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Environmental and Economic Prospects of Low-Carbon Vehicles in Support of European Commission 2030 City Logistics Fleet Goals

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posted on 02.10.2020, 20:05 by Alessandro GiordanoAlessandro Giordano
This thesis explores the operational feasibility, costs and benefits of replacing urban parcel deliveries operated by diesel vans with a diverse set of low-carbon vehicles. The aim is to facilitate the discussion among companies and policy makers on the health, environmental, economic and operational feasibility aspects of low-carbon vehicles, such as BEV vans, electric cargo scooters, and electric and human-powered cargo bicycles; and to produce actionable insights for their decision making on the inclusion of these vehicles in city logistics fleets. The analysis is carried under both private and public perspectives and for six specific European capitals (Berlin, Paris, Rome, Lisbon, Oslo and London), characterized by diverse size, weather, topography, infrastructure, and economic and social conditions. Because of these differences, the insights of this study are valuable to other cities within and outside Europe.
The second chapter explores costs and benefits of BEV very large vans compared to their diesel equivalent, performing a life cycle assessment and an annualized cost comparison. Different battery technologies are included in the assessment and the outputs served to model small vans and air pollutant emissions from vehicle productions of low-carbon vehicles based on their weight and battery sizes.
The third chapter assesses the effects of temperature on operational feasibility and costs of large BEV (and diesel) vans to make Chapter 2 results more robust. The study finds that the operational costs of diesel and BEV vans due to temperature effect are relatively small when compared to the overall operational costs. Even when including the purchase of dedicated charging stations, large BEV van operational costs remain 40 to 80% lower than for large diesel vans. However, pre-heating large BEV vans can reduce their range limitations in cold cities by 5-10%, 90-95% and 100% for 23.4, 46.8 and 70.2 kWh battery sizes, respectively, while it has a small or no value in warm cities.
The fourth chapter then shifts the focus to deliveries performed by small diesel vans and assesses small BEV vans, electric cargo scooters and cargo bicycles’ ability to replace small diesel vans. It also explores the effects of weather and topographic factors, such as temperature, wind and city hilliness, on low-carbon vehicle technologies’ operational feasibility frontiers, expressed in terms of distance and load. Results reveal that the baseline fleet of small diesel vans, and therefore its delivery trips and mileage, can be entirely replaced by 36 kWh small BEV vans, while two-wheeled vehicles have a more limited potential. When multiple cargo bicycles and electric cargo scooters are used to replace diesel van trips, they could replace up to 28-63% of the baseline small diesel vans, with 0.4 average load factor, and 24-62% of the baseline fleet mileage, depending on the characteristics of the city.
Across the topographic and weather factors affecting riders’ energy use, “hilliness intensity” and “average wind speed,” are the most relevant ones. The first of the two is predictable, however it could increase energy use considerably. Based on empirical cargo bicycle rides’ data, this study founds this effect varies from 0% in Berlin and London to 37% in Lisbon. Wind speed effect is less predictable daily and its effect on two-wheeled vehicles’ energy use varies between 1% and 22%. Hence, electric cargo bicycles in hilly and windy cities like Lisbon would require a set of three 1 kWh batteries to operate the same number of delivery trips that are operationally feasible for 1 kWh electric cargo bicycles in a flat city like Berlin. Furthermore, results reveal that cargo bicycle riders’ “type of diet” is critical to determine whether their deliveries have lower carbon footprint than electric scooters and small BEV vans. When food is considered, human-powered cargo bicycles’ GHG emissions are also larger than for electric cargo bicycle models.
In the fifth chapter, private and external costs of different vehicle options are discussed to assess their cost effectiveness and inform the strategies, and policy incentives, delivery companies and European cities will need to achieve increasing levels of the European Commission strategic goal of “CO2-free city logistics,” with and without including cargo vans, by 2030.
Results reveal that, low-carbon vehicles are either able to reduce air pollution but not congestion external costs (small BEV vans), or reduce air pollution and congestion external costs, but increase road accident costs (cargo bicycles and electric scooters). The study finds that cities can reduce their city logistics external costs including low-carbon vehicles in their fleets by up to 57% in Berlin, to 45-43% in Paris and Rome, respectively, and 31% in Lisbon, and that these percentages are achievable by prioritizing the inclusion of two-wheeled vehicle options in low-carbon vehicle fleets. In addition, policy makers could award financial or non-financial incentives to low-carbon vehicle options to make them more economically attractive than small diesel vans. These incentives would be justified by external cost savings, which vary across cities and could be up to 500-1,600 EUR/year for small BEV vans, 2,400-6,000 EUR/year for electric cargo scooters and 3,900-7,700 EUR/year for cargo bicycles, allowing low-carbon vehicle options can fully replace small diesel van delivery operations.
The study concludes that the European Commission can achieve the 2030 “CO2-free city logistics” goal by a combination of cargo bicycles, electric cargo scooters and BEV vans, and that prioritizing the inclusion of two-wheeled vehicles maximizes cities’ external cost savings. Importantly, future research should include real driving-cycle and monitor operational data, such as load factors and parcel density information, of vehicle technologies in city logistics fleets to reduce energy use uncertainty and improve operational feasibility and external cost estimates.




Degree Type



Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Scott Matthews Paul Fischbeck

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