Why You Should Think Twice Before Choosing Same-Day Delivery

On-demand delivery may be convenient, but according to Carolyn Kim, transportation planner and senior director at the Pembina Institute, we're all paying a hidden price.

Carolyn Kim IllustrationIllustration: Lauren Tamaki

Reader’s Digest Canada: Front-door delivery has boomed during COVID. Is this how we’ll all shop from now on?

Carolyn Kim: Statistics Canada has shown that between 2016 and 2020, e-commerce sales by Canadians grew by more than 350 per cent, so the trend of online shopping certainly started well before the pandemic, but of course COVID accelerated that trend.

We don’t have exact numbers for the past two years, but due to this increase, the heavy-duty gasoline and diesel vehicle sector—which includes commercial vans and trucks—is projected to become the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in Canada by around 2030. There are currently more than two million of these vehicles on the road in Canada, and that number has increased by about 57 per cent since 2005.

That’s probably why bike lanes are constantly clogged with vans.

Yes. What the pandemic has made clear is that the movement of goods is absolutely essential to our everyday life. So it’s not about figuring out how to stop urban deliveries, it’s about asking how we can better plan our roads.

One option is to create dedicated commercial loading and parking spaces so trucks aren’t double-parking or obstructing the bike lane. Another solution is to help businesses use electric cargo bikes to make deliveries rather than a conventional truck. This is a trend that’s already in practice in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

We’ve seen an expansion of bike lanes in many cities because of the pandemic, which is great. Let’s use that infrastructure for commercial purposes.

Could the use of delivery vans be regulated by municipalities?

Some jurisdictions—such as Santa Monica, California and London, U.K.— are piloting and already implementing low-emission zones. That means defining a certain area within cities where the use of carbon-emitting vehicles, including delivery vehicles, is regulated through restrictions or fees in an attempt to incentivize good behaviour.

Same day delivery impact - courier delivering parcel to homeownerPhoto: Halfpoint / Shutterstock.com

There’s also the problem of independent businesses competing with Amazon and other big online retailers. What can be done to make sure they don’t disappear?

We saw local and small businesses quickly pivot to online shopping and curbside pickup during the pandemic. And we’ve seen the e-commerce platform Shopify launch Go Digital Canada, which provides support for small businesses figuring out how to reach their customers online, but we also need government financial and training support to help them adopt new technologies.

In Louisiana, Gotcha—the electric bike and scooter ride-sharing company—gives discounts to small local businesses. They can rent a scooter for $15 a day to deliver goods, and that cuts out the third-party delivery services, which often charge 20 to 30 per cent of the order amount.

Often deliveries go to post office counters inside nearby drugstores. Even though it’s not as convenient as home delivery, is that something that should be used more?

Yes, this is a common practice that could be scaled up to help cities create more efficient urban delivery systems. In Canada we already have UPS Access Point and Penguin Pickup, where people can collect their parcels on their way to somewhere else. Those business models help people be part of the solution by minimizing truck delivery.

Is there anything else we can do to be more responsible consumers?

Oftentimes, customers have the option for a slower delivery at checkout. Going with the slowest delivery window helps businesses optimize their delivery route in the most efficient way possible.

Okay, so patience is a virtue here.

Yes, rather than getting your deliveries within the hour, or same-day.

Next, find out how to outsmart porch pirates.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada