Given the increasing level of road congestion during peak periods and the longer duration of these congested periods, one solution is to move road freight vehicles at night, when the level of congestion on the metropolitan networks is likely to be relatively low, making freight movements in urban areas more efficient. This action would improve average fuel consumption by reducing idling time in congested traffic, and reducing the overall time that vehicles spend driving.

Application relevance

While there are many examples of this opportunity working, it is important for operators to work with their customers and consult with their local council to mitigate against the impacts of increased night-time noise in residential areas. One solution may be to restrict night-time operations to vehicles that only comply with the latest drive-by noise standards.

Potential benefits

Travelling outside peak, congested hours results in less idling time in traffic, reduced levels of braking and gear changing, and potentially higher average speeds. Combined, these can contribute to lower overall fuel use, reduced air pollution levels, and reduced wear on the brakes and drivetrain.

Key implementation considerations

There is low capital cost and a strong positive response from industry associated with this opportunity. However, driving at night entails greater risk of a fatigue-related crash than driving during the day, due to the impact of the circadian cycle on fatigue levels. Additionally driver and warehousing staff pay rates may increase to accommodate night-time driving.

While simple in principle, this can be complex and difficult to implement in practice. Resources and access need to be made available at the delivery location; drivers and vehicles need to be shifted to unusual hours; and driving behaviour needs to be adjusted for sensitivity to local issues (noise, light, traffic). This may take months to plan, trial and execute. Many councils are also implementing curfews on night-time deliveries to suburban locations, suggesting any attempt to pursue this opportunity needs to be advanced in collaboration with local authorities.

Examples of implementation

Sainsbury’s

This case study outlines the 2007 trial of night-time deliveries undertaken by Sainsbury’s and Wandsworth Borough Council (Freight Transport Association 2011). Jointly they had the restrictions lifted at the supermarket in Wandsworth for a period of three months in order to demonstrate that night-time deliveries do not have a detrimental impact on local residents and the local community. Journey times reduced by 30 minutes each way from depot to store, giving a 60 minute total reduction per trip. In terms of driver hour, this equated to a saving of two hours per day. Extrapolating this over a year for this store would save over £16,000 or over 700 hours per year. The trial took two journeys off the road during the most congested periods, equating to over 700 vehicle journeys per year. In CO2 terms, this equates to a saving of 68 t of CO2 per year. In terms of fuel utilisation, this equates to over 25,000 L per year. Feedback from customers has been extremely positive as products are now available upon store opening. No complaints were received from local residents in relation to noise during the trial. Although this is a UK study, the implications for industry remain the same – the study highlights the necessity to work in conjunction with local authorities. For more information, see Freight Transport Association 2011, ‘Night‐time deliveries – Wandsworth trial’.

For the full report, see Fuel for Thought – Identifying potential energy efficiency opportunities in the Australian road and rail sectors (opens in a new window) PDF 1.5 MB.