Coming up with the Goods

Intelligent Transport Systems for Smart Urban Freight: the cities’ perspective, by Giacomo Lozzi

Urban logistics aims to identify those measures favouring a balance between two conflicting elements: a freight distribution system effectively and efficiently responding to the market needs and a satisfactory level of environmental sustainability.

In recent decades, public authorities have developed a growing awareness of the crucial role of urban freight transport (UFT) in city traffic and policy makers are designing new urban logistics schemes. Although more coordinated measures are beginning to spread, there is still the need to identify standardised actions and for a higher integration of UFT solutions into city mobility management.

The European Commission (EC) aims to achieve CO2-free city logistics by 2030 and in 2013 it released the Urban Mobility Package, providing an overview of solutions for urban mobility challenges, including a specific working document on urban logistics, which identifies four areas of intervention: manage urban logistic demand; shift modes; Improve vehicles and fuels; improve efficiency. As regards the last point, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) solutions are mentioned: ‘new ITS solutions can help to optimise routes, improve service and reduce costs and impacts. In the framework of the e-Freight initiative, attention will be given to the optimisation of information exchange for UFT as part of longer (international) logistics chains’.

The advent of smartphones and other nomadic or in-vehicle devices are making it easier for travellers and operators to be informed in real-time about the travel conditions on the roads (congestion, road works, travel times) and in public transport (bus arrival time). From the local authority perspective, real-time information is a useful tool to influence users’ behaviour. Moreover, integrated ticketing and charging is perceived as an important step towards achieving integrated and seamless mobility.

Cities should pave the way for a smarter management of urban goods transport and logistics, bearing the cost of setting a proper, comprehensive and long-term strategy on smart ITS applications for the urban freight sector, involving as much as possible key stakeholders, in particular ITS system developers and operators. However, ITS interventions by local authorities, in particular in the urban logistics sector, are very recent and still confined in few virtuous contexts. They generally aim to optimise infrastructure use, generating space and time savings in order to improve services, and reduce costs and impacts from freight.

The most common ITS-freight related activities for a city are access restrictions and automatic enforcement (via Automatic Number Plate Recognition – ANPR), and real-time information via Variable Message Signs (VMS) for operators on traffic and parking conditions. Other applications are route optimisation (guidance and prioritisation), dynamic delivery space booking, data collection and systems for urban deliveries’ consolidation. Many other types of applications exist but are not widely used yet, such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) or vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications (Cooperative ITS systems).

So far, only few of the software systems designed for the freight industry are connected to intelligent information provided by the municipality, such as traffic conditions or access and parking regulations. Freight operators using some kind of ITS for pick-up and delivery services in cities are still a minority. This kind of interaction is becoming more urgent also because of the growth of the e-commerce, and in general of Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) deliveries, more frequent and fragmented by definition: there is thus an increasing need for the optimisation of loads and routes in order to face these new challenges.

Adequate actions can be implemented by cities that take advantage of (positive and negative) lessons learnt from other cities in Europe. Moreover, one of the main challenges regarding ITS solutions for UF is the shift from pilot projects to large scale deployment for a self-sustained market.


In light of this, Helmond (The Netherlands) is in the frontline for the deployment of C-ITS services. The City Council adopted the mobility policy paper “Helmond Mobiel 2015”, in order to change the mobility policy towards better use of existing infrastructure instead of building new infrastructure. Helmond was one of the pilot cities for the European FREILOT project (2012-2014).

The main goal of this project was improving fuel efficiency for trucks in urban areas and reducing the environmental impact of urban freight. For the sake of the pilot, 14 intersections in Helmond were equipped with C-ITS road side units, communicating with the on-board units of the trucks of a local logistic service provider. By means of this communications, trucks were getting an intermediate level of priority at intersections and the driver got a speed and time-to-green advice. Result of the pilot: 13 per cent fuel savings and 13 per cent less CO2 emissions. Another in which Helmond is involved is Compass4D, a three-year EU co-funded project which will deploy three services, ie Road Hazard Warning, Red Light Violation Warning and Energy Efficient Intersection Services in seven European cities, in order to prove the concrete benefits of cooperative systems for citizens, city administrations and companies.

The city of Bilbao (Spain), with the support of MLC-ITS Euskadi, is also active in implementing innovative solutions for urban freight, considered a key issue for sustainable Urban Mobility Management. It took part as well in the FREILOT project, developing four ITS-linked measures: the Transport Forum, multi-use lanes, dedicated delivery space, silent night time deliveries. The COCITIES project (2012-2014) allowed the City to develop an Urban Mobility Open Data Platform, consisting of some standardised web services providing static and dynamic information about traffic and parking. Currently is Bilbao is participating in the CO-GISTICS project, to develop an ITS system for freight with a new approach, in order to provide real-time information about the status of loading zones, address specific operational conditions for different delivery practices, and dissuade irregular parking in the loading zones.


The City of Pisa (Italy) represents the second agglomeration of Tuscany in terms of population, accounting for about 90,000 inhabitants, 200,000 considering the hinterland.  Indeed, the area of Pisa is becoming more and more competitive from an economic point of view. In line with the European Urban Mobility Package strategy, the City of Pisa has adopted a planning framework which envisages Open Standard Specification (OSS) and informatics tools for urban logistics, in order to define a new strategy for urban mobility development towards an effective and efficient integrated mobility system.

Pisa SUMP: integration of ITS applications into the transportation planning framework

The City of Pisa, in the framework of its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP), will identify and develop measures to support accidents management activities, specifically in the areas of accidents detection and verification, traffic management, interagency coordination, in addition to the improvement of traffic efficiency, the availability of freight vehicles parking slots, and the reduction of the negative related effects, as pollution and waste of resources (time and fuel). The Plan incorporates ITS applications into the transportation planning framework, providing a “mainstreaming” effect for the improvement of safety and the reduction of traffic delays and vehicle emissions.

The NOVELOG project: ITS solutions for urban freight distribution

The City of Pisa participates in NOVELOG, a three-year EU-funded project, started in June 2015. The NOVELOG project aims to enable the knowledge and understanding of freight distribution and service trips, by providing guidance for implementing effective and sustainable policies and measures, and to formulate detailed business plans of Urban Freight Transport measures.

As an implementation site, Pisa will develop a case study, responding to two main mobility issues at local level: the lack of knowledge of the number and current accesses in the city centre of urban freight vehicles, and the lack of parking slots availability in the city centre.

For the first issue, the case study envisages the setting of new flow sensors for traffic counting and classification, which will be located at the existing radio-frequency identification (RFID) gates. This will allow to count the number of freight vehicles entering the city centre, to better forecast traffic flows and to detect access infractions. The data collected could be useful to assess a possible intervention on the urban traffic flows, and the creation in strategic access points of an Urban Distribution Centre (UDC), to promote the usage of Electric Vehicles (EV) for urban logistics.

The second intervention concerns the installation of ICT sensors in the parking slots for freight vehicles: the City will develop a network of several wireless based sensors, completely integrated with an operation centre, which, in turn, will be connected to information panels, mobile applications, and alerting and notification systems.

The monitored area for the case study is the entire boundary of the city and the main access/exit roads. For specific actions, as the monitoring of reserved parking areas for freight vehicles, the area is the Limited Traffic Zone (LTZ).

The development and the implementation of the SUMP, together with the specific case study developed within the NOVELOG project, could provide a best practice for European cities with the same characteristics.

At the time of writing there are currently no initiatives applying open standards to such a wide range of application fields in the urban mobility planning framework.


Giacomo Lozzi is project officer at Polis