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Last-Mile Delivery Services Are Changing to Meet Community Needs

Last-Mile Delivery Services Are Changing to Meet Community Needs

Start a transportation and logistics management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

Transportation and distribution workers know about the last mile. We see the last mile in operation each day when a U.S. Postal Service mail truck stops in front of our homes delivering mail and packages. USPS, FedEx and UPS are the last mile in trucking transportation, delivering packages from a warehouse or distribution center to the addressee.

As a former trucking company owner, I know that the last mile is what accounted for our revenue. In the world of business transportation, there are five modes to move goods: trucking, rail, air, water and pipeline. The pipeline might be considered a last-mile mode for moving gas or diesel fuel from a storage tank to the last mile customer, a local gas station.

Water and Air Last-Mile Delivery Becoming More Popular

Water is a rare transport mode for delivering the mail. There are exceptions, however.

Residents on the shores of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, rely on a water taxi to get their mail. Youngsters called “mail jumpers” jump off a slowly moving ferry boat as it skims by each resident’s private dock. At each dock, the jumper leaps off the boat, puts the day’s mail in the dockside mailbox along the route, and quickly jumps back on board ready for the next dock all the while keeping the boat on schedule.

Air mail delivery directly to your home or office also seems implausible, although the growing popularity of small drones has made direct air mail delivery a possibility. If you live in a remote place such as Alaska, however, there is last-mile air delivery.

Alaska is home to about 300,000 small planes that can land on the ground or in the water. They serve as the state’s taxi and mail delivery service.

These small aircraft deliver mail to about 250 small villages scattered across remote parts of the state. These planes often land on unpaved roads, on ice or on water and taxi to the edge of someone’s home. Warbelow’s Air is one such last-mile service.

Alaskan Trains Also Used for Last-Mile Mail Delivery

Rail service is primarily known to connect cities and towns across the U.S. But trains do not commonly stop at your doorstep for last-mile deliveries.

However, once again, there is an exception. Milepost 275.4 on the Alaska Railroad is the closest thing to an actual address in the Alaskan bush.

Peggy Stavenjord lives at mile 275.4, 160 miles north of Anchorage. She, her husband and their two children live in a 20×20 foot log cabin. Roads, phone lines, cable TV and water pipes do not reach that deep into the Alaska Range. But the Alaska Railroad does, dropping off the Stavenjords’ mail.

The Trucking Industry Is the Most Common Mode for Last-Mile Deliveries

The trucking industry, of course, is the mode most often used for last-mile deliveries. For example, a Sears truck will pull into your driveway with your new refrigerator or the UPS van delivers the book you purchased from Amazon.

Bicycles Coming into Use for Last-Mile Delivery

There are other interesting last-mile delivery methods. Bicycle delivery services are used throughout the U.S. because the bicycle is an economical last-mile delivery of mail or small packages. In St. Petersburg, Florida, bicycle mail service has been in use since 1917.

Now, Paris wants to make this practice more than some cute tourist attraction. A headline in Road and Track magazine reports, “France Wants to Ban the Sale of All Gas and Diesel Cars by 2040.” If this plan comes to fruition, last-mile deliveries in Paris would on foot or by electric power.

That last-mile mode in Paris would make the City of Lights a more peaceful place to live, work and visit. Will the French plan prompt a similar push in the U.S. for industry changes? Maybe. After all, the Pony Express and the horse and buggy were replaced. Fossil fuel engines brought us cars and trucks and revolutionized the transportation system.

Is the increased push for greener transportation going to destroy some of the five modes of transportation, or at least the gas-powered vehicle?

Electric trucks and cars are already here. Can our transportation and distribution system adjust to an all-electric fleet of trucks and cars? The cost of such new trucks is already affecting small, startup trucking companies.

Start a transportation and logistics management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of two academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management Program and Transportation and Logistics Management Program. Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has published two books, RFID Metrics and How Grandma Braided the Rain.