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Santa Monica is testing the first zero-emissions delivery zone

Deliveries have skyrocketed during the pandemic. This California city wants to nudge companies to make sure they’re happening in nonpolluting vehicles.

Santa Monica is testing the first zero-emissions delivery zone
[Photo: courtesy LACI]
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When someone in downtown Santa Monica now gets a delivery, there’s a good chance that it will now show up on an electric delivery truck—or an electric scooter, or a battery-powered robot, or an electric cargo bike. The city is now testing a first-of-a-kind, one-square-mile electric vehicle delivery zone, which will prioritize vehicles that won’t pollute the neighborhood.

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[Photo: courtesy LACI]
Along the curb on some of the most congested streets, up to twenty spots will be designated as zero-emission vehicle loading zones. More than a dozen companies are participating in the pilot, including Ikea, which has broader plans to move to 100% electric home deliveries globally by 2025.

“This really aligns with a lot of the priorities that the city has been focused on in terms of our climate goals,” says Ariana Vito, sustainability analyst at the City of Santa Monica. The city partnered with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator on the pilot. “We released an EV action plan a few years ago, basically recognizing that if we want to have significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions we need to work on increasing access to electric vehicles.”

[Photo: courtesy LACI]
The city aims to cut carbon emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2030 and expects to be carbon neutral before 2050. As deliveries keep growing—a trend that has only inreased during the pandemic—the city saw challenges both in terms of pollution and the congestion that delivery vehicles are creating on city streets.

[Photo: courtesy LACI]

The pilot is testing new technologies, policies, and business models. Smaller vehicles, like sidewalk delivery robots and electric scooters, can help reduce congestion. Local businesses will be able to use an app to schedule time on a shared electric delivery truck connected to a mobile charger, another first-of-a-kind experiment. The new prioritized curbside space for zero-emissions delivery vehicles is designed to also reduce congestion—so delivery vans no longer double-park and block traffic—and to encourage more companies to switch to electric.

[Image: Automotus]
Automotus, another startup in the pilot, will use its video analytics technology to monitor the prioritized curb spaces. The tech recognizes cars that shouldn’t be parked in the spaces and flags them for city parking enforcement. (Initially, drivers will just get a warning.) The system will also help the city analyze how congested streets are, how long vehicles are idling, and how much space is available at the curb. It can notify drivers in the pilot where to go for the nearest available space.

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[Image: Automotus]
Cities like Santa Monica could eventually choose to introduce new curbside pricing to fight pollution, the same way that London has a congestion charge for non-electric vehicles that enter the city center at peak times. “In the future, imagine if there’s a dedicated curb space for delivery and drop off—either you have to have a zero-emissions vehicle or you have to pay to be there,” says Matt Petersen, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. “The idea is that fee encourages delivery providers to move to zero-emission vehicles over time, and you use those funds to fund and pay for the programs that would support that transition, or related priorities, like safer streets for active transit.”

[Photo: courtesy LACI]
In Santa Monica, the pilot will run through the end of the year as the city evaluates it and makes a decision about whether to make some of the changes permanent. “We’re hoping to be able to use this time to figure out lots of the logistics and how we can make this work long term,” says Vito.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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