The freight industry is a major part of the global economy. It is a crucial part of both internal and international trade. The amount of cargo that needs to be transported grows with the increasing connectivity and inter-reliability of the world. The numerous land, air, and sea vehicles involved in its transportation are historically a significant contributor to global pollution (Carrara & Longden, 2017). This effect is caused directly by CO2 emissions from freight vehicles, as well as indirectly by the production of vehicles and infrastructure required to operate and maintain them. To combat this, governments and organizations are undertaking research, developing new solutions, and creating policies aimed at decreasing the freight industry’s negative impact on the ecology. However, the adoption of green practices and technology is generally slowed or prevented by a variety of factors.
Barriers to Transitioning to Green Freight
In some countries, freight operations can be carried out by relatively environmentally friendly rail or waterways. However, these methods require significant initial construction of rail infrastructure and access to navigable water, respectively. These requirements can be challenging or impossible to fulfill, particularly for developing economies, and thus, heavily polluting road freight dominates the local freight market. Furthermore, even when greener transportation pathways are available, the policy can constitute a significant reason for freight to remain road-bound (Johnstone & Ratanavaraha, 2017). Such is the case in Egypt, providing an illustration of the broader issue.
In Egypt, the road network is the most developed mode of transportation. Road freight is responsible for transporting 96.5% of the country’s tonne-kilometers (Johnstone & Ratanavaraha, 2017, p. 157). The majority of the river Nile running through the entire country is navigable, and a notable railway network exists (Johnstone & Ratanavaraha, 2017). These modes of transportation are not as broadly used for freight, however, due to a variety of reasons. As an oil-producing country, Egypt offers a fuel subsidy, regulating its internal sale below international prices, decreasing the attractiveness of other modes of transportation in favor of road transport (Johnstone & Ratanavaraha, 2017). Furthermore, the country’s rail system is underdeveloped, spanning only part of the country, and lacking electrification or second lane over most of its length (Johnstone & Ratanavaraha, 2017). As such, the freight situation in Egypt is significantly affected by the country’s access to oil and its products and its consequence reliance on road transport at the expense of greener alternatives.
Egypt illustrates the situation in developing countries: its lack of infrastructure required for green freight transport and existing ease of access and consequent reliance on oil products prevent it from transitioning to greener freight practices. Policy changes have been proposed, which invariably focus on modernizing and expanding the country’s existing infrastructure and increasing fuel prices either by cutting the subsidies or introducing new taxes. This is a complicated process as it requires governmental intervention and significant shifts in the national budget.
Malaysia, described as an emergent economy, illustrates additional barriers to transitioning to greener freight methods. This country is also reliant on its road network for a significant part of its freight transport. Algesan & Daud (2019) claims that there are no legislative barriers; however, more immediate and pragmatic issues prevent this transition. Generally, cost efficiency and timely delivery are considered more important than environmental friendliness in the Malaysian freight industry (Algesan & Daud, 2019). Furthermore, financial and logistical feasibility is seen as another barrier. As Malaysia needs to import environmentally-friendly vehicles and replacement parts for them, the maintenance costs of a fleet of green road vehicles can increase to the point where it is unfeasible (Algesan & Daud, 2019). Ultimately, these two countries illustrate the issues preventing emergent and developing countries from adopting environmentally-friendly freight practices.
The Issues with Urban Freight
The freight industry is concerned with transporting cargo within city limits as well as between cities and regions. Freight vehicles can comprise 20% of urban transport, which raises specific challenges related to improving a city’s transport infrastructure to accommodate freight traffic (Buledo Rai, et al., 2017). A key issue in solving this problem is the necessity of working with cities built centuries ago, which are not planned to incorporate automotive traffic. As such, a specialized approach that focuses on addressing this issue is a necessary part of any policy aimed at reducing vehicle-related pollution in cities. Furthermore, issues of noise pollution and traffic efficiency are more prominent in densely-populated areas. One particular concept that must be considered is the last-mile freight distribution, that is, the final leg of a parcel’s journey to its final destination.
Until recently, this part of the freight chain was operated by traditional combustion engine vehicles. However, advances in technology allow such vehicles to be shifted out in favor of electric ones. A pilot study by Navarro, et al. (2016) attempted to use electric tricycles for last-mile distribution in two cities in Spain. The overall impact of this switch was positive: a reduction in CO2 and other pollutant emissions, an increase in fuel and energy efficiency, and a reduction in noise (Navarro, et al., 2016). This indicates the value of employing modern technology to achieve a reduced environmental impact of the freight industry in cities.
A different issue characteristic of an emergent field of policy is the lack of a reliable and effective policy assessment framework. It is important to note that policy changes are required to enact positive change towards greener freight practices. Although awareness of environmental issues and interest in resolving them exist in developed countries, particular policies that would facilitate this can be difficult to formulate due to a lack of information and evaluation tools. To compensate for this, issue, multiple evaluation frameworks are being proposed and developed (Navarro, et al., 2016; Buledo Rai, et al., 2017). These frameworks attempt to account for the multitude of factors relevant to assessing the economic, environmental, and social impacts of the freight industry, as well as a policy’s effectiveness at managing these impacts (Buledo Rai, et al., 2017). Furthermore, they seek to include the multitude of stakeholders involved in and affected by, the urban freight industry in the considerations of formulating, proposing, and implementing these policies.
The freight industry is a major contributor to global pollution through its emissions of greenhouse gases by the vehicles involved in it and the construction of its infrastructure. Although reducing this negative environmental impact is a growing concern, adopting appropriate practices is challenging for a multitude of reasons. In developing countries, the lack of suitable infrastructure and financial feasibility pose significant barriers to the implementation of greener practices. In developed countries, issues arise from the specific challenges related to freight in cities and the lack of a framework for evaluating policy. Ultimately, adopting more environmentally-friendly freight practices is a slow process that requires involvement from all the stakeholders in this issue to be successful.
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Carrara, S., & Longden, T. (2017). Freight futures: The potential impact of road freight on climate policy. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 55, 359-372. Web.
Johnstone, L., & Ratanavaraha, V. (2017). Green freight movement: The dilemma of the shifting of road freight to alternatives. Transportation Research Procedia, 21, 154-168. Web.
Navarro, C., Roca-Riu, M., Furió, S., & Estrada, M. (2016). Designing new models for energy efficiency in urban freight transport for smart cities and its application to the Spanish case. Transportation Research Procedia, 12, 314-324. Web.