Out-of-hours deliveries were introduced for the London Olympics and, while not without challenges. were so successful that several firms have continued them. Louise Cole reports

There are many reasons why urban deliveries should be conducted between late evening and early morning. Traffic levels are at their lowest, so the largest vehicles on the road can move without contributing to or being delayed by congestion. Some 80% of road fatalities in London are vulnerable road users, with cyclists the most affected by HGVs – yet 75% of London cyclists cycle during the day. Parking is also less of an issue at night.

The London Olympics & Paralympics compelled many logistics firms to give a powerful demonstration of how out-of-hours urban deliveries could be carried out. According to Transport for London, 15% to 20% of the commercial vehicles typically driving in London between 6am and 6pm disappeared from the roads – 10% of these went to night time deliveries (source: FTA Logistics Legacy).

Many of those who delivered out of hours during the Olympics have carried on doing so – but challenges remain. The London Lorry Control Scheme is still too rigid; logistics firms must often seek individual agreements with local authorities over parking; there is widespread education needed – and hearts and minds still to win –among local authorities, residents and customers.

The key message that needs to be communicated is that HGV deliveries, even of noisy goods, are rarely disruptive – and that out-of- hours deliveries serve all our other policy priorities such as clean air, less congested roads and safety.

DHL Tradeteam

Like many logistics companies, DHL Tradeteam was forced by the 2012 Olympic Games to reschedule as many deliveries into central London as possible. It first ran an out-of-hours trial with Transport for London, the FTA, Noise Abatement Society and Southwark Council, bringing forward deliveries of beer kegs and other drinks to the Swan at the Globe, a central London restaurant. Normal licensing restrictions mean the Swan cannot take delivery of alcohol before 7am, so special dispensation was needed for the trial.

The major problem was identifying and eliminating sources of noise. “Rolling an empty beer keg is like rolling a bell,” says Tradeteam regional operations manager John Crosk. “But a lot of the noise residents hear is the vehicle pulling up, idling engines, talking and so on. So we looked at the whole process and not just the delivery.”

Crews were taught to communicate without speaking: “Eye contact is the important thing,” says Crosk. Radios are turned off on approach, engines on parking. The team tried rubber mats to suppress keg noise but this was only partially successful, so they switched to barrows with pneumatic tyres.

The Swan takes consolidated deliveries, including up to three tonnes of beer (approximately 40 kegs) at each drop. Throughout the whole trial, only one noise complaint was lodged.

Despite the success of the trial, the Swan cannot maintain out-of-hours deliveries. “It doesn’t have any benefit for us as a customer; we are restricted by licensing legislation to post-7am deliveries and earlier drops would require us to pay our teams for an extra hour,” says Carol Dean, project and facilities director at the Swan.

It is important to note the customers for whom this kind of change is untenable long term. However, DHL Tradeteam has continued to service hundreds of accounts between 5am and 7am in London, with 20 routes running out of Enfield (as well as two very late routes) and up to 15 out of Gatwick.

Crosk says the major obstacle is the London Lorry Control Scheme, which forces unnecessary mileage on fleets, wasting fuel and raising emissions. “It needs reviewing urgently,” he says.

DHL Supply Chain for JD Wetherspoon

DHL Supply Chain runs a 24-hour operation for JD Wetherspoon, with over one-third of all deliveries made before 6am or after 6pm. DHL services more than 900 sites across the UK and Ireland.

It had already identified problems with conventional roll-cages, both in terms of noise and safety, when the pressure for out-of-hours deliveries increased during the Olympics.

“There are a lot of injuries with roll-cages on this kind of high street delivery. The standard security cage also makes about 100dB of noise,” says John Anderson, national transport manager for the Wetherspoon account at DHL.

Anderson and his team started to redesign their cages, adding operator safety features and taking out 5kg in weight by replacing steel elements with low-noise polymers. Wheels became rubber and hinges became plastic, and the six places where metal clanged against metal when nested were identified and modified. The cage now makes 77dB of noise, which Anderson notes is a huge achievement.

Anderson is confident that DHL and its supplier will now make DHL’s ‘Olympic cage’ the first full-security cage to meet the Piek standard for ambient noise, which is 66dB.

The Olympic cage has become standardised across DHL accounts globally, so that kit can be transferred across accounts easily. The Olympic cages also have longer lifespans, improved from three-to-four years to 10, due to the use of high-﷯tensile steel and the plastic/polymer components, which can be easily and economically replaced.

“The roll cage itself is more expensive,” says Anderson. “But the 5kg weight saving gives us an extra 225kg payload on a standard 13m trailer or 370kg on a double-decker.”

Having a cage manufactured in and then imported from China creates 120kg of CO2. The DHL cage, however, can be refurbished to give an extra five years of life, with a carbon cost of 20kg and for half the original purchase cost.

FM ConwayFM Conway Tipper

Infrastructure services company FM Conway routinely repairs London’s roads at night, and demonstrated its skill at doing so quietly when tasked with lifting 34 pedestrian islands to facilitate the Olympic cycle road race. These islands through Hammersmith and Fulham had to be lifted each morning of the two-day race and then re-laid for night-time traffic control.

Since London 2012, FM Conway’s night-time work has steadily increased, almost doubling as a percentage of its overall workload. “We are currently doing a lot of work on Putney Bridge, where we have a high concentration of equipment in an extremely small area,” says Richard Carson, plant and transportation director at FM Conway.

The company made large modifications to its fleet before the Olympics, with rubber linings in the cargo bay for quiet loading and unloading, rubber seals on tail-lifts to stop banging, and hydraulic clamps that compress the body to stop rattling when the vehicle moves. The vehicles are also fitted with white noise reversing alarms and electric sheeting systems, both for noise reduction. It has also invested in driver training for all its employed drivers and subbies, which includes education about noise control.

Its quiet delivery measures won it the Noise Abatement Society’s Enterprise in Quiet Transport Award in 2012.

Since then the company has invested in Euro-6 vehicles for quieter running. “In some instances they cut noise by 10dB against the Euro-5s,” says Carson.

Night-time road repair is essential to prevent huge road congestion during the day. Carson says there are two more crucial benefits: the first is that road repair is extremely dangerous for operatives, and his men are much safer at night when there is little surrounding traffic. And, second, they get 30% more work done when traffic levels are low.

“The public response to night-time working is much more positive since we have focused on communicating with the public, our ‘macro’ client, and not just with our immediate client,” says Carson. “If people understand the benefits, and we in turn understand their needs, it becomes a positive experience for everyone.”

Carson urges TfL and London borough councils to review the London Lorry Control Scheme, both on the grounds of safety and efficiency. “We want our people to be able to work in maximum safety. Plus we often have to do three times the necessary distance to collect asphalt because we cannot drive through central London. This creates more pollution and makes public road repairs more expensive.”

Clean Linen Services

Laundry service Clean Linen Services supplies more than 500 restaurants and hotels in London, and 3,000 nationally. Its fleet travels approximately two million miles a year using more than 600,000 litres of fuel.

During the Olympics, it anticipated higher volumes of product and traffic, so brought morning deliveries forward by three hours and pushed late afternoon services back by three hours.

While not without its challenges, the Olympics experience was so positive that the company has continued running out-of-hours deliveries in the capital wherever possible. Group transport manager Peter Cox says: “Overall this is making our business more efficient. We now estimate 40% of our deliveries in London are outside peak hours.”

Cox says the benefits for the company include improved customer service, journey times, turnaround of goods and fuel economy, as well as altogether smoother operation and parking, and savings from Congestion Charge exemptions. The benefits to the city are less pollution, congestion and noise, and improved road safety.

Since its successful Olympics trial, Clean Linen has invested in quieter, more fuel-﷯efficient Mitsubishi Fuso Canter diesel-electric hybrids. Quieter tail-lifts and the addition of rubber strips to roll-cages also help.

There are still challenges. The capital has shrinking kerb space and unforgiving parking rules. Noise abatement orders can be raised from a single complaint, regardless of the hundreds of non-disruptive deliveries that are carried out. “We have recently had to amend our methods again in one road where we have five long-term clients, in response to a single complaint,” says Cox. “There are also still curfew issues and problems that local authorities could address. We want to carry on with what we are doing and it would be helpful if the restrictions in London were lifted.”