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A new study showed that almost all of the climate and traffic congestion benefits of online shopping are being wiped out by same-day deliveries — which in turn could potentially be catastrophic for traffic accidents during the holiday season.
University of California Davis ITS Institute for Transportation Research analysts modeled how the rising popularity of same-day delivery might translate to delivery trucks on our roads and greenhouse gasses in our skies. To no one’s surprise, the faster a company races to deliver a package, the more likely it is to send inefficient, near-empty trucks to far-flung homes.
Reportedly, the average vehicle miles travelled for a package that was delivered in an hour or less was seven times higher than for a package delivered in as little as 24 hours. Per-package, nitrogen oxide emissions, meanwhile, were about six times higher for customers who selected the fastest available shipping. And that’s without accounting for the VMT and climate effects of customers returning their packages, which happens to some 15 to 40% of items purchased online.
The study’s findings shine light on the effect of online shopping on our cities, which transportation researchers have long struggled to grasp and local leaders have made almost no efforts to regulate, despite mounting evidence that rush delivery is contributing to traffic violence, congestion, and climate change.
And while e-commerce giants such as Amazon are notoriously silent about how many trucks they send into U.S. neighborhoods every year, the proof is piling up. A 2019 Propublica investigation found that Amazon drivers had been involved in at least 60 car crashes across the country since 2015, a tally that experts concluded was likely only a fraction of the collisions that had occurred, because “many people don’t sue, and those who do can’t always tell when Amazon is involved” because of the company’s reliance of independent contractors as drivers.
Moreover, though not Los Angeles specific, a New York Times investigation disclosed that the average number of daily deliveries to homes in New York City had tripled from 2009 to 2017. Tasked with delivering more than 1.1 million shipments every day, delivery trucks had clogged streets so badly that experts said rush delivery alone accounted for an alarming 23% rise in travel times in the busiest parts of Manhattan.
The evolving logistics of getting billions of packages to homes all over the country itself also gives corporations a smokescreen for bad behavior. Amazon’s plans to electrify its delivery fleet are admirable, but that alone won’t do much to make our roads less congested and dangerous.
Similar to package delivery, because of the coronavirus pandemic, food delivery apps have become more important for both business owners and their customers as more people order takeout and groceries in order to safely shelter in place. According to Market Watch, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Postmates raked in roughly $5.5 billion in combined revenue from April through September, more than twice as much as their combined $2.5 billion in revenue during the same period last year.