Expert interview with Heleen Buldeo Rai: Five insights into city logistics

The Netherlands is leading the way: emission-free city logistics as early as 2025

The European Commission has set the target that city centers must be particulate matter and CO2030-free by 2. Even earlier, namely in 2025, the Netherlands wants emission-free city logistics with the Green Deal Zero Emission City Logistics. This means that in the future city centers may only be supplied emission-free. From January 1, 2025, all vans and trucks that are registered must be emission-free at the exhaust. Transitional arrangements will be introduced for existing vehicles, depending on the Euro class and vehicle type. Electric freight traffic is essential to achieve this objective. 

Better insight into city logistics

In addition to the climate goals, accessibility, quality of life and a healthy economy are also high on the agenda for cities. This sometimes leads to conflicting interests of policymakers and transporters. How do you ensure that shops are properly supplied, while neighborhoods remain optimally accessible for residents?

Heleen Budeo Rai is an expert in this field. She is Assistant Professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. We asked her the 5 questions about city logistics, sustainability and the role of e-commerce.

Heleen Buldeo Rai

1. What are the biggest challenges facing city logistics?

“On the one hand: sustainability objectives. We see cities being great forerunners in aligning with climate goals. Especially locally, the ambition to be sustainable and improve the quality of life is very great. And the second is: Logistics is very complex. If you look at the collective consciousness, the subject is virtually non-existent. While logistics performs an indispensable function in our society and is also responsible for a large part of CO2 emissions.” 


2. What are good examples of city hubs?

“We have now reached the point where there is a consensus that they are super important. For example, city hubs are necessary in the transition to alternative transport options. I dare say: we can't actually live without it anymore. Not only to organize transshipment activities, for example from trucks for supplies to cargo bikes for delivery, but also as storage areas. If you look at all the small, frequent deliveries or packages that need to be delivered the next day; then there is a greater need for storage space in the city. We must avoid inefficiency.

We agree that they are necessary, but what is not yet clear is where should they be placed, what should they look like, how big should they be, who pays for them, etc. Good examples? I worked in Paris for 3 years and a lot of thought has already been given to these kinds of things in this city. In France, the La Poste group is an important pioneer (parcel delivery and e-commerce). What we see is that the various branches have one or more city hubs. These are placed in old car parks or redeveloped buildings. These city hubs have been around for a while and they ensure that transport distances can be reduced. So that the switch to new forms of transport is within reach. And they are certainly successful. The city is open to it and has invested in it for years.”  


3. Which technologies are key in solving city logistics?

“It's difficult to make a list. For me: sharing information between city logistics and e-commerce. Between end customers, retailer and delivery people. 

Not only to share information, but especially to organize the processes as well as possible so that external costs and the impact on the environment are reduced as much as possible.”  


4. How can cities, carriers and e-commerce companies work together to promote sustainable city logistics?

“The default is home delivery, fast delivery or next day. And that is usually free too. Many people want to receive their package quickly, but it does not always have to be 'next day'. We now know this from research. We can also choose that if you want the package the 'next day', you have to pay extra for it. In addition, we could also change the default 'home delivery' to a parcel machine (in an urban environment). The reason we have not yet adjusted that default is because there are certain assumptions within the sector that people do not want these types of adjustments.”


5. What is the role of the consumer in sustainable e-commerce?

“You increasingly have the choice of a green delivery, a delivery in reusable packaging or a delivery that takes a little longer. In the city, consumers would be better off choosing a delivery point instead of home delivery. City dwellers already have greater access to so many shops and goods; then a physical store is recommended and certainly do not return or return."