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Researcher of the Month Vera Hemmelmayr

Video Vera Hemmelmayr

Vera Hemmelmayr

Researcher of the Month

Freight bi­cycles and/or cargo vans? New al­gorithms provide the answers

Many urban plan­ners are pin­ning high hopes on the freight bi­cycle as one of the key means of urban trans­port­a­tion in the fu­ture. Some pi­on­eer­ing ini­ti­at­ives have star­ted to bring these cargo bikes to the streets in Vi­enna. Up to now, however, it has been un­clear which lo­gist­ics solu­tions are best suited to in­di­vidual cit­ies and which role freight bi­cycles play in these ap­proaches. One of the main prob­lems is how to best syn­chron­ize trucks and freight bi­cycles in bimodal lo­gist­ics. Now the work of Assist­ant Pro­fessor Vera Hem­mel­mayr from WU’s In­sti­tute for Trans­port and Lo­gist­ics Man­age­ment provides answers to this prob­lem for the first time. To­gether with her col­leagues Al­ex­an­dra An­der­luh (WU) and Pamela Nolz (AIT), Vera Hem­mel­mayr has developed an al­gorithm designed to tackle these chal­lenges.

As of 2017, over half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion lives in cit­ies, and this fig­ure is grow­ing: Ac­cord­ing to OECD es­tim­ates, by the year 2100, this num­ber will rise to ap­prox­im­ately 85%. The met­ro­pol­itan areas of the fu­ture will re­quire ef­fi­cient and en­vir­on­ment­ally friendly lo­gist­ics. This is why Assist­ant Pro­fessor Vera Hem­mel­mayr from WU’s In­sti­tute for Trans­port and Lo­gist­ics Man­age­ment is do­ing re­search on sus­tain­able lo­gist­ics solu­tions for freight trans­port­a­tion in urban areas. She is not only look­ing for the best rout­ing solu­tions but also at the neg­at­ive ef­fects of freight trans­port­a­tion on safety, the en­vir­on­ment, and traf­fic. WU re­searcher Vera Hem­mel­mayr’s field of ex­pert­ise is known as city lo­gist­ics. She is devel­op­ing spe­cial al­gorithms, called me­ta­heur­ist­ics, which can be used to identify lo­gist­ics scen­arios in urban areas and develop ap­pro­pri­ate solu­tions. “Find­ing the best solu­tions for in­di­vidual met­ro­pol­itan areas is a very com­plex task that re­quires con­sid­er­able time and ef­fort, so we have developed al­gorithms for dif­fer­ent scen­arios to be able to com­pare them. This al­lows urban plan­ners to ap­ply the dif­fer­ent scen­arios to their city to find the solu­tion that best suits their needs,” Vera Hem­mel­mayr ex­plains. City lo­gist­ics has also gained re­cog­ni­tion as an im­port­ant topic in Vi­enna, as evid­enced by re­cent con­fer­ences fo­cus­ing on this field of re­search.

A close look at the last mile

Freight bi­cycles are among the most im­port­ant means of trans­port­a­tion for the cit­ies of the fu­ture. Due to their in­her­ent range and ca­pa­city lim­its, freight bi­cycles are inef­fi­cient when large dis­tances have to be covered, for in­stance when it comes to de­liv­er­ing goods from ware­houses in the out­skirts to cus­tomers in the city center. These kinds of de­liv­er­ies make it ne­ces­sary for the cargo to be trans­loaded from lar­ger ve­hicles to freight bikes at ren­dez­vous points, from where they are then de­livered to their des­tin­a­tion by bike. Based on this premise, al­gorithms have been developed for three scen­arios: Scen­ario one is based on the as­sump­tion that in­terim stor­age ca­pa­city is avail­able at the trans­load­ing point, which means that the goods can be stored there for short peri­ods of time. In the second scen­ario, no stor­age ca­pa­city is avail­able at the trans­load­ing points, i.e. the cargo has to be moved from the vans to the freight bi­cycles on the spot. This means that the vans and bi­cycles have to be syn­chron­ized to be at the same place at the same time, but it also elim­in­ates the need to find stor­age space in densely built-up city areas. The third and last scen­ario is based on the con­ven­tional ap­proach, where freight is de­livered by truck or van only. This ap­proach cor­res­ponds to a ve­hicle rout­ing prob­lem. The work of Vera Hem­mel­mayr and her col­leagues will make it possible to ap­ply these dif­fer­ent scen­arios to spe­cific met­ro­pol­itan areas and de­termine which ap­proach works best for a spe­cific city.

City lo­gist­ics for 2030

“Trans­port­a­tion is es­sen­tial for any city, but it also cre­ates neg­at­ive ef­fects such as traf­fic jams, noise and pol­lu­tion. The num­ber of city dwell­ers is in­creas­ing, as is on­line shop­ping. Con­sumer be­ha­vior has changed. Many cus­tomers are now ask­ing for same-day de­liv­ery of ordered goods. We ex­pect that these devel­op­ments will also lead to an in­crease in trans­port­a­tion volumes,” Hem­mel­mayr points out. “Add to that the am­bi­tious cli­mate tar­gets that have been set, for in­stance the goal of es­sen­tially CO2-­free city lo­gist­ics in ma­jor urban cen­ters by 2030 spe­cified in the EU’s White Pa­per on Trans­port. All of this means that we des­per­ately need solu­tions that take so­cial and en­vir­on­mental con­cerns into ac­count, as well as busi­ness and eco­nomic con­sid­er­a­tions. Some pi­on­eer­ing ini­ti­at­ives have already been launched in Vi­enna that aim to es­tab­lish the freight bi­cycle as an eco­lo­gic­ally sus­tain­able and low-noise means of trans­port­a­tion.”