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Conference delivers ideas on global freight flow

by Robin Heffler
A three-day conference focused on freight delivery, port operations and environmental impacts, among other topics.
A three-day conference focused on freight delivery, port operations and environmental impacts, among other topics.

Reflecting a growing interest in global transport issues, the newly named International Urban Freight Conference was hosted last month by the Metrans Transportation Center.

Formerly called the National Urban Freight Conference, the three-day gathering in Long Beach, Calif., explored the ways in which the movement of freight affects urban areas and how that movement can become more efficient and sustainable worldwide.

“Since the first conference in 2006, we have learned a great deal about how freight and international trade affect urban areas,” said Genevieve Giuliano, director of Metrans and senior associate dean at the USC Price School of Public Policy. “We have developed better tools to model freight flows and more understanding of effective policy interventions to address freight impacts. Because we emphasize the linkage between research and practice, we have featured speakers and panels that focus on giving researchers the opportunity to hear how industry works and their priorities.”

Established in 1998, Metrans is a partnership of USC Price, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Its mission is to solve transportation problems of large metropolitan regions through interdisciplinary research and education.

Representing urban areas across the United States and 16 other countries, including Europe and Asia, 225 researchers and industry leaders discussed emerging research on a wide range of subjects, including freight delivery; environmental impacts; economics of urban trucking; port operations; urban freight modeling and planning; hubs and city interactions; trends in consumption, production and spatial organization; security and vulnerability; and best practices.

USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott, Metrans Director Genevieve Giuliano, Jeet Joshee of California State University, Long Beach, and Henrik Nolmark from the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (USC Photo/Tom Queally)

USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott, Metrans Director Genevieve Giuliano, Jeet Joshee of California State University, Long Beach, and Henrik Nolmark from the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (USC Photo/Tom Queally)

Logistics, policies for shipping perishables and accommodating freight on mixed-use urban streets were among the studies presented by researchers from Metrans’ new Metrofreight center established earlier this year thanks to a grant from the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations.

“Efficiency was a big topic at the conference this year,” Giuliano said. “For example, is it possible for different companies to consolidate deliveries so that each truck carries as much as possible in as few miles as possible?”

Similarly, the environmental impact of transporting freight received attention. Giuliano noted that among the technologies and policies to reduce emissions, participants discussed the potential for using alternative fuel vehicles, possible low-emission zones with restricted access and tolls for trucks.

Increasing business-to-consumer deliveries, which in turn increase the number of van and truck trips into the heart of cities, was addressed by keynote speaker Charles Holland, vice president of engineering at UPS.

Holland pointed out that online sales are growing at three times the rate of traditional retail sales — with customers expecting what they need when they need it — making traditional points of delivery, such as stores, less relevant.

During the conference luncheon, Jake Racker, regional logistics director for Kroger Co., talked about supermarkets meeting consumer demand for products by moving their distribution centers closer to consumers in order to provide on-time deliveries in congested urban areas.

Some conference attendees also visited Kroger’s state-of-the-art distribution facility in Paramount, where goods are directed to stores as quickly as possible, thus lowering costs.

“What Researchers Need to Know about the Industry” was covered in a panel discussion moderated by Thomas O’Brien, associate director of Long Beach programs for Metrans and director of research at the Center for International Trade and Transportation at CSULB.

“The panel asked, ‘what is keeping industry up at night?’” O’Brien said. “Cost is one thing, along with the need for supply chain operators to be not just lean but agile to respond to changing demands.

“There is tremendous concern about business and the regulatory climate in California and whether it’s competitive in relation to other regions of the U.S.,” he added. “California has stricter regulations than other parts of the country.”

He added that there’s also concern about operating inefficiently because individual urban freight stakeholders are pursuing their own interests, and not cooperating as much as they could be, sometimes to the detriment of the larger supply chain.

“Because the Metrans Center is at the forefront of urban freight research, this conference has become the home for urban freight researchers around the world to share state-of-the-art research about the subject,” O’Brien said.

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