Up to 30 per cent of trucks on British roads are empty

'Air-traffic control' for freight deliveries tested in Canary Wharf

A smart freight-delivery management system designed to cut the number of trucks on the roads is being tested at the Canary Wharf estate.

The system has been developed by tech start-up Voyage Control, one of the winners of the smart city accelerator Cognicity Challenge, to help busy transport hubs manage incoming deliveries and businesses to sell empty space on their vehicles.

“About 30 per cent of all truck journeys in the UK are empty,” said James Swanston, CEO of Voyage Control, who originally developed the idea for passenger transport, to help people share cars and taxis in order to reduce congestion and cut pollution in busy cities.

“There is an enormous opportunity to really try and reduce that through understanding what is being moved around and then trying to find ways for people to share their trucks.”

Swanston describes his company’s system as a sort of ‘air-traffic control platform’ for freight deliveries in busy hubs. Before coming to Canary Wharf, the firm tested the concept with the exhibition industry, which frequently struggles with thousands of vehicles overloading the exhibition venues by all arriving at the same time.

“We want people to have an understanding of who is showing up, where they’re showing up and what’s going on,” Swanston described. “So they effectively have a dashboard that says, 'Hey, these vehicles are coming in the next hour'. Then you can plan how much staff you need more efficiently.”

The drivers also benefit from the system. Instead of arriving randomly and ending up waiting in a queue for hours, they can simply book their space and time, deliver smoothly and then leave right away, making room for the next scheduled van.

“It’s a bit like booking a seat in a theatre or a table in a restaurant,” Swanston remarked.

For the loading bay operator, the system can open many possibilities to optimise cost, not only by flexibly adjusting the number of staff needed, but also by reducing or increasing lighting levels based on how many vehicles are in at every given moment, for example.

Swanston hopes the Canary Wharf trial will enable his company to attract new customers, with the knowledge that optimising traffic flow is one of the major challenges facing the increasingly congested UK capital.

“In London, congestion and air pollution are two massive problems,” Swanston said. “If we can help to address that by streamlining logistics and reducing the number of trucks, then people will start to notice that. And as cities and London become far more densely populated, it will become a bigger challenge that people will want solutions for.”

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