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Zero-Emission Delivery Takes Center Stage in New City Challenge

The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator has taken the lead on a new city challenge to advance zero-emission delivery zones. The cities selected for the cohort will have access to resources and materials as they work to reshape urban deliveries.

A person securing large packages to a cargo area on the front of a bicycle.
The development of zero-emission delivery technologies is the focus of a new clean tech challenge happening in California.

The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) has launched the Zero-Emission Delivery (ZED) City Challenge in its call for cities to participate in a cohort to share ideas and solutions for advancing zero-emission delivery.

In addition to sharing information, cities selected for the cohort will have access to resources and other materials as they work to reshape deliveries either at the micro or local level. This work could include promoting small, electric delivery vehicles and electric cargo bikes, to reshaping the transport of goods coming through ports.

“We’ve been looking at how do we move these older, dirty diesel trucks to zero-emission vehicles,” said Matt Petersen, CEO for the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, reflecting on an ongoing project at LACI to help electrify the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. “Through a various set of policy and pilot initiatives at LACI, we really have done a number of things to help identify where the chargers can go, where there’s available electricity.”

LACI is set to announce a pilot project with the Port of Los Angeles to install a $15 million public charging station for servicing heavy-duty trucks.

At a smaller scale, the nearby city of Santa Monica launched a zero-emission delivery pilot project in January 2021, which ran through December 2022, focusing on an area of downtown and the Main Street corridor, said Trevor Thomas, senior transportation planner for Santa Monica.

The city worked with LACI to design and implement the pilot, as well as commercial delivery partners, data providers and businesses in the area.

“The Zero-Emission Delivery Zone pilot program aimed to advance a full suite of zero-emission delivery options, including electric delivery vans, cars, and larger box trucks, along with cargo e-bikes and e-scooters, and electrified sidewalk delivery bots,” said Thomas, adding Santa Monica is serving in an advisory role as an “anchor city” for the ZED Challenge.

Small pilot projects may be the best approach at easing into the development of zero-emission delivery zones, said Michelle Kinman, senior vice president of market transformation at LACI.

Those small pilots help to lay the groundwork and generate “the political will for a more expansive, comprehensive zero-emission zone,” said Kinman, speaking on a panel at the Urbanism Next conference in Portland, Ore., earlier this year.

“... One of the ways to ease into this — not that it’s not complicated, because it certainly is — would be to start on the delivery zone where you have a smaller number of players to test some of these things out. And then build that sort of public acceptance and excitement for going bigger on a more comprehensive zone,” said Kinman. “I also think that starting with some of these smaller pilots allows for a variety of players to come together.”

In downtown L.A., small businesses were asked about “their appetite for engaging in zero-emission delivery,” said Kinman.

“People are open and interested,” said Kinman. “But, zero-emission delivery is so far down the list of things that small business owners in that region are concerned about, day to day.”

Their answers were not that surprising, she added, noting small businesses have lots on their minds competing for attention, and how the deliveries come and go may not always rise to the top of the list.

Part of where the organizing comes in is setting up an infrastructure system that supports different forms of delivery, for the many forms of businesses, she added.

“I think some of the things we’re excited to think about are setting up micromobility hubs, or shared platforms for zero-emission truck rentals, or thinking through shared e-cargo bike opportunities,” said Kinman.

LACI has developed a model to work closely with cities and technology companies to devise an “innovation challenge” aimed at helping communities develop policies, business models or pilot projects to advance zero-emission delivery. As part of LACI’s role in leading the ZED City Challenge, the organization is providing just more than $1 million in research services, 750,000 for grants and additional technical assistance.

“It’s really about helping cities invite, deploy and then scale what works, which is really in our wheelhouse,” said Petersen.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.