Blog: 28 February 2018The Need for Speed

Paul Virilio is a French philosopher whose work revolves around ‘dromology’; the science (or logic) of speed.  He notes that the speed at which something happens may change its essential nature and that which moves with speed quickly comes to dominate that which is slower. 

I believe there are obvious parallels between Virilio’s theory and emerging trends in urban logistics.  For example, companies that want to succeed will have to be faster and more efficient.  Whether its time slots for home delivery, or in-store pick-up; the more options the better in this omnichannel era. However, in the context of increasing urbanisation and congestion, rapid technological change and a diminishing industrial land supply, how are ‘last mile’ solutions adapting to these pressures?  Let’s consider this against the fundamental components of speed: space and time.


Research published last year indicated that London, which has a mature e-commerce market, had an urban logistics requirement of 870,000m2 in 2017, expected to rise to over 1.2 million m2 by 2021.  Whilst this is a 43% increase, it is a much slower pace than in other European cities like Madrid and Barcelona, where the requirement is expected to grow by 102% over the same period.  With a growing disparity between supply and demand, and with increasing competition from other uses, urban logistics is having to respond in innovative ways. 

SEGRO’s Paris Air2 Logistique provides a blueprint that I believe will become more prevalent in densely populated areas throughout the UK, such as London.  The 50,000m2 state-of-the-art, multi-storey warehouse includes 48 double-sided lorry docks on the ground floor and 25 single-sided docks on the first floor linked by a 10 metre wide ramp that allows vehicles to pass both ways.  Given modern day yard space requirements this vertical solution may be preferred especially given the seemingly problematic default plot ratio of 65% being imposed through the emerging London Plan.  In my view, it is important that intensification does not compromise functionality or efficiency.  

Similarly, the constrained employment land supply will inevitably result in under-utilised retail assets, such as shopping centres, retail parks, business parks, supermarket premises, inner city office space and car parks being considered for logistics space where they provide easy access to residential catchments.  Indeed, the conflation of ‘beds and sheds’ is well documented and local authorities should work with the private sector to produce mixed and complementary developments as they seek to ‘densify’ in a balanced manner.  This will, however, require a considered design response on a site-by-site basis.




The sharing economy is disrupting a number of industries by seamlessly matching loads with available capacity. E-marketplaces allow insights into all available options to ensure cost competitiveness, thereby lowering costs for users (eliminating upfront investment in Transport Management Systems for infrequent, low volume shippers) and increasing asset utilisation for providers. Similarly, the ‘uberization’ of trucking controlled by apps, such as Cargomatic, allows shippers to see which vehicles are close to their location and then book them with one click.  These digital solutions provide greater flexibility to respond to peaks in demand.

I consider urban congestion presents a significant threat to urban logistics given consumers’ rising expectations and the sector’s road reliance.  The cost of urban deliveries is high, representing up to 50% or more of the total supply chain costs.  The National Infrastructure Commission recently reported that in many UK cities there are congestion delays of more than 80 seconds per mile driven on city centre A Roads; which is problematic given that the cost of congestion for a HGV is calculated as £1 per minute.

Germany has responded to congestion by developing the StreetScooter: a robust, simple electric vehicle used by Deutsche Post DHL Group.  With expert insights from couriers, it has been designed to ensure efficient urban-based parcel delivery at a cost comparable to that of a non-electric van.  One of the latest prototypes can hold 200 parcels and deliver them over a range of 80-200 kilometres on one charge.  Similarly, mode changes, such as cycle logistics in the supply chain of DHL, UPS and TNT provides a quick and emission free solution that is more resilient to congestion. Again, this is something that should be introduced more widely in the UK given the concerns over air quality in urban areas.

In light of the above, I believe Virilio presents a cogent theory when applied to urban logistics. The overarching objective of speed is resulting in a re-thinking of space and time to gain a competitive advantage in a volatile and fragmented marketplace.  


Posted with the following keywords:
Smart Citites, Logistics, National Infrastructure Commission