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Last-mile deliveryModern ShipperNewsRecent NewsTop Stories

Seattle goes zero emissions with last-mile delivery zones

Pilot project will test technologies, zero-emission vehicles in delivering food and parcels

A zero-emissions last-mile delivery zone is being established in Seattle through the efforts of the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab (UFL) along with several last-mile delivery and technology companies.

The Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub will allow companies to test zero-emissions vehicles and other technologies designed to create a greener delivery service. It is part of the city of Seattle’s strategy to reduce climate emissions related to goods delivery by 30% by 2030 as outlined in the city’s Transportation Electrification Blueprint.

Among the companies participating are AxleHire, Coaster Cycles, BrightDrop and REEF. The pilot is being conducted in collaboration with the Seattle Department of Transportation.

“We’ve all come together as people who are passionate about more efficient and sustainable delivery methods in major metro areas,” said Daniel Sokolovsky, founder of AxleHire, which will provide the underlying technology for the pilot. “In a world where logistics and supply chain are often part of the problem (i.e., global warming), we’re excited to provide last-mile technology that is part of the solution.”

A Neighborhood Delivery Hub will include:

  • A neighborhood kitchen, bringing the local area quick and low-emissions access to restaurants.
  • A common-carrier parcel locker, providing neighbors secure and contactless package delivery from all major package carriers in an energy-efficient model, enabling neighbors to complete their own final mile.
  • A cargo-bike delivery service enabling zero operating emissions last-mile goods transport by safe, neighborhood-friendly vehicles.

Data collection

Each hub will be equipped with an array of sensors that will provide detailed data regarding activity at the hub. Sensors are provided by the University of Washington’s STAR Lab, a research facility for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) theories and applications. The data will be analyzed by the Urban Freight Lab to evaluate energy reductions and provide feedback for all participants as they work to improve their products and operating models. 

The real estate for the pilot is being provided by REEF, which will also operate the on-site kitchen, and prepare online food orders for delivery without front-of-house operations.


Read: GM bets on BrightDrop’s connected last-mile delivery ecosystem

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


“REEF is proud to be part of a project that connects neighborhoods and advances our mission of creating walkable 15-minute cities,” said Bill Sleeth, head of physical product at REEF. “The development of last-mile logistics centers will reduce congestion, pollution and traffic while allowing people to focus on the things they love to do, rather than things they need to do.”

Electric pallet delivery

Parcel delivery will be handled by BrightDrop, the last-mile business of General Motors (NYSE: GM). BrightDrop is piloting an all-electric delivery van, the EV600, that includes an innovative electric pallet, the EP1. The EP1 uses an electric hub motor that can power the pallet at up to 3.1 mph. Built on four wheels and looking like a rolling box, the EP1 features adjustable shelving and can carry up to 200 pounds and slides into and out of the EV600.

In a trial of the system by FedEx Express (NYSE: FDX), BrightDrop said the EP1 allowed the courier to handle 25% more packages in a day.

“BrightDrop is proud to work alongside these like-minded organizations at the neighborhood delivery hub to test the feasibility of a more sustainable last-mile perishable goods delivery service. We see this as an opportunity to encourage people to step into a place of imagination to consider the world of delivery and logistics not as it is, but how it could be sooner than later,” said Bob Tiderington, senior manager for strategy and operations at BrightDrop. “At a time when less contact is more, BrightDrop’s EP1 is designed to help reduce package touch points, costs and physical strain on the labor force.”

Seattle, along with the Urban Freight Lab and business partners, will pilot zero-emission delivery zones in the city. Parcel lockers will be available for delivery providers to bulk drop parcels that residents can then retrieve at their leisure. (Photo: Urban Freight Lab).

Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions goal

Seattle’s Department of Transportation estimates that 60% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Utilizing solutions like BrightDrop’s electric van and Coaster Cycle’s electric cargo trike (ETC), which will be used to deliver packages from BrightDrop’s EP1 to the final destination, are important parts of reducing those emissions, Sam Zimbabwe, director of Seattle DOT, said.

REEF will provide an off-street staging area where the goods can be transferred from the cargo vans to cargo bikes for final delivery. Goods are loaded into BrightDrop’s EP1 units and the electric pallets are secured onto Coaster Cycles’ Electric Cargo Trike. Using AxleHire’s last-mile delivery technology, the driver makes customer deliveries using the fastest, most efficient routes possible.

REEF’s ghost kitchens will also fulfill online food orders that would otherwise be filled from locations farther away from the delivery area, reducing vehicle traffic.

There will also be a common carrier parcel locker, developed by ParcelPending and hosted by the Urban Freight Lab, that provides delivery density for carriers. Neighbors can walk to the site at their convenience to pick up packages, completing their own last mile. 

The entire project is being coordinated by the Urban Freight Lab.

“In partnership with our members and the city of Seattle, the Urban Freight Lab is excited to help catalyze a transition to zero-emissions last-mile delivery,” said Anne Goodchild, founding director of the Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center, which houses the Urban Freight Lab, and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington. “We anticipate the pilot will reduce traffic in the Uptown neighborhood, provide access to safe and convenient goods and services and allow our partners to test novel, zero-emissions delivery solutions.”

Santa Monica pilot

Santa Monica, California, announced a similar zero-emissions delivery pilot earlier this year. That city is working with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) to create a Zero Emissions Delivery Zone (ZEDZ).

The ZEDZ is a pilot program and a voluntary one at that, but it has the support of many major companies, including Ikea, Axlehire, Guayaki, Alsco Uniforms, Foodcycle, Shopify and REEF Technology. The firms will voluntarily deploy and test zero-emission modes for last-mile delivery in Santa Monica’s downtown, Main Street and Ocean Park neighborhoods, LACI said. Tech providers include LACI startups Automotus, Maxwell Vehicles, Circuit and FreeWire as well as collaborations with Coco, Kiwibot, Tortoise, Rollo, Blue Systems, Fluid Truck, Motiv Power Systems, Nissan, ROUSH CleanTech and Lighting eMotors

The zone will have up to 20 zero-emissions loading priority curb areas for the program’s participants. Santa Monica was selected for the pilot from a group of communities and neighborhoods in Los Angeles County that responded to a request for information.

Click for more Modern Shipper articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight, managing editor, Modern Shipper

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 fleetowner.com. 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 bstraight@freightwaves.com.

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