In the United States, heavy- and medium-duty trucks account for nearly a quarter of transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). And by 2030, emissions from delivery traffic in cities are expected to increase by 32%. Translation: Air pollution (including from idling), noise pollution, and traffic congestion are on track to get worse. So what are cities doing to curb emissions as delivery demand grows?
What’s in a Name?
Governments at all levels are implementing policies to reduce GHG emissions, from the Paris Climate Accords to state-level targets to local initiatives. While the entire supply chain needs to be addressed, for commercial deliveries a primary focus is on the vehicles transporting products to the restaurant, store, or customer.
Last year, only about 1% of commercial trucks sold were zero emission vehicles. But through mandates, many local governments are hoping to get that number to 100% by 2050.
Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) eliminate tailpipe emissions by replacing a gasoline or diesel engine with an electric motor. Trucks, cars, and buses can all have ZEV models (battery electric or hydrogen-fuel-cell). ZEVs also include bikes and scooters (non-motorized and their electric-powered counterparts).
Low Emission Vehicles (LEVs) are more encompassing than ZEVs. They include alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles.
But whether it’s a battery-powered truck (a ZE) or a plug-in hybrid (an LEV), how are cities getting these vehicles into the mix? Here are four ways that local governments are supporting GHG reductions for commercial fleets.
1. Low- and Zero-Emission Zones
Cities are implementing Low-Emission Zones (LEZs) to Zero-Emission Zones (ZEZs) (from individual loading zones to entire city centers). In these zones, entering vehicles must meet specified emissions standards or they will be subject to a penalty.
Central London has a 24-hour Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) and a Low Emission Zone (LEZ), enforced by cameras at the perimeter, that penalize drivers each day a non-compliant vehicle is in the area. The rules apply to commercial trucks too, meaning fleets either have to adapt or pay the penalty. The penalty can be as high as £2000 (~$2,336), per day and per vehicle, on top of potential congestion zone charges. The mandates have led to an increase in compliant vehicles and a 30% reduction in emissions citywide.
In Berlin, you’ll need a green umweltplakette (environmental sticker designating your vehicle’s emissions rating) to enter one of Germany’s nearly 100 umwelts (low emission zones), or you will pay a penalty of up to 105 Euros (~$103). Similarly, in Paris, drivers are required to place Crit’Air stickers on their vehicles. These are monitored by on-the-ground enforcement personnel, with fines up to 375 Euros ($~438) for entering a zone if you're not qualified and/or for not having the “clean air” sticker.
You’ll need one of the green umweltplakette stickers in Germany to enter Germany’s umwelts without penalty. Red and yellow indicate vehicles that don’t meet environmental standards.*
In Santa Monica, California, a one-square mile pilot project is testing out zero-emission delivery zones, which are loading zones prioritized for ZEVs (including electric vehicles, cargo bikes, and robots). The zones are monitored by cameras but no citations are given from that data. Rather, on-the-ground personnel are monitoring vehicles and at this time, they are only issuing warnings to non-compliant vehicles in the ZE loading zones. The project supports the City’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.
This is exciting work, but it’s a complex challenge and best practices are still under development. London’s 90% compliance rate suggests the program is working well, but this type of mandatory approach with an enforced perimeter requires a major investment in cameras and the political will to create and enforce penalties. Paris’ sticker approach requires less hard infrastructure, but relies upon sufficient human enforcement. Santa Monica’s approach is voluntary, and the success of a voluntary approach is yet to be proven.
There are other considerations to account for including, for smaller ZEVs, such as cargo bikes, there is concern that when used alone they may not be as efficient as trucks. It will likely require a variety of delivery types to balance low (or zero) emissions with high efficiency which may take some time as pervasiveness of large ZEVs is still low.
A LEZ or ZEZ alone will not curb demand. The volume and frequency of goods supplied can only change if consumers are aware of and incentivized to alter their behavior, such as through a package delivery fee.
2. Encouraging Greener Vehicles
In addition to greening their own vehicle fleets, with the help of federal and state initiatives, cities are supporting private companies making changes to their fleets. In many cases, this is happening in advance of future zero emission vehicle mandates. Here are a few examples:
- New York has multiple incentive programs to provide commercial fleets with vouchers and rebates to purchase ZE or LE trucks, including the NYC Clean Trucks program offered to fleets operating in Industrial Business Zones. An initial launch of the program helped replace nearly 600 trucks and resulted in a more than 80% reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions.
- New Jersey’s voucher program offers discounts for medium-duty electric vehicles that operate in Newark and Camden, two cities where environmental justice mitigations are being spearheaded.
- California’s program has helped over 1,400 fleets save 20% on EV purchases. A portal helps businesses find other locally-funded potential savings.
- Colorado provides a tax credit to businesses that purchase electric trucks.
On top of the high cost of vehicles, electric vehicles require charging and hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles require fueling. However, the infrastructure to widely support LEVs and ZEVs, especially larger trucks, in the U.S. is not built out enough.
A recently-installed PlugNYC passenger-vehicle charging station in Manhattan, part of a public-private partnership to provide curbside electric-vehicle charging.
3. Providing Infrastructure to Support LEZs & ZEVs
For both commercial and personal vehicles, local governments are working towards making sure that charging and alternative fueling stations are available to support zero emission goals. California estimates it will need 157,000 charging stations for heavy-duty vehicles alone by 2030. NYC estimates it will need 60,000.
California is one of the states leading the way in EV infrastructure development in the United States. The West Coast Electric Highway project will bring fast charging stations along Interstate 5. Long Beach and Los Angeles are working to provide a $25 million investment of freight charging stations near their ports. The Santa Monica Zero Emissions pilot includes the installation of two charging stations.
Los Angeles offered rebates to businesses that installed charging stations for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (up to $125,000), and California recently launched a fund to help build charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure for commercial vehicles. New York is also offering incentives for fleets purchasing charging infrastructure.
The challenge to provide adequate charging and alternative-fueling stations involves a lot of monetary costs as well as regulatory and technical obstacles. This includes working with multiple stakeholders, such as power companies to ensure there is enough supply. It also requires identifying appropriate locations for publicly-accessible charging stations.
For fleets, lack of charging infrastructure is a top barrier to electrifying their vehicles. One estimate is that it costs $100,000 per vehicle for battery charging infrastructure. Time (and cost) to charge is another factor. If a fleet relies on publicly-available chargers, a fast charger could take 70 minutes for a heavy-duty electric truck, at near empty, to get to an 80% charge. This charging time would need to be incorporated into a driver’s route to minimize delivery downtime.
4. Testing Pathways for Truck Alternatives
At the final mile, the direct impact of emissions and congestion is at its highest. Cities are looking beyond trucks altogether to identify efficient and environmentally-friendly alternatives to the prevailing delivery model. Some examples include:
- Seattle is testing out a neighborhood microhub and related technologies, such as parcel lockers, cargo bikes, electric pallets, and “ghost kitchens” (i.e., professional food prep facilities focused solely or primarily on providing food deliveries) as part of city efforts to reach 30% of goods delivery to zero emissions by 2030.
- NYC’s Commercial Cargo Bicycle Pilot increased in use 109% between May 2020 and January 2021. The program allows partners to park cargo bikes for pickups and deliveries in any location that commercial trucks can operate and in specified bike corrals.
- Vail will pilot a microhub that would require all goods to be dropped off at a loading area and then transferred onto electric vehicles that will deliver goods into town.
These initiatives are helpful for identifying which last-mile interventions work locally but building out microhubs and bike corrals requires investment by local governments and likely private partnerships. In addition, safe cycling infrastructure and charging stations will also need to be available to scale these initiatives.
In some instances, regulations need to be updated to allow and support ease of entry for users. A New York State Law defines e-cargo bikes as 36” wide, effectively banning typical off-the-shelf bikes that are 48” wide, which helps with balance and accommodates standard 48” x 40” pallets. A bill is pending which would allow an increase to the maximum e-cargo bike width.
Cargo bikes in lower Manhattan used for grocery deliveries as part of the Commercial Cargo Bicycle pilot.
Bonus: Fleets are Taking Action Too
Fleet participation is critical to emissions reduction. Some fleets are already engaging in initiatives to green their fleets, sometimes ahead of mandates. FedEx and Amazon have goals to be carbon neutral by 2040. Twenty percent of DHL’s delivery fleet is already zero-emission vehicles. And Heineken’s iconic green beer bottles are now being delivered in Amsterdam by 100% electric vehicles. In Oregon, Daimler Trucks and Portland General Electric opened “Electric Island,” the first heavy-duty electric truck charging site. And rumor has it, Amazon is heading for a large e-bike push in Manhattan, with each bike able to carry about 45 packages.
So, several trailblazing cities are designating LEZs and ZEZs, providing critical infrastructure and support for an electric and alternative fuel vehicle transition, and some fleets are getting on board. What comes next?
Plugging in at the Curb
All of these strategies still rely on the final touchpoint: from curb to recipient (whether it is a store, person, or locker). And so curb management is perhaps even more important as new vehicles are introduced and new infrastructure is required.
Curbs and other public spaces, such as alleys, still need to be allocated and specified for different uses. They can be allocated for various delivery-related purposes, such as traditional loading zones, loading zones prioritized for (or exclusively for) ZE/LE trucks, and cargo bike storage. They can also be allocated for uses unrelated to deliveries, such as parking, micromobility storage or travel lanes, EV charging spaces, bumpouts to support transit and pedestrian access, and streateries. Tools like Coord’s inventory management system will help cities adapt their curbs to meet evolving needs and priorities by providing easily-to-collect, easy-to-analyze information about how curbs are used today, and what the implications of alternative scenarios would be.
Smart Zones, another Coord offering, provide a curb management program that can flexibly support new curb and other public space allocations, including uses that may vary by time of day or day of week and that change over time to meet evolving needs. Platforms like Coord already require drivers to identify their vehicle type, so drivers are only directed to and allowed to start sessions in zones their vehicle is eligible to use. Today drivers self-identify vehicle information, but this process can easily be built upon to include validation with existing government databases. Cities can use Smart Zones to prioritize or restrict loading zones or other curb spaces to specific vehicle types and or to vary pricing by vehicle type to incentivize greener vehicles. The usage data collected then can be used to understand demand and help maximize loading zone efficiency.
By encouraging, and in some cases mandating, low and zero emission vehicles and zones, governments are addressing a major part of the impact commercial deliveries have on the quality of air, noise, and safety in cities. The team at Coord is happy to support these important efforts and to spread the word about innovative programs across the nation and the globe.
2: Markus Baumer, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons
3: Markus Baumer, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE,,, via Wikimedia Commons
4: Markus Baumer, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons