Should Cities Embrace Nighttime Truck Delivery?

New York & D.C. are getting businesses to accept inventory deliveries at night, easing traffic and reducing pollution. Philly plans to stick with its current system.


Not helping the commute.

An immensely success pilot program in New York City is forcing cities to rethink how trucks maneuver their streets. Or more specific, when they’re allowed to. NYC’s Off-Hour Delivery (OHD) initiative has successfully shifted many truck deliveries away from peak hours (6 a.m. to 7 p.m.), the time when 95 percent of deliveries had been made in Manhattan. It’s expected to produce economic savings of $100-200 million a year by reducing traffic congestion, lowering fuel consumption and streamlining supply chains for participating retailers like Whole Foods, CVS and Foot Locker.

Now, Washington D.C. and Orlando are replicating New York’s OHD program; Atlanta, Chicago and Boston are all reportedly interested. It’s easy to see why. Beyond those lofty monetary benefits, OHD improves the city’s air quality, overall quality of life, and the on-time delivery rates for businesses, which are able to keep inventory costs at a minimum as a result.

With the help of a Federal Highway Administration grant, D.C.’s pilot program is expected to launch in full next year. According to a press release, the city is targeting retailers, carriers and business improvement districts as participants, which will be offered both financial and non-monetary incentives:

Over the course of the program, DDOT will track changes in travel time, truck fuel-economy, emissions, participation rate, commercial vehicle parking violations, delivery cost, and receiver satisfaction. If the trial is a success … the city will look into other ways of incentivizing off-hour delivery. One hypothetical example: developers could get relief from loading berths required by a zoning code if they agree to move shipments after hours.

While other cities are just getting going with nighttime truck delivery, Philadelphia was relatively early in adopting new guidelines for truck deliveries. Since 2009, as part of Mayor Nutter’s Mobility Enhancement Initiative in Center City, truck deliveries have operated under restrictions along Walnut and Chestnut Streets. “Our primary concern was speeding up the SEPTA buses,” says Andrew Stober, chief of staff in the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. “When you have busses filled with people, a double-parked truck is delaying hundreds of people from their journey.”

Between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., only delivery trucks are allowed to park on Chestnut and Walnut between Broad and 22nd Street. The Mayor’s office also established 70 special loading zones, in partnership with the Parking Authority, for UPS, DHL and FedEx trucks to use during hours outside that 4-hour window. According to Stober, after initial resistance from many businesses, the incentives became clear for all: quicker, on-time deliveries for receivers; fewer double-parking tickets for deliverers; better traffic for commuters.

In the first year after the changes were in place, Westbound traffic between Broad and 22nd was reduced by 24 percent during the morning rush hours. Eastbound traffic was reduced by 35 percent, according to Stober. Although the Mayor’s Office didn’t calculate the economic benefits of reduced congestion in Philly, truck operations cause $27 billion worth of delays in cities nationwide, on account of lost time and fuel to all drivers.

Philadelphia’s initiative is unique in that it’s not technically an OHD program—trucks still deliver during the day, not at night—but it’s produced some of the same benefits. “Our program is more customized to Philadelphia’s downtown,” says Stober. Despite its success, there’s no plan to expand the Mayor’s program beyond Center City’s two busiest corridors anytime soon. If the city launched an OHD program, the results could be compounded.

One concern with OHD, says Stober, was the additional street noise nighttime truck delivery would create. And Philadelphians aren’t as accustomed to tolerating nighttime noise as New Yorkers. But reducing delays should also reduce retail prices, so it might be worth the beauty sleep to make OHD a possibility in Philly.