Innovating the Last Mile

One of the conundrums of the age of e-commerce is the so-called “last mile” problem, getting a delivery from the local depot to the actual delivery address. In the case of residential deliveries, this has not just VMT impacts, but also impacts on neighborhood livability.

I see Fedex, UPS and DHL trucks on my local street pretty much daily.

Of course, the good old United States Postal Service has been doing the last mile thing for several centuries.

Which brings me to an innovative technique that seems to be using.

If I’m reading the labels on my packages right, Amazon is using one of the delivery companies to get my books to my local post office, then having the postal service deliver them to my home.

This strikes me as a fantastic hybrid solution.

Does anyone know of other similar hybrid delivery schemes? The core concept would seem to be to consolidate shipments with a single ‘local’ delivery service for the final delivery.

This is a variation on an idea the Dutch were working on when I visited the Netherlands last year – centralized neighborhood delivery depots (possibly automated) where you could go (possibly by bike or on foot) to retrieve your packages – also solving the problem of no one being home to receive the package.

6 responses to “Innovating the Last Mile”

  1. It strikes me that this makes perfect sense in the age of ecommerce but it may also make sense for local delivery. If the post office returned to the days of twice a day delivery, people could use it as a means of getting same day delivery for things they purchase at a store instead of having to haul it themselves on transit or drive (which is what people usually do). Of course the economics for that may not work, but with sufficient volume it might.

  2. Chris –

    I agree that centralized neighborhood depots (perhaps in partnership with existing community centers) would be a boon for those of us who do not want to miss packages because we aren’t home, or worse, have packages stolen.

    Right now, I can tell a cooperative vendor to have UPS hold my package for pickup at the depot, or I can add one wasted day to the process by leaving such a note on my door. But then I have to drive out to Swan Island to pick up the package.

    There once was a great innovation called the “PO Box”, or something. :-) I actually have one myself here in Portland, but rarely use it except as a junk mail collector. The pickup hours at my neighborhood post office are short, and the box lobby is not always open, and vendors that don’t ship via USPS will refuse to send to a PO Box.

    I got spoiled when I lived in Corvallis… the box lobby was open 24 hours (often ran into friends/associates there), the main desk hours were reasonable, and if you were late and especially desperate to pick up a package, you could usually go around to the back dock and very politely ask an on-duty employee to get it for you (after an ID check). I don’t know if that is allowed under any official USPS procedure, but it worked for me…

    I would consider one of the private mail box places, especially now that they are owned by the shipping companies, but I’m a bit cautious. A good friend of mine had a private mailbox, and had several instances of missing mail, late items, damaged items, etc. He moved to a genuine PO Box and the problems went away or were more easily resolvable when they did occur.

    – Bob R.

  3. Bob,
    The TriMet 85 Swan Island Express runs to UPS on Basin Avenue every 20 minutes all day from the Rose Quarter…no need to drive! It also stops at Fed Ex and Fed Ex Ground.
    But, what Amazon is doing makes a ton of sense; I wonder how much of UPS’ cost is the city to city trip vs the home delivery piece?

  4. Lenny –

    Thanks for the info on the #85… usually, when I have something held for pickup it is too large or heavy to be very conducive to transit, but I will keep that in mind for future trips.

    – Bob R.

  5. Yeah…I just want to echo Bob R.’s reply that packages that are too big for the postal carriers to carry are the issue here.

    A couple of questions to ponder:

    1. How big/heavy of an item will postal carriers deliver on their door-to-door rounds?
    2. How many items are dropped off by all delivery cos. in an neighborhood per day? How many trucks would that fill?
    3. Are there few enough items that it would make since to have only one truck carry those items? If it takes two neighborhoods to fill a truckload, instead of having both trucks (each from a different co.) serve both neighborhoods, one truck would serve each.
    4. This is the same issue with free-market transit–are there enough passengers to fill all the buses? Speaking about transit, I know a TriMet operator who was complaining about how he had to go a ways in his old city to get to a post office and saw that post offices used to be much more localized.
    5. Also, I know that at least with the USPS, you can simply send stuff to “General Delivery” to get stuff held for pick up.
  6. Yeah…I just want to echo Bob R.’s reply that packages that are too big for the postal carriers to carry are the issue here.

    You can send packages up to 70 pounds via media mail or parcel post and you can arrange pickup and delivery from the post office for almost as many packages as you want. Its a great way to move books – cheaper than a mover will charge per pound.

    This is the same issue with free-market transit–are there enough passengers to fill all the buses?

    Except we long ago decided that universal postal service was an important government service. Which is why you can get mail even in the most rural areas of the country. The post office doesn’t charge according to cost.

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