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Pittsburgh pilots smart loading zones to reduce last-mile delivery congestion

Curb management firm Automotus will provide technology that includes real-time availability, pay-by-minute access

Curb management firm Automotus will spearhead a smart loading zones pilot program in Pittsburgh. (Photo: Pexels/Tima Miroshnichenko)

Can smart loading zones reduce parking-related traffic congestion by 20% while speeding up last-mile deliveries? The city of Pittsburgh is about to find out.

The Steel City has been awarded a $100,000 grant from Automotus to create a one-year pilot program to study the impact of curbside loading zones. Automotus will provide technology that will analyze curbside activity in real time, automate payment by the minute for delivery firms, and share parking availability data with drivers for 20 loading zones located in the city.

The 20 smart loading zones, located within the Central Business District, Lawrenceville, Central Oakland, Bloomfield, and South Side Flats, will enable faster pickups and drop-offs and reduce double parking and fuel emissions from idling vehicles, Automotus said. The company’s technology has been used in zero-emissions delivery pilots in both Santa Monica, California, and Los Angeles.

Prior to the pandemic, data showed e-commerce would drive a 35% increase in commercial vehicles by 2030. In 2018, McKinsey & Co. predicted e-commerce would lead to $34 billion in urban congestion costs per year, up 20% from 2014. That number has only risen as the pandemic drove further package shipping, with parcels rising from 87.5 billion shipped globally in 2018 to an estimated 157.9 billion last year. Statista predicts parcel volumes will increase to 266 billion by 2026.

In Pittsburgh, delivery companies interested in participating in the program can sign up to use the zones. Registered vehicles will be charged by the minute, ensuring more accurate, and likely lower, parking costs. The city said rates are 7 cents per minute for up to five minutes; 14 cents per minute for between five and 15 minutes; 20 cents per minute for between 15 and 30 minutes; and 27 cents per minute for 30 to 60 minutes.


Read: More delivery drivers park illegally amid curb congestion

Read: Santa Monica to pilot delivery zones for zero-emissions vehicles

Parking availability and cost are problems for last-mile delivery companies and gig economy drivers handling the final mile of app-based food delivery. In March, Automotus released a survey that found just 7.5% of drivers were able to find parking upon arrival, and 25% spent between four and seven minutes looking for a spot.

“From the data, we see that very few drivers are able to get a parking spot without circling around for several minutes,” Anil Merchant, head of product at Automotus, said at the time. “Keeping in mind that the majority of drivers only spend three to five minutes in a parking spot, this means they’re spending just as much if not more time looking for parking as they are actually parked. This is a major issue for gig workers whose wages are dependent upon how efficiently they make deliveries — not to mention the fact that they are incurring extra fuel costs.”

The costs to drivers are significant. Nearly 60% of respondents said they often have to pay for parking through a meter, adding up to two minutes to each delivery, and the cost associated with the meter’s fee.

“Like circling for parking, dealing with a meter can add a major chunk of time to a driver’s total delivery. Also, when drivers use a meter, they often end up paying a 30-plus-minute parking fee for just three to five minutes spent at the curb,” Merchant said.

Watch: Getting into the gig economy

Pittsburgh will study whether the pilot will reduce traffic congestion, double parking and generate additional revenue by increasing parking turnover. The city will also look at safety for both drivers and pedestrians and delivery efficiency.

“Recent smart loading zone pilots in cities such as Aspen and Columbus have shown that technology that supports full automation is a critical component of any curb management strategy,” wrote Automotus co-founder and CEO Jordan Justus in January.

“Additionally, this technology allows a city to get full visibility into ongoing activity at the curb and develop dynamic, equitable policies that are reflective of real-time multimodal demand,” he added.

The $100,000 pilot is part of a nearly $4 million grant by the U.S. Department of Energy issued to Automotus as well as the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Southern California METRANS Transportation Center, and the Southern California Association of Governments.

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]