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Evaluation of Sound Transit Train Stations and Transit-Oriented Development Areas for Common Carrier Locker Systems (Executive Summary)

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Publication Date: 2018

The rapid expansion of ecommerce has flooded American cities with delivery trucks, just as those cities are experiencing booming population growth. Retailers need a more efficient, reliable, and cost-effective way to deliver goods in increasingly crowded urban environments. For their part, cities like Seattle want to minimize traffic congestion, both sustain quality of life for residents and ensure a smooth flow of goods and services.

Common carrier parcel lockers hold tremendous potential for streamlining the urban goods delivery system and addressing these challenges. This research study explores the viability of providing public right of way for common carrier lockers at or near transit stations in Seattle, a ground-breaking step toward improving freight delivery in the city’s fast-growing urban core.

Recommended Citation:
Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center. (2018) Evaluation of Sound Transit Train Stations and Transit Oriented Development Areas for Common Carrier Locker Systems (Executive Summary)

Where’s My Package? Common Carrier Freight Lockers Can Ease City Traffic and Prevent Failed Deliveries

Publication: The Conversation
Publication Date: 2018

Online shopping is a big convenience for many Americans, but porch piracy can ruin the experience. For example, Mikaela Gilbert lived in a row house in West Philadelphia while she studied systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. By her junior year, Gilbert had lost enough packages to thieves that she devised an elaborate three-pronged security strategy.

Her first line of defense was having online purchases shipped to a friend who lived in a high-rise apartment where a doorman secured incoming packages. She also sent orders to her parents’ house in New Jersey when she had a visit home planned. But both of those options were hugely inconvenient, so sometimes she routed deliveries to her place after texting her seven housemates to be on the lookout.

When Amazon installed branded delivery lockers near the center of campus, Gilbert began receiving packages there, which was less stressful than managing a small army of collaborators. But it limited her shopping to just one retailer. When Amazon didn’t have something she wanted, she had to fall back on her circle of friends.

Retailers delivering to a customers’ homes also want to avoid these situations. Research at our lab has identified a promising alternative: publicly accessible common carrier freight lockers where all retailers can leave packages for pickup.

So many stops, so little time
Like Amazon’s branded lockers, common carrier lockers are automated, self-service storage units that provide a secure location for customers to receive online purchases. However, any retailer or delivery firm can access them. Some private buildings have such lockers now, but those are only open to residents. Our study examined the effectiveness of locating them in public spaces in dense urban areas, where they can be available to everyone.

The University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab is a structured research work group composed of leading retail, logistics and delivery firms. We partner with the Seattle Department of Transportation, collect and analyze data, and run pilot tests of promising solutions in Seattle’s Center City area. Our focus is on solving urban delivery issues in an age when e-commerce is exploding, city populations are expanding, and gridlock is reaching epic levels.

In its first report, published in early 2018, the Lab analyzed the “Final 50 Feet” of the urban goods delivery system – the last leg of the supply chain. It begins when trucks pull into a parking space and stop moving, whether at the curb, in an alley, or at a building’s loading dock or internal freight bay. From there, it follows delivery people inside urban towers, ending where customers receive their packages.

Researchers discovered two especially thorny challenges in this segment of the chain: extended “dwell time,” when trucks are parked in load/unload spaces too long, and failed first delivery attempts due to causes that include porch piracy. Solving these puzzles could reduce delivery costs, traffic congestion and crime rates, and improve online shoppers’ experiences.

Delivering packages one at a time to individual homes or offices is time-consuming and requires driving to multiple locations and parking in multiple spaces. It also results in failed first delivery rates of up to 15 percent in parts of some cities, according to some of our lab’s member companies. Instead, we decided to try creating delivery density in a single location right where the trucks unloaded.

Centralized lockers where people live and work
Accordingly, the Urban Freight Lab’s second research project pilot-tested placing a common carrier locker system in the 62-floor Seattle Municipal Tower in downtown Seattle’s financial district. This step cut the time required to make deliveries in the tower by 78 percent. The next question was where to locate more of these delivery density points, or “mini-distribution nodes,” as the study called them.

Amazon, which is headquartered in Seattle, had already approached regional transportation agency Sound Transit about locating its branded lockers at the agency’s Link light rail stations. But public stewards of the property – the Seattle Department of Transportation, Sound Transit and King County Metro – did not want to advantage one carrier or retailer over others. Instead, we suggested locating common carrier lockers.

The transit agencies saw that this could reduce delivery truck traffic in neighborhoods they served, easing congestion and reducing vehicle emissions. And their mobility hub policies aimed to create lively public spaces that offered not only multiple transportation modes but lots of convenient amenities.

In a survey of 185 riders at three transit stations, our lab’s third research study found strong interest in the lockers, with up to 67 percent of respondents at each station willing to use them and the vast majority willing to carry a package three to six blocks to do so. These responses, plus the fact that some 137,000 people lived within a 30-minute walk of the three stations, suggested that tens of thousands of Seattle residents would be willing to use common carrier lockers at those stations.

For retailers like Nordstrom, the lockers represent a potential solution to porch piracy and other glitches associated with online shopping. “Rather than leaving the package at a door, some carriers want customers to come to their location to collect the package, while others might redeliver,” Loren VandenBerghe, director of transportation for Nordstrom, told us. “Whatever the process, the customer has to track down the package. Instead, we’d prefer to get the package in our customer’s hands when they expect it.”

Researchers have developed criteria for selecting locker locations and chosen five possible sites at or near the transit stations for pilot testing. We have received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand use of common carriers lockers in public spaces to a larger area in Seattle’s dense urban core and start actively managing the load/unload space network with new technology. Delivery drivers will be able to pull right up to lockers and unload goods, and riders can pick up their packages when they hop on or off a bus – making it much more convenient than waiting for a truck and scanning the street for porch pirates.

Recommended Citation:
Goodchild, A. (2018, December 18). Where’s my package? Common carrier freight lockers can ease city traffic and prevent failed deliveries. The Conversation.

Freight and Bus Lane (FAB) Data Collection and Evaluation Plan (Route 40)

The Urban Freight Lab (UFL) was approached by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to complete a review of proposed evaluation criteria and propose a data collection plan in preparation for the implementation of a Freight and Bus Lane (FAB) Lane in Fall 2024 for King County Metro’s Bus Route 40.

This project would effectively produce the follow-on scope of work for the UFL to complete during the actual implementation (pre/post/post phase). UFL will build on the findings from the Urban Freight Lab’s Freight and Transit Lane Case Study completed in 2019. With the completion of the Route 40 TPMC project in Fall 2024, FAB lanes will be tested as a pilot in select locations and evaluated before permanent installation.


  • Refresh literature review on freight and transit lane studies
  • Meet with key stakeholders from SDOT and Metro to understand data collection tools and methodologies
  • Propose a technical evaluation plan for this pilot that includes data collection and metrics and communication strategies

Estimating Intermodal Transfer Barriers to Light Rail using Smartcard Data in Seattle, WA

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Publication:  Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board
Publication Date: 2022

Transit transfers are a necessary inconvenience to riders. They support strong hierarchical networks by connecting various local, regional, and express lines through a variety of modes. This is true in Seattle, where many lines were redrawn to feed into the Link Light Rail network. Previous transfer studies, using surveys, found that perceived safety, distance, and personal health were significant predictors of transfers. This study aims to use smartcard data and generalized linear modeling to estimate which elements of transfers are commonly overcome—and which are not—among riders boarding the Link Light Rail in Seattle and its suburbs. The aims of this research are twofold: (1) critical analysis of attributes of transfer barriers so that the future station area could serve improved riders’ accessibility; (2) equity of transfer barriers among the users by analyzing the user breakdown of the origin lines and the destination. We use Seattle’s One Regional Card for All smartcard data among the Link Light Rail riders in the Seattle metropolitan area in 2019, and applied a negative binomial generalized linear model. The model suggests that walking distance and walking grade have significant effects on transfers. For the users’ equity analysis, the disabled population tends to transfer less, while the low-income and youth riders populations tend to transfer more often. Future research could incorporate a more mixed-methods approach to confirm some of these findings or include station amenities, such as live schedule updates for common transfer lines.

Authors: Dr. Ed McCormack, James Eager (University of Washington Department of Urban Design and Planning), Chang-Hee Christine Bae (University of Washington Department of Urban Design and Planning)
Recommended Citation:
Eager, J., Bae, C.-H. C., & McCormack, E. D. (2022). Estimating Intermodal Transfer Barriers to Light Rail using Smartcard Data in Seattle, WA. Transportation Research Record.

Measurement and Classification of Transit Delays Using GTFS-RT Data

Publication: Public Transport
Volume: 14
Pages: 263-285
Publication Date: 2022

This paper presents a method for extracting transit performance metrics from a General Transit Feed Specification’s Real-Time (GTFS-RT) component and aggregating them to roadway segments. A framework is then used to analyze this data in terms of consistent, predictable delays (systematic delays) and random variation on a segment-by-segment basis (stochastic delays). All methods and datasets used are generalizable to transit systems which report vehicle locations in terms of GTFS-RT parameters. This provides a network-wide screening tool that can be used to determine locations where reactive treatments (e.g., schedule padding) or proactive infrastructural changes (e.g., bus-only lanes, transit signal priority) may be effective at improving efficiency and reliability. To demonstrate this framework, a case study is performed regarding one year of GTFS-RT data retrieved from the King County Metro bus network in Seattle, Washington. Stochastic and systematic delays were calculated and assigned to segments in the network, providing insight to spatial trends in reliability and efficiency. Findings for the study network suggest that high-pace segments create an opportunity for large, stochastic speedups, while the network as a whole may carry excessive schedule padding. In addition to the static analysis discussed in this paper, an online interactive visualization tool was developed to display ongoing performance measures in the case study region. All code is open-source to encourage additional generalizable work on the GTFS-RT standard.

Authors: Dr. Andisheh Ranjbari, Zack Aemmer, Don MacKenzie
Recommended Citation:
Aemmer, Z., Ranjbari, A. & MacKenzie, D. Measurement and classification of transit delays using GTFS-RT data. Public Transp 14, 263–285 (2022).
Student Thesis and Dissertations

Using Technology to Revolutionize Public Transportation

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Publication Date: 2011

Public transportation could be an important component of a solution to providing mobility while reducing traffic congestion and the environmental impact of transportation. However, from a customer perspective, a mobility choice is only a choice if it is fast, comfortable and reliable. This research looks at the reliability of public transportation and the use of easy-to-access information to combat the inherent unreliability and other barriers to increased use that exist in the system. The first section investigates the characteristics of transit service that are associated with on-time performance. The second and third sections discuss results of a survey and wait time assessment of OneBusAway, a real-time next bus countdown information source. The results of the survey indicate that OneBusAway users have an increased satisfaction with public transportation, as well as a perception of a decreased waiting time, increased number of transit trips per week, increased feelings of safety, and an increased distance walked compared with before they used OneBusAway. The follow-up study finds that for riders without real-time information, perceived wait time is greater than measured wait time. However, riders using real-time information do not perceive their wait time to be longer than their measured wait time. In addition, mobile real-time information reduces not only the perceived wait time, but also the actual wait time experienced by customers. The final three sections discuss other potential transit information tools that overcome the barriers to increased public transportation use. The Explore tool, an Attractions Search Tool, is described. Explore makes use of an underlying trip planner to search online databases of local restaurants, shopping, parks and other amenities based on transit availability from the user’s origin. In the fifth and sixth sections, the Value Sensitive Design process is used to brainstorm and assess additional transit tools from the user and the bus driver perspective. As a whole, this work gives credence to the notion that the power of improved access to information can help overcome the barriers to increased transit use.

Authors: Kari E. Watkins
Recommended Citation:
Watkins, Kari E. (2011) Using Technology to Revolutionize Public Transportation. University of Washington Doctoral Dissertation.