Cities including London are drawing up plans to create more space for cyclists © John Keeble/Getty Images
Cities including London are drawing up plans to create more space for cyclists © John Keeble/Getty Images

Coronavirus is an opportunity to transform freight

7 May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has provided the freight industry with the opportunity to become more streamlined, efficient and environmentally-friendly.

Matt East, senior advisor, logistics and infrastructure policy at professional services firm GHD, said addressing the challenges posed by the outbreak of Covid-19 could be key to the development of a new global freight strategy. 

East said: “Demand for essential goods, such as produce, medical supplies and personal protective equipment, has significantly increased, while manufacturing capacity has decreased due to various lockdown restrictions. In the short term, hauliers, international gateways and retailers are facing a climate of uncertainty.”

In the UK, there has been a 30% reduction of freight movements across all modes, including maritime, rail and HGV.

He said: “As we move into the recovery phase following Covid-19, we need to understand if these changes to the supply chain configuration will be temporary, or if the way in which we operate and plan the logistics network will be transformed from this point on.”

East said firms are likely to turn to local manufacturers over international suppliers to mitigate potential disruptions in future. 

“The current situation provides an opportunity to consider strategic locations where local manufacturing and production hubs could be key in providing this resilience while acting as an economic booster to those regions,” he said. 

The transformation of the supply chain could lie in the increased use of rail freight, East continued, citing the findings of the UK government’s Freight Carbon Review in 2017.

The review found shifting freight from road to rail could result in “significant greenhouse gas emission savings”, but noted there are significant barriers both in cost for infrastructure and the priority given to passenger services. 

However, East added it is anticipated that more people will elect to work from home following Covid-19, resulting in an estimated 20% reduction in passenger train movements on the rail network. 

He said: “If similar impacts are experienced across the overall transport network, additional capacity for freight paths may become available, where it previously did not exist. 

“The pandemic may have just provided the industry with a window of opportunity to accelerate modal shift while configuring the network to provide more efficient distribution. 

“The industry can proactively plan to respond to these changes and grasp this opportunity by collaboratively developing a holistic strategy for the movement of freight across and within countries,” East concluded.

Meanwhile, cities around the world including London, New York, Paris and Berlin are drawing up plans to create more space for cyclists following advice from the World Health Organization for citizens to walk and cycle where possible as an alternative to public transport. 

London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “By quickly and cheaply widening pavements, creating temporary cycle lanes and closing roads to through traffic we will enable millions more people to change the way they get around our city.”

Transport for London added while it is a temporary scheme, there is potential for it to become permanent. 

In the UK – which has been in lockdown since 23 March – daily CO2 emissions have gone down by 36%, according to consultancy Sia Partners. 

Carbon Brief said the coronavirus crisis could trigger the “largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions in 2020”. It estimated the pandemic could cause global emissions cuts this year in the region of 2,600m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to around 8% of total emissions in 2019.

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