The New York City Off-Hours Deliveries Project: A Business and Community-Friendly Sustainability Program

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The New York City Off-Hours Delivery (NYC OHD) program, a private-public-academic effort, is inducing receivers of freight supplies to voluntarily accept deliveries between the hours of 7pm-6am. This conceptually simple shift in delivery times, and change in focus from the carriers of freight to the receivers who generate the demand, is a shining example of what can be accomplished when forward-thinking public-sector agencies embrace cutting-edge academic research and collaborate with the private sector to advance the public good. NYCDOT competed for the Franz Edelman Award in 2017.

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The direct impacts in NYC have been remarkable. Carriers who shift delivery routes to the off-hours benefit from faster and more reliable travel times, as well as lower delivery costs and parking fines, reducing their operational costs between 35-45 percent. For every regular-hour delivery route that is replaced with OHD in NYC, carriers save $30,000-$50,000 per year. More importantly, the combined effects of faster and smoother traffic, and more direct routes lead to emission reductions, per mile traveled, in the range of 60-70 percent. For every receiver that accepts OHD, this translates to the elimination of more than 6,300 metric tons of CO2 – one of the most potent global warming gases that exist. In reducing delivery costs, congestion, and pollution, the NYC OHD program benefits the economy, environment, and quality of life of metropolitan areas.

Implementing an OHD program as complex as the one in NYC – where multiple agents from various industry sectors interact, and are impacted by others’ operational changes – require that the policies at its core be impeccably designed. The team conducted extensive behavioral research on how receivers and carriers would respond to policy measures intended to foster OHD, and integrated the chief findings of the research in a behavioral microsimulation (BMS). The quantification of the effects of a policy design required modeling the interactions among hundreds of thousands of economic agents that follow nonlinear dynamics (discrete choice models in the case of receivers, and vehicle routing problems and cost calculations in the case of carriers). Tens of thousands of vehicle routing problems (VRPs) had to be solved for Manhattan, to complete a single iteration of the BMS.

Widely recognized as one of the most impactful sustainability programs that exists, the NYC OHD program has proven beneficial to the private sector in reducing last-mile delivery costs and the inventories held by receivers; communities in reducing conflicts and crashes involving freight vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists; and the environment in reducing vehicle emissions. Moreover, with the adoption of low-noise delivery practices and technologies, there is a reduced chance that local communities may be impacted by delivery-related noise. NYC has adopted OHD as part of its city-wide sustainability plan, and yet the potential benefits of the program are not limited to New York. The adoption of OHD in the U.S. and abroad provides a glimpse of the program’s true potential, and what the future may bring. The Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency have created a program to replicate OHD in cities throughout the country, beginning in Orlando and Washington, DC. Internationally, the City of London created an office of “Retiming of Deliveries” to foster OHD, and Copenhagen (Denmark), Brussels (Belgium), São Paulo (Brazil), and Bogotá (Colombia) have conducted successful pilot tests, and are now working to expand their OHD programs.

New York City Department of Transport

NYC DOT’s mission is to provide for the safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible movement of people and goods in New York City. The city’s transportation system, from roads and bridges to subways and buses, and even the Staten Island Ferry, is controlled by patchwork of city, state, and regional agencies. Linking together this complex landscape is NYC DOT. The over 5,000 employees of NYC DOT oversee one of the most complex urban transportation networks in the world, including 6,000 miles of streets and highways, over 12,000 miles of sidewalk, and 789 bridges and tunnels.  

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, was founded in 1824, making it America’s oldest technological research university. For almost two centuries, RPI has maintained its reputation for providing an education of undisputed intellectual rigor based on educational innovation in the laboratory, classroom, and studio. Driven by talented, dedicated, and forward-thinking faculty, RPI has dramatically expanded the research enterprise. The Institute has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.”

Video of NYDOT 2017 Edelman Finalist Presentation