Laying the groundwork for future sustainability in logistics and mobility

[Translate to Englisch:] Lastenrad
© Onomotion/Janine Graubaum

Freight and goods traffic has increased to a degree that it now makes up nearly 30 percent of all the traffic in German cities. “The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced and accelerated this trend, as online trade and with it deliveries have boomed,” says Prof. Dr. Pirmin Fontaine. He holds the junior professorship for Operations Management at the KU and is currently looking into the potential of cargo bikes for city deliveries. He is also going to be a lecturer in the newly established Bachelor’s degree program “Sustainability in Business and Economics” that is going to open its doors to students at the Ingolstadt School of Management (WFI) in the winter semester.

Aim of this program is to root sustainability more firmly in business. One of a total of four focus areas is the issue of logistics and digital systems. The question poses itself how production, logistics and supply chain management of global corporations can be designed in a way that goes easy on resources and is socially responsible - a question that not only arises in view of the consequences of online trade. These are the issues that students will research if they choose the specialization “Customer Experience, Digital Systems and Operations for a Sustainable World”.

In his research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure Professor Lafontaine has investigated the potential cargo bikes can have in delivering packages to customers on the so-called last mile. Constantly stopping in front of houses to make deliveries, courier, express and parcel services are currently causing massive disruptions in traffic flow, especially during rush hour. “When taking a look at parcel delivery, we have to keep in mind three groups: the customer, the service providers and the municipalities. Our project revolves around municipalities, so that we might support them in the planning phase of infrastructure for cargo bikes,” says Professor Fontaine. This is important since these vehicles are mostly powered by an electrical pedal assist device, which inevitably brings with it a limited radius for the bike and limited space for the packages. As a result, deliverers will have to keep their tours shorter. At the heart of this idea lie so-called micro depots, which have to be strategically placed in cities. Goods that come from outside the city will be taken to micro depots in a truck or van, from where they will make their journey to the end customer in cargo bikes. Deliveries to the depots can be made in the early morning hours when there is little traffic.

Prof. Dr. Pirmin Fontaine
Prof. Dr. Pirmin Fontaine, Juniorprofessor für Operations Management an der WFI.

In order to identify the areas with a high potential, Fontaine and his project partners have developed a tool based on a mathematical optimization model. With the aid of the tool, city administrations will be able to find out for themselves in which of their city’s districts cargo bikes might be especially lucrative. Taking into account costs and environmental aspects, various scenarios were compared and analyzed for Munich and Regensburg. These model calculations have shown that delivery trucks could save up to 20 percent on the amount of kilometers driven and on equally as much CO2 emissions.

The research team then investigated another way to reduce traffic by looking at a phenomenon that everyone of us might have experienced several times in the past month: No sooner has one package been delivered than another deliverer rings at the door to drop off more goods. Overlapping tours by different service providers could be avoided by so-called consolidation.

“In making these considerations, it is important to look at urban mobility in its entirety. Unless there are enough bike lanes, bike traffic will get too crowded for other users when cargo delivery bikes start using the existing infrastructure. This is where concepts for mobility in inner cities are needed that don’t lose sight of all the various aspects of mobility,” says Professor Fontaine. When attempting to address these issues, the degree program “Sustainability in Business and Economics” therefore pools the expertise of service management, business informatics and logistics. This allows for the development of new models for services that - to name just one - might show you the vehicle of choice for any given transport route through an inner city. Another goal must be to construct these business models in a way to make them sustainable, so that they have really come to stay.

Applications for the six-semester Bachelor’s program “Sustainability in Business and Economics” (with admission restrictions) are open now until July 15.  For more information, please visit