Research Projects

Common Microhub

Project Funder: 
Urban Freight Lab
Principal Investigator(s): 
Project Timing: 
January 2020 to December 2021
Project Description: 

Background

The importance of efficient urban logistics has never been greater. The response to COVID-19 has put new constraints and demands on the urban freight system, but also highlighted the  essential and critical nature of delivery and distribution. New requirements for reducing human contact only add weight to many of the strategies such as neighborhood kitchens, locker deliveries, and autonomous driverless delivery vehicles, already envisioned before the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing and virus vector management also add new requirements and metrics for evaluating and managing logistics that are catalyzing innovation and motivating change in the urban logistics space.

What is a Common Microhub?

Also known as an urban consolidation center or a delivery transfer point, a microhub is a central drop-off/pick-up location for goods and services, which can be used by multiple delivery providers, retailers, and consumers. Microhubs can reduce energy consumption, noise pollution, congestion, and cost, and increase access, sustainability, and livability in cities, by allowing the final mile of delivery to be shifted to low-emission vehicles or soft transportation modes (cargo bike or walking), In addition to allowing for consolidation or deconsolidation of shipments, the design also enables neighbors to engage with additional services.

Microhubs provide:

  • access points for shared mobility
  • touchless pick-up and drop-off points
  • a home base for zero-emissions last-mile delivery, autonomous, and modalities
  • a shared public space
  • charging infrastructure
  • increased delivery density, reducing traffic and delivery vehicle dwell time
  • trip chaining capability

Urban Freight Lab Common Microhub Pilot

The Urban Freight Lab's Common Microhub project—the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub—provides an opportunity for members to test and evaluate urban logistics strategies on the ground in Seattle's Uptown neighborhood. As third-party logistics companies entering the last mile space and more cities committing to environmental focus and zero-emissions vision, the interest in creating logistics places in urban proximity is growing. The outcomes of this research can guide the development of future microhub implementations in other cities.


As one of the nation's first zero-emissions last-mile delivery pilots, the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub serves as a testbed for sustainable urban logistics strategies on the ground in Seattle's dense Uptown neighborhood. Photo by Urban Freight Lab.

Operations began in April 2021 and are expected to run until December 2021. Participating stakeholders, while collaborative, operate with relative independence within the hub space. Data collection and analysis are ongoing; key indicators being measured include both operator performance and expected local impacts. In addition, lessons learned are encountered continuously and shared with UFL members as the project progresses.

Participants and Products

Product: Common Carrier Parcel Lockers
Host: Urban Freight Lab

Description: The Urban Freight Lab is operating a common carrier parcel locker — a secure, automated, self-service storage system designed to accommodate deliveries from multiple transportation providers delivering a range of parcel sizes and open to all neighbors and commuters. Such lockers create delivery density, enabling vehicles to transport many packages to a single stop, rather than making multiple trips to accomplish the same task. This new approach reduces dwell time and failed first deliveries, both of which produce congestion and emissions, and increase costs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockers also provide a no-contact solution for customers.

Product: Neighborhood Kitchen and Infrastructure
Host: REEF

Description: Neighborhood kitchens are non-customer-facing modular vessels where food is prepared for mobile app or delivery orders. Removing front-of-house operations reduces a restaurant's footprint, increases sustainability, and gives food entrepreneurs a platform by reducing overhead costs.

REEF is also the infrastructure partner, leveraging their parking lot holdings for the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub location.

Product: Electric-Assist Cargo Bike Fleet
Host: ​​Coaster Cycles

Description: Montana-based Coaster Cycles is providing an electric-assist cargo trikes fleet. These trikes are customized to carry BrightDrop EP1s, providing an agile, sustainable last-mile delivery solution in dense urban areas, reducing the emissions, congestion, and noise produced by traditional truck delivery. 
(Watch the Coaster Cycle / EP1 deployment: https://vimeo.com/528552173)

Product: Last-Mile Delivery Routing Software
HostAxleHire

Description: Berkeley-based logistics startup Axlehire provides last-mile delivery routing software that creates the fastest, most efficient routes possible. AxleHire is using the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub site as a transshipment point, where trucks will transfer packages transported from a suburban depot to smaller, more nimble Coaster Cycle electrically-assisted bicycles, which are driven by Axlehire operators to a final customer.

Product: Electric Pallet (EP1)
Host: ​BrightDrop (General Motors)

Description: BrightDrop (a subsidiary of General Motors) focuses on electrifying and improving the delivery of goods and services. BrightDrop's first product to market is the EP1, a propulsion-assisted electric pallet designed to easily move goods over short distances. Because the pallet is electric-powered, it supports sustainability efforts, improves driver safety and freight security, lowers labor costs, and reduces errors and package touches.

Product: MUST Devices and Data Collection
Host: University of Washington Smart Transportation Application & Research (STAR) Lab

Description: To assess performance, researchers have deployed a multitude of sensors, including STAR Lab's Mobile Unit for Sensing Traffic (MUST) sensors, cameras with vehicle recognition technology, GPS tracking sensors, and parking occupancy sensors. Researchers can gain a comprehensive understanding of delivery operations (such as miles traveled, infrastructure usage, speed, battery usage, interaction with other vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians) and activities at the site itself (such as parking occupancy, duration and, mode distribution of vehicle types at the site).

Location

The Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub is located at 130 5th Ave. N. in Seattle's Uptown neighborhood. 

Goals

The goals of the Common Microhub Research Project are to:

  1. Conduct a research scan of published reports that provide data-based evidence of the results of projects that have elements that are similar to Common Microhubs.

  2. Identify and characterize informal microhub activities observed in cities worldwide.

  3. Solicit input from UFL members as to:
    a. the perceived benefits of microhubs
    b. the desired physical characteristics of a microhub

  4. Compare and contrast the priorities of UFL members with established metrics in the literature.

  5. Seek agreement from UFL members as to the microhub characteristics and location that would be feasible and desirable to operate in the Seattle region. Priority will be given to current UFL members, but should a third party external to UFL be necessary to run the microhub, proposals to host the microhub would be sought.

  6. Collect and analyze field data to measure both operator performance (including VMT, parking demand, fuel, and energy consumption) and expected local impacts (including travel and parking activity) before and after implementation. Data collection will rely on VMT, GPS, and travel time sources where available, but we expect to develop and implement customized methods to collect additional traffic and travel time data as needed. We may also interview the microhub operator and users to obtain qualitative data on the operations. The following tasks will be completed by the Urban Freight Lab in the two-year project.

Project Tasks

The following tasks will be completed by the Urban Freight Lab in the two-year project.

Task 1: Research Scan
Subtasks:

  1. Conduct a research scan of published reports that provide data-based evidence of the results of projects that have elements that are similar to Common MicroHubs.
  2. Identify and characterize informal microhub activities observed in cities worldwide.
  3. Write a summary of the results.

Task 2: Develop MicroHub Priorities
Subtasks:

  1. Solicit input from UFL members as to:
    • the perceived benefits of microhubs
    • the desired physical characteristics of a microhub
  2. Compare and contrast the priorities of UFL members with priorities demonstrated in the literature.

Task 3: Select Operator and Define Operational Model
Subtasks:

  1. With the help of a microhub operator, seek agreement from UFL members as to the microhub characteristics, services, operational goals and location that would be feasible and desirable to operate in the Seattle region.
    • Priority will be given to current UFL members to operate the Hub, but should a third party external to UFL be necessary to run the microhub, proposals to host the microhub would be sought.
  2. Go/No Go decision by researchers, UFL members, and microhub operator as to whether a pilot test will move forward.
    • Sufficient interest amongst participating UFL members and an understanding of the operating model and participants' business objectives will be necessary to move forward as per the operator’s approval.
    • The operator will work independently with participants and/or the University of Washington to establish operating model(s) under separate agreement(s).

Task 4: Select Operator and Define Operational Model
Subtasks:

  1. Define key metrics for evaluation and data collection plan.
  2. With the support of UFL members participating in the pilot, collect “before” data to contrast with data collected during pilot operations

Task 5: Implementation
Subtasks:

  1. Support the implementation of a microhub with UFL partners that have agreed to the terms of the pilot.
  2. Project schedule will allow for 6 months of operations, followed by 3 months for analysis.
  3. Collect and analyze field data to measure both operator performance (including VMT, parking demand, fuel, and energy consumption) and expected local impacts (including travel and parking activity) after implementation. Data collection will rely on VMT, GPS, and travel time sources where available, but we expect to develop and implement customized methods to collect additional traffic and travel time data as needed. We may also interview the operator and users to obtain qualitative data on the operations.

Task 6: Evaluate Operations
Subtasks:

  1. Provide progress reports at quarterly UFL meetings.
  2. Final report with key project findings.
Project Keyword: 

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