This three-year project supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Office has the potential to radically improve the urban freight system in ways that help both the public and private sectors. Working from 2018-2021, project researchers at the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab and collaborators at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have produced key data, tested technologies in complex urban settings, developed a prototype parking availability app, and helped close major knowledge gaps.
All the fruits of this project can be harnessed to help cities better understand, support and actively manage truck load/unload operations and their urban freight transport infrastructure. Project learnings and tools can be used to help make goods delivery firms more efficient by reducing miles traveled and the time it takes to complete deliveries, benefitting businesses and residents who rely on the urban freight system for supplies of goods. And, ultimately, these project learnings and tools can be used to make cities more livable by minimizing wasted travel, which, in turn, contributes to reductions in fuel consumption and emissions.
Cities today are challenged to effectively and efficiently manage their infrastructure to absorb the impacts of ever-increasing e-commerce-fueled delivery demand. All delivery trucks need to park somewhere to unload and load. Yet today’s delivery drivers have no visibility on available parking until they arrive at a site, which may be full. That means they can wind up cruising for parking, which wastes time and fuel and contributes to congestion. Once drivers do find parking, the faster they can unload at the spot, the faster they free up space for other drivers, helping others avoid circling for parking. This makes the parking space—and thus the greater load/unload network—more productive.
To this end, the research team successfully met the project’s three goals, developing and piloting strategies and technologies to:
- Reduce parking-seeking behavior in the study area by 20%
- Reduce parcel truck dwell time (the time a truck spends in a spot to load/unload) in the study area by 30%
- Increase curb space, alley space, and private loading bay occupancy rates in the study area
The research team met these goals by creating and piloting on Seattle streets OpenPark, a first-of-its-kind real-time and forecasting curb parking app customized for commercial delivery drivers—giving drivers the “missing link” in their commonly used routing tools that tell them how best to get to delivery locations, but not what parking is available to use when they get there. Installing in-ground sensors on commercial vehicle load zones (CVLZs) and passenger load zones (PLZs) in the 10-block study area in Seattle’s downtown neighborhood of Belltown let researchers glean real-time curb parking data. The research team also met project goals by piloting three parcel lockers in public and private spaces open to any delivery carrier, creating a consolidated delivery hub that lets drivers complete deliveries faster and spend less time parked. Researchers collected and analyzed data to produce the first empirical, robust, statistically significant results as to the impact of the lockers, and app, on on-the-ground operations. In addition to collecting and analyzing sensor and other real-time and historical data, researchers rode along with delivery drivers to confirm real-world routing and parking behavior. Researchers also surveyed building managers on their private loading bay operations to understand how to boost usage.
Key findings that provide needed context for piloting promising urban delivery solutions:
- After developing a novel model using GPS data to measure parking-seeking behavior, researchers were able to quantify that, on average, a delivery driver spends 28% of travel time searching for parking, totaling on average one hour per day for a parcel delivery driver. This project offers the first empirical proof of delivery drivers’ cruising for parking.
- While many working models to date have assumed that urban delivery drivers always choose to double-park (unauthorized parking in the travel lane), this study found that behavior is rare: Double parking happened less than 5% of the times drivers parked.
- That said, drivers do not always park where they are supposed to. The research team found that CVLZ parking took place approximately 50% of the time. The remaining 50% included mostly parking in “unauthorized” curb spaces, including no-parking zones, bus zones, entrances/exits of parking garages, etc.
- Researcher ride-alongs with delivery drivers revealed parking behaviors other than unauthorized parking that waste valuable time and fuel: re-routing (after failing to find a desired space, giving up and doubling back to the delivery destination later in the day) and queuing (temporarily parking in an alternate location and waiting until the desired space becomes available).
- Some 13% of all parking events in CVLZ spaces were estimated as overstays; the figure was 80% of all parking events in PLZ spaces. So, the curb is not being used efficiently or as the city intended as many parking events exceed the posted time limit.
- Meantime, there is unused off-street capacity that could be tapped in Seattle’s Central Business District. Estimates show private loading bays could increase area parking capacity for commercial vehicles by at least 50%. But surveys show reported use of loading bays is low and property managers have little incentive to maximize it. Property managers find curb loading zones more convenient; it seems delivery drivers do, too, as they choose to park at the curb even when loading bay space is available.
Key findings from the technology and strategies employed:
Carriers give commercial drivers routing tools that optimize delivery routes by considering travel distance and (often) traffic patterns—but not details on parking availability. Limited parking availability can lead to significant driver delays through cruising for parking or rerouting, and today’s drivers are largely left on their own to assess and manage their parking situation as they pull up to deliver.
The project team worked closely with the City of Seattle to obtain permission to install parking sensors in the roadway and communications equipment to relay sensor data to project servers. The team also developed a fully functional and open application that offers both real-time parking availability and near-time prediction of parking availability, letting drivers pick forecasts 5, 15, or 30 minutes into the future depending on when the driver expects to arrive at the delivery destination. Drivers can also enter their vehicle length to customize availability information.
After developing, modeling, and piloting the real-time and forecasting parking app, researchers conducted an experiment to determine how use of the app impacted driver behavior and transportation outcomes. They found that:
- Having access to parking availability via the app resulted in a 28% decrease in the time drivers spent cruising for parking. Exceeding our initial goal of reducing parking seeking behavior by 20%. In the study experiment, all drivers had the same 20-foot delivery van and the same number of randomly sampled delivery addresses in the study area. But some drivers had access to the app; others did not.
- Preliminary results based on historic routing data show that the use of such a real-time curb parking information and prediction app can reduce route time by approximately 1.5%. An analysis collected historic parking occupancy and cruising information and integrated it into a model that was then used to revise scheduling and routing. This model optimally routed vehicles to minimize total driving and cruising time. However, since the urban environment is complex and consists of many random elements, results based on historic data underly a high amount of randomness. Analysis on synthetic routes suggests including parking availability in routing systems is especially promising for routes with high delivery density and with stops where the cruising time delays vary a lot along the planned time horizon; here, route time savings can reach approximately 20.4% — conditions outlined in the report.
- The central tradeoff among four approaches to parking app architecture going forward is cost and accuracy. The research team found that it is possible to train machine learning models using only data from curb occupancy sensors and reach a higher than 90% accuracy. Training of state-space models (those using inputs such as time of day, day of the week, and location to predict future parking availability) is computationally inexpensive, but these models offer limited accuracy. In contrast, deep-learning models are highly accurate but computationally expensive and difficult to use on streaming data.
Common carrier lockers create delivery density, helping delivery people complete their work faster. The driver parks next to the locker system, loads packages into it, and returns to the truck. When delivery people spend less time going door-to-door (or floor-to-floor inside a building), it cuts the time their truck needs to be parked, increasing turnover and adding parking capacity in crowded cities. This project piloted and collected data on common carrier lockers in three study area buildings.
From piloting the common carrier parcel lockers, researchers found that:
- The implementation of the parcel locker allowed delivery drivers to increase productivity: 40%-60% reduction in time spent in the building and 33% reduction in vehicle dwell time at the curb.