Last mile (transportation)

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In supply chain management and transportation planning, the last mile or last kilometer is the last leg of a journey comprising the movement of passengers and goods from a transportation hub to a final destination. The concept of "last mile" was adopted from the telecommunications industry, which faced difficulty connecting individual homes to the main telecommunications network. Similarly, in supply chain management, last-mile describes the logistical challenges at the last phase of transportation getting people and packages from hubs to their final destinations.

Bicycle sharing systems such as Washington's Capital Bikeshare have been cited as a way to alleviate the "last mile problem".

Last-mile delivery is an increasingly studied field as the number of business-to-consumer (b2c) deliveries grow, especially from e-commerce companies in freight transportation, and ride-sharing companies in personal transportation. Some challenges of last-mile delivery include minimizing cost, ensuring transparency, increasing efficiency, and improving infrastructure.[1]



"Last mile" was originally used in the telecommunications industry to describe the difficulty of connecting end users' homes and businesses to the main telecommunication network. The last "mile" of cable or wire is only used by one customer. Therefore, the cost of installing and maintaining this infrastructure can only be amortized over one subscriber, compared to many customers in the main "trunks" of the network.

In supply chain management last-mile describes a similar problem for transporting either people or freight. In freight networks, parcels can be delivered to a central hub efficiently via ship, train or other means, but they must then be loaded into smaller vehicles for delivery to individual customers. In transportation networks, "last mile" describes the rising marginal cost of getting people from a transportation hub such as an airport or train station to their final destination.

Usage in distribution networks


Transporting goods via freight rail networks and container ships is often the most efficient and cost-effective manner of shipping. However, when goods arrive at a high-capacity freight station or port, they must then be transported to their final destination. This last leg of the supply chain is often less efficient, comprising up to 53% of the total cost to move goods.[2] This has become known as the "last mile problem."[3][4] The last mile problem can also include the challenge of making deliveries in urban areas. Deliveries to retail stores, restaurants, and other merchants in a central business district often contribute to congestion and safety problems.[3][5]

A related last mile problem is the transportation of goods to areas in need of humanitarian relief. Aid supplies are sometimes able to reach a central transportation hub in an affected area but cannot be distributed due to damage caused by a natural disaster or a lack of infrastructure.[6]

One challenge faced in last-mile delivery is unattended packages. Shipping companies, like UPS, FedEx, USPS, DHL and others, leave a parcel unattended at a business or home which exposes the item(s) to weather, and the chance of theft by "porch pirates" (a person who steals packages off of customers' porches or front door areas). One solution to this problem is setting up lockers in urban centers. Amazon in the United States has deployed lockers where customers can pick up packages rather than them being left at their home. This protects them from theft and damage as well as allowing companies to deliver to one location, rather than a number of individual homes or businesses. Similarly, in Taiwan, some online vendors offer the option of delivery to a convenience store of the customer's choice, for pickup from the store by the customer. Not only does this reduce the chance of theft and consolidate packages but also payment of the purchase at the store may also be offered.

To reduce cost retailers have researched using autonomous vehicles to deliver packages. US-based Amazon and China-based Alibaba have researched deploying drones for delivering goods to consumers.[7] Europe, Germany, Britain, and Poland have experimented with services that provide automated parcel delivery.

Usage in transportation networks

The Hiriko folding two-seat urban electric car was intended to be deployed in Germany in 2013 to provide the last mile of the journey to Deutsche Bahn's railway customers to their final destinations.[8]

"Last mile" also describes the difficulty in getting people from a transportation hub, especially railway stations, bus depots, and ferry berths, to their final destination. When users have difficulty getting from their starting location to a transportation network, the scenario may alternatively be known as the "first-mile problem."[9] In the United States, land-use patterns have moved jobs and people to lower-density suburbs that are often not within walking distance of existing public transportation options. Therefore, transit use in these areas is often less practical. Critics claim this promotes a reliance on cars, which results in more traffic congestion, pollution, and urban sprawl.[10]

Solutions to the last mile problem in public transit have included the use of feeder buses, bicycling infrastructure, and urban planning reform.[11] Other methods of alleviating the last mile problem such as bicycle sharing systems,[9] car sharing programs,[12] pod cars (personal rapid transit),[13] and motorized shoes[14] have been proposed with varying degrees of adoption. Late in 2015, the Ford Motor Company received a patent for a "self-propelled unicycle engageable with vehicle", which is intended as a last mile commuter solution.[15] Bicycle sharing programs have been successfully implemented in Europe and Asia, and are beginning to be implemented in North America.[16][17][18] Starting in late 2017, micro-mobility services that provide shared vehicles such as dockless electric kick scooters[19] or electric-assist bikes[20] entered the marketplace. Dual-mode vehicles, which can operate on infrastructure and outside of infrastructure, are also considered as a solution to the first-mile and last-mile problem.[21] The same dual-mode vehicle can make the journey to a station and from the station on using infrastructure.

The last mile problem


The last mile problem refers to last mile being the most expensive stage of the entire logistics journey. In fact, it accounts for 53% of total delivery costs. The factors for the high costs of last-mile delivery are numerous:[22]

  • Dense urban areas lead to more stops and navigation challenges.
  • The surge in e-commerce increases small-scale delivery expenses.
  • Customer expectations for rapid deliveries add pressure for costly express options.
  • Maintaining a skilled delivery workforce.
  • Rising fuel prices, vehicle maintenance

The last mile problem is usually addressed by route optimization methods that lead to reduced mileage, fuel consumption and working hours. Businesses in the last mile sector can either optimize routes manually or use a delivery management technology platform.

Last mile technology platforms


Due in part to demand on retailers and product manufacturers to provide expedited (same and next day) deliveries, tech-enabled last-mile technology platforms have emerged. Increased demand for last-mile fulfillment has put pressure on shippers to manage many types of delivery companies, which range from traditional parcel carriers, to couriers, to on-demand service providers that execute an "Uber for delivery" model utilizing contractors.

Matching the supply of delivery with the demand that has been created by shippers is a problem that is being addressed by several last-mile technology platforms. These companies connect shippers to delivery service providers to facilitate final mile deliveries. These last-mile technology platforms allow real-time data to be received by the shipper and the receiver which enables managers to act immediately when exceptions such as late delivery, address error, or product damage occurs.

As Amazon strengthens its last-mile logistics capabilities, competing retailers have become more interested than ever in last-mile technologies to compete. The fear of Amazon has compelled CEOs of major transportation and logistics companies to seek alternative strategies.[23]





Sidewalk robots

A sidewalk robot made by Starship delivering food to students at Oregon State University

A number of companies are actively using small delivery robots to do the last-mile delivery of small packages such as food and groceries, using sidewalks/pavements and travelling at speeds comparable with a fast walking pace. Companies actively delivering include:

  • Starship Technologies – by January 2021, it had made over a million deliveries.[24]
  • Serve robotics – delivering in the Los Angeles area
  • Tiny Mile – delivering in the Toronto area
  • Kiwibot – 120,00[clarification needed] deliveries made by 2017[25]


  • Zipline – robotic airplanes delivering medicine and blood supplies using parachutes; by June 2022, they had made 325,000 deliveries this way

See also



  1. ^ Khaled, Naim (5 January 2023). "5 Practical Tips to Solve Your Last Mile Problem". Onfleet. Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  2. ^ "The challenges of last mile delivery logistics and the tech solutions cutting costs in the final mile". BUSINESS INSIDER.
  3. ^ a b Scott, Martia (November 2009). "Improving Freight Movement in Delaware Central Business Districts" (PDF). Institute for Public Administration, University of Delaware. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  4. ^ Rodrigue, Jean-Paul; Claude Comtois; Brian Slack (2009). "The "Last Mile" in Freight Distribution". The Geography of Transport Systems (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-415-48323-0.
  5. ^ Allen, Brigitte (2012) Improving freight efficiency within the ‘last mile’: A case study of Wellington’s Central Business District (Thesis, Master of Planning). University of Otago.
  6. ^ Balcik, Burcu; Benita M. Beamon; Karen Smilowitz (2009). "Last Mile Distribution in Humanitarian Relief". Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems. 12 (2): 51–63. doi:10.1080/15472450802023329. ISSN 1547-2442. S2CID 6063514. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  7. ^ "Alibaba deploys drones to deliver tea in China".
  8. ^ Danny King (21 December 2012). "Hiriko 'folding' EV will be produced for German car-sharing project next year". Autoblog Green. Archived from the original on 1 January 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Using Bicycles for the First and Last Mile of a Commute" (PDF). Mineta Transportation Institute. September 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  10. ^ "First Steps toward livable communities". Fast Lane. U.S. Department of Transportation. 22 March 2009. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  11. ^ "FHWA grant funds East Coast's largest bike center; DC transport hub may crack the "last mile" problem". Fast Lane. U.S. Department of Transportation. 5 October 2009. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  12. ^ Kuang, Cliff (16 April 2009). "Convenience Is King". GOOD Magazine. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  13. ^ Zax, David (17 August 2011). "Can Driverless Pod Cars Solve the 'Last-Mile Problem'?". Technology Review. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  14. ^ Yvkoff, Liane (15 July 2010). "Are motorized shoes the last-mile transport answer?". CNet. Archived from the original on 22 August 2012. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  15. ^ Read, Richard (29 December 2015). "Ford Patent Could Transform Your Car Into A Unicycle". The Car Connection. Internet Brns Automotive Group. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  16. ^ DeMaio, Paul (2009). "Bike-sharing: History, Impacts, Models of Provision, and Future". Journal of Public Transportation. 12 (4): 41–56. doi:10.5038/2375-0901.12.4.3.
  17. ^ Shaheen, Susan; Guzman, S., and H. Zhang (2010). "Bikesharing in Europe, the Americas, and Asia: Past, Present, and Future" (PDF). Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. doi:10.3141/2143-20. S2CID 40770008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 June 2012.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Shaheen, Susan; Stacey Guzman (2011). "Worldwide Bikesharing". Access Magazine. Archived from the original on 26 March 2012.
  19. ^ Raphelson, Samantha (29 August 2018). "Dockless Scooters Gain Popularity And Scorn Across The U.S." Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  20. ^ Greenfield, John (11 September 2018). "Jump's Cheaper, Dockless Electric Rides Seem to Be Winning Over Far-South-Siders". Streetsblog Chicago. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  21. ^ Folsom, Tyler C. (2012). "Energy and Autonomous Urban Land Vehicles". IEEE Technology and Society Magazine. 31 (2): 28–38. doi:10.1109/MTS.2012.2196339. ISSN 1937-416X. S2CID 6557114.
  22. ^ Why Is Last-Mile Delivery Expensive + 4 Ways To Cut Costs
  23. ^ Logistics experts try to figure out how to take on Amazon. Archived 28 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Heinla, Ahti (27 January 2021). "Starship Completes One Million Autonomous Deliveries". Starship Technologies. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
  25. ^ "No Tipping Necessary: Hundreds of Delivery Robots Are Coming to Los Angeles". dot.LA. 13 January 2021. Retrieved 16 June 2022.