January 3, 2019


Craving your favorite candy that you can’t find in the local grocery stores? In all likelihood, you can still have it in your hands tomorrow.

Amazon’s promise of fast and free delivery has completely disrupted the fulfillment and delivery process. Across the transportation industry, everyone from regional fleets to truckload carriers are re-thinking their delivery options. The American Trucking Associations reported that the average length of a haul has now dropped to a historic low of 499 miles, which shows how much emphasis is being put on last mile delivery options. The desire to meet consumer demands for speed is putting pressure on the entire supply chain, especially during busy periods like the holiday season.

Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. Over the past few years, there has been more focus on innovative last mile solutions to help solve this logistics headache. Here are some trends to keep an eye on in 2019:

A favorite childhood pastime is also becoming a viable last mile opportunity. Bicycles offer an extremely efficient – and cheap – option for last mile delivery, which is why companies like UPS have started investing in them as a possible solution. These human-powered machines have a strong historical track record: UPS actually began as a bike delivery service, so in some ways the company is returning to its roots. Recently, it decided to test its electric bicycle in Seattle, a city notorious for vehicle traffic. Could these tricycles be the answer to all our last mile hurdles?

While bicycles may solve some problems, there are limitations to this delivery method. Bikes work well in established, urban areas, but aren’t feasible in many parts of the country. The actual size of the bike also limits what types of products can be delivered. While it’s worth keeping an eye on bicycles, they won’t solve every last mile hurdle in the coming year.

Scooters also present an affordable and quick last mile delivery option, but the concept still has a long way to go. In Atlanta, a scooter-sharing company called Bird announced it was launching a scooter delivery service. Uber and Lyft also announced scooter-sharing services, ensuring that Bird has its fair share of southern competition. However, scooters have even more size limitations than bicycles and they present additional safety hazards. The City of Atlanta is discussing stricter scooter regulations, which may slow this two-wheeled option from having a national impact.

Bicycles and scooters might be viable options for urban last mile delivery, but what about the rest of the country? Enter drones. Logistics and transportation companies are testing out drone solutions for a variety of situations, including rural areas. Usually, these solutions are aerial vehicles that are controlled by humans from a central location. However, companies are also looking at robots that have the ability to climb and travel to the hard-to-reach locations. For companies, this could mean that a driver manages several drones who handle his or her last mile deliveries.

However, don’t expect a drone takeover in your neighborhood tomorrow. There are many regulatory and cost hurdles that need to be addressed before we can expect a massive drone delivery strategy. Additionally, drones present a security threat, offering many opportunities for hacking and cyberattacks. Until the industry can overcome these hurdles, drones won’t completely solve the last mile problem.

Will all the last mile problems be solved in 2019? No, but we’ve come a long way and are making more progress every day. In addition to drones, bikes and scooters, fleet management software has also greatly helped last mile delivery. Technology like telematics and mobile dispatching allow fleet managers to have real-time updates on their drivers’ delivery cycles. Being able to adjust schedules and expectations is extremely crucial to last mile success, and allowing fleets to deliver on the promise of speed.

Have more questions about last mile options? Join us at our breakout session “Urban E-Commerce: A Look at Alternative Delivery Methods” at Omnitracs Outlook 2019.