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Exploring new opportunities: Transport & Freight expert Helen Fallon on future trends

Since the start of the year, we’ve seen an exponential growth in some areas. One of these is home deliveries, as result of increased rates of home working and new requirements to self isolate. Helen Fallon is an expert in delivery and logistics, working on the London 2012 games and leading on the development of Transport for London’s Freight Strategy. We talked to her about key delivery and consumer trends, innovative freight solutions and the future opportunities for locally led operations.
Helen Fallon Whinney Insurance

Can you tell us a little about your background and previous work?

I have spent the last 18 years working in a number of local councils and transport authorities at a senior level, delivering high profile, successful transport, active travel and regeneration programmes. I am currently working for Transport for London (TfL) where I developed the business case for cycling programmes, resulting in a ten year commitment of over £900m investment for the cycling programmes. Recently I developed TfLs Freight Strategy, including the Freight and Servicing Action Plan. Other projects I’ve led on within TfL and local boroughs include: 

  • TfL’s Freight and Servicing Action Plan
  • TfL’s business case for the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London enabling unprecedented investment in cycling programmes including the cycle superhighways, quietways and ‘Mini Holland’ programmes
  • Hackney’s Local Area Traffic Management & Parking Plan and Events Management Plans for the London 2012 games
  • Responding to major planning applications and master plans on behalf of a number of councils including the Olympic Park Legacy Community Scheme, Elephant and Castle regeneration developments and Arsenal Stadium regeneration developments
  • Developed and delivered the EC1 New Deal for Communities (NDC) Public Space Strategy in Islington

We’ve seen a huge increase in online sales and home deliveries as a result of Covid-19. Do you think the habit of online buying in these numbers will continue once the pandemic is over? 

Yes, I think that it has opened up the convenience of online retail to a wider audience, forcing some groups to rely on it during the pandemic who would not normally be open to using this technology. Online retail had already seen significant growth over the past decade with little sign of slowing down. However COVID-19 has accelerated growth by 2-3 years and this has resulted in a spike in the number of home deliveries, with Metapack data showing us that UK home deliveries are currently around 20-30% above previous years.

While we have seen an increase in the number of vans delivering, we’ve also noticed a number of shops independently delivering by foot and cycle locally. With the increased demand for home deliveries and increased sustainability across all industries, it seems like a perfect situation for a cycle freight operator to come in and disrupt the market. Are you aware of any startups or businesses looking seriously into this as part of their business model? 

Innovative freight solutions have emerged and accelerated since lockdown began. For example, Sainsbury’s has launched a bicycle delivery service. After a successful trial in London, it is now being rolled out across the UK and others may follow.

Deliveries from the humble electric milk float are also making a resurgence. Personally, we’ve used a milkman for a number of years. Very convenient given the amount of milk we get through since having children! Over the years they have diversified their range and are now sourcing more products from local artisan suppliers. So during lockdown we started getting a wider variety of our groceries via our milkman, who was profiled in The Metro, a habit which we and many other people have continued.

We’re aware that there are a few issues with storage, for both the cycles and deliveries. Do you think a more local-led operation and experience, partnering with local businesses, could address this?

Micro-consolidation and distribution hubs can address this and support cargo bike deliveries and pedestrian porterage, the latter requiring less equipment to store if delivering to the local community. There is a lot of evidence to support this localised approach to consolidation. However land for logistics can be a barrier, including onsite storage for stock and or delivery bikes. If businesses collaborate and share spaces and equipment for storage this can further support local led operations. I feel there is also great opportunity for meanwhile uses to bring vacant and unused sites back into use for logistics and consolidation purposes until they get developed or brought back into commercial use.

Do you think that we may see the introduction of tech like Dumpling, a startup in America which aims to make the home delivery experience local, personal and address issues with the gig economy?

I think the example of the milk float demonstrates that there is scope to create more local, personal delivery services, which could disrupt the gig economy. However, I think educating consumers on the impact their delivery behaviours have on the environment, and congestion is also key. 

A responsible approach is required not just from operators, but from all parts of the supply chain and the consumer. It is everyone’s responsibility to take positive action and make choices that help reduce the impact of delivery vehicles coming into their local area, through a reduction in numbers and a switch to safer, cleaner vehicles.

A key part of our approach at TfL will be to improve Londoners’ understanding of the impacts of their delivery choices on their local town centres and neighbourhoods, so that they can make positive changes to their behaviour. I think this, alongside the changes in the way people work, with even more flexibility and home working since the pandemic began, enabling people to receive flexibly timed deliveries, will create more demand and support the case for investment in infrastructure and equipment to enable cycle and pedestrian deliveries from local businesses.

If a business wants to start delivering locally by cycle, or there are any keen startups interested, does TfL have any guidance or tips?

Yes, our cycle freight toolkit provides the tools to empower large or small businesses, Business Improvement District (BID) or other organisations to switch deliveries to cargo bike, whether they operate their own fleet or use couriers, parcel carriers and others to make deliveries on their behalf. This will help create more pleasant streets in the local area, where people will want to visit, stay, work and also play. TfL have a number of other toolkits to support more efficient deliveries in the safest cleanest vehicles. Startups should also contact their local council to see if there are any grants or local initiatives to support them. For example, Hackney Council , eg Hackney are introducing on street cargo storage and hire for residents and businesses. Other funding streams include the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund and TfL’s Healthy Streets Fund for businesses.