.5t are not yet available in series production.

However, alternatives are also conceivable in the future - for example, public transport could also be used outside rush hours to cover the distance from the depot or from the edge of the city to the micro depot. Pilot projects have already been carried out in individual cities, for example using the tram as a feeder line. However, this naturally requires the appropriate long-term planning and the targeted expansion of the route network with a view to such future uses.

In general inner-city logistics need to be given much greater consideration in urban and district planning. Logistical areas in the form of inner-city transshipment hubs need to become a pre-planned component of the urban infrastructure.

 

At DPD you are responsible for sustainability and innovation, and you are an expert in forward-looking city logistics concepts. What challenges do you face in your daily work?

On the one hand very few city officials have a realistic picture of the streams of goods that are moved daily by the various service providers in their cities. The CEP sector in particular is repeatedly cited as one of the supposed main causes of traffic problems, partly because brands like DPD are now well known to everyone and therefore stand out on the streets. In fact, according to surveys by the German Parcel and Express Logistics Association (BIEK), the CEP sector accounts for only 6 percent of the daily traffic volume in German cities.

DPD too is usually immediately associated with the growth in online commerce and deliveries to private consignees, although the majority of our parcels continue to be delivered to commercial consignees, including in particular bricks-and-mortar retailers.

For this reason solutions such as delivery by cargo bike are from DPD's point of view not unrestrictedly suitable for shopping streets and pedestrian zones - the parcel sizes and shipment volumes delivered there simply require larger vehicles. At the same time, however, cities are imposing increasingly strict controls on access to these areas. A large part of my work involves resolving this contradiction and working together with the cities involved to design suitable solutions which meet the needs of a modern city and the increased demands for convenience and safety in these areas. There is no patent remedy that can be extended to every individual city: local conditions sometimes vary greatly, so that the appropriate combination always needs to be found from the list of possible solutions which have already been tested elsewhere.

On the other hand, however, our delivery staff continue to be confronted daily with the struggle for increasingly scarce space in our city centres, even if it is only in the search for a suitable and legal way to stop or park. Here I am trying, particularly through our industry association BIEK and its transport committee, to create better framework conditions on the basis of the appropriate legislation. The introduction of the traffic sign proposed by BIEK for CEP loading zones would be a welcome indication that the CEP industry's contribution to supplying modern cities is slowly being recognised and that at the political level, too, we are perceived not as a problem but as part of the solution to the problem.

Gerd Seber

Image: Gerd Seber, Group Manager City Logistics & Sustainability