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Evaluating Spatial Inequity in Last-Mile Delivery: A National Analysis

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Publication: International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management
Publication Date: 2024

Despite large bodies of research related to the impacts of e-commerce on last-mile logistics and sustainability, there has been limited effort to evaluate urban freight using an equity lens. Therefore, this study proposes a modeling framework that enables researchers and planners to estimate the baseline equity performance of a major e-commerce platform and evaluate equity impacts of possible urban freight management strategies. The study also analyzes the sensitivity of various operational decisions to mitigate bias in the analysis.

The model adapts empirical methodologies from activity-based modeling, transport equity evaluation, and residential freight trip generation (RFTG) to estimate person- and household-level delivery demand and cargo van traffic exposure in 41 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs).

Evaluating 12 measurements across varying population segments and spatial units, the study finds robust evidence for racial and socio-economic inequities in last-mile delivery for low-income and, especially, populations of color (POC). By the most conservative measurement, POC are exposed to roughly 35% more cargo van traffic than white populations on average, despite ordering less than half as many packages. The study explores the model’s utility by evaluating a simple scenario that finds marginal equity gains for urban freight management strategies that prioritize line-haul efficiency improvements over those improving intra-neighborhood circulations.

Presents a first effort in building a modeling framework for more equitable decision-making in last-mile delivery operations and broader city planning.

Authors: Travis FriedDr. Anne Goodchild, Ivan Sanchez Diaz (Chalmers University), Michael Browne (Gothenburg University)
Recommended Citation:
Fried, T., Goodchild, A.V., Sanchez-Diaz, I. and Browne, M. (2024), "Evaluating spatial inequity in last-mile delivery: a national analysis", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management.

Ecommerce and Environmental Justice in Metro Seattle

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Publication: Research in Transportation Economics
Volume: 103
Publication Date: 2023

Urban distribution centers (UDCs) are opening at unprecedented rates to meet rising home delivery demand. The trend has raised concerns over the equity and environmental justice implications of ecommerce’s negative externalities. However, little research exists connecting UDC location to the concentration of urban freight-derived air pollution among marginalized populations.

Using spatial data of Amazon UDCs in metropolitan Seattle, this study quantifies the socio-spatial distribution of home delivery-related commercial vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT), corresponding air pollution, and explanatory factors. Results reveal that racial and income factors are relevant to criteria air pollutant exposure caused by home deliveries, due to tracts with majority people of color being closer in proximity to UDCs and highways. Tracts with majority people of color face the highest median concentration of delivery vehicle activity and emissions despite ordering less packages than white populations. While both cargo van and heavy-duty truck emissions disproportionately affect people of color, the socio-spatial distribution of truck emissions shows higher sensitivity to fluctuations in utilization.

Prioritizing environmental mitigation of freight activity further up the urban distribution chain in proximity to UDCs, therefore, would have an outsized impact in minimizing disparities in ecommerce’s negative externalities.

Recommended Citation:
Fried, T., Verma, R., & Goodchild, A. (2024). Ecommerce and Environmental Justice in Metro Seattle. Research in Transportation Economics, 103, 101382.

Seeking Equity and Justice in Urban Freight: Where to Look?

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Publication: Transport Reviews
Publication Date: 2023

What do equity and social justice mean for urban freight planning and management? New Urban Freight Lab paper reviews transportation and mobility justice theory and finds that urban freight issues are absent from these discussions, which primarily concern passenger and personal mobility. When urban freight is considered, authors usually discuss topics such as emissions, pollution, congestion, noise, and collisions. This paper looks more in-depth at urban freight justice, including access to essential goods, community governance, employment opportunities and barriers, and regional and global perspectives.

Urban freight systems embed and reflect spatial inequities in cities and imbalanced power structures within transport decision-making. These concerns are principal domains of “transportation justice” (TJ) and “mobility justice” (MJ) scholarship that have emerged in the past decade. However, little research exists situating urban freight within these prevailing frameworks, which leaves urban freight research on socio-environmental equity and justice ill-defined, especially compared to passenger or personal mobility discussions. Through the lens that derives from TJ and MJ’s critical dialogue, this study synthesizes urban freight literature’s engagement with equity and justice.

Namely, the review evaluates:

  • How do researchers identify equitable distributions of urban freight’s costs and benefits?
  • At what scale do researchers evaluate urban freight inequities?
  • And who does research consider entitled to urban freight equity and how are they involved in urban freight governance?

The findings help inform researchers who seek to reimagine urban freight management strategies within broader equity and justice discourse.

Decades-long growth in urbanization and the more recent surge in e-commerce have spurred concerns around the uneven impacts of freight’s swelling urban footprint. Transport scholars note increasing conflicts between freight vehicles and vulnerable road users, like bicyclists and pedestrians in dense urban areas. Meanwhile, environmental justice (EJ) scholars have long measured unequal exposure to freight traffic pollution along socio-economic and ethnic lines.

However, relatively few urban freight studies engage with social equity. Those that do usually avoid critical discussions contained in justice-oriented theory, instead portraying the movement of goods as an “apolitical science of circulation”. In the U.S., for instance, politicizing urban freight overlooks a history of city industrial zoning practices, infrastructure construction, exclusionary decision-making, and consequent path dependency that placed key logistics facilities including highways, manufacturing plants, warehouses and distribution centers disproportionately near low-income households and non-white, populations of color. The longitudinal effects of these institutional decisions are still largely visible today.

Transportation research also inconsistently defines and measures equity. In a review of equity in transportation literature, Lewis et al. describe equity as an empty conceptual space that “authors then fill … either explicitly with clearly defined arguments or implicitly with whatever idea of justice intuitively comes to mind” (p. 2). Arbitrarily engaging with equity concepts, the authors argue, creates confusion that is both normative (e.g. what does an equitable urban freight system look like?) and positive (e.g. what measurable thresholds determine whether an urban freight outcome is inequitable?). Consequently, most equity research measure unequal distributions of burdens and/or benefits but spend less time identifying when and why unequal distributions are unjust.

Therefore, this paper synthesizes prevailing discourse around equity and, by extension, justice in transportation research and urban freight literature.

Authors: Travis FriedDr. Anne Goodchild, Ivan Sanchez Diaz (Chalmers University), Michael Browne (Gothenburg University)
Recommended Citation:
Travis Fried, Anne Goodchild, Michael Browne & Ivan Sanchez-Diaz (2023). Seeking Equity and Justice in Urban Freight: Where to Look? Transport Reviews, DOI:

Ecommerce and Environmental Justice in Metro Seattle U.S.

Publication: Laboratoire Ville Mobilite Transport (City Transportation Mobility Laboratory), Paris
Publication Date: 2022

The central research question for this project explores the distributional impacts of ecommerce and its implications for equity and justice.

The research aims to investigate how commercial land use affects people and communities. In 2018, U.S. warehouses surpassed office buildings as the primary form of commercial and industrial land use, now accounting for 18 billion square feet of floor space. Warehouses have experienced significant growth in both number and square footage, becoming the predominant land use in the U.S. Warehouse expansion has strategically sprawled from port areas to suburbs in order to get closer to populations and transportation access.

The research findings reveal a correlation between warehouse locations and lower-income communities, resulting in increased exposure to air pollution and triple the traffic associated with ecommerce. Conversely, higher-income populations experience the least exposure, despite making more than half of their purchases online compared to their lower-income counterparts.

Factors such as race and proximity to highways and warehouse locations emerge as stronger predictors of the volume of freight activity through ecommerce than individuals’ income levels or the number of orders placed. Going forward, there is an opportunity for retailers and distributors to take into account the health implications of warehouse placement, and governments can provide best practices to facilitate municipal coordination, particularly where local authorities may be unaware of the impacts.

Authors: Travis Fried