Assessment of the ability of cargo buses to improve the efficiency of small businesses’ logistics, reduce carbon emissions from transport, and improve the financial viability of rural bus services
- Primary Supervisor
- Arijit De <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- University of Manchester
- Academic Supervisors
- Barbara Tocco, Matthew Gorton
- Research Themes
- Economics, Energy, Environment, Social Inequality, Transport
- Project Partners
- Food & Drink North East, National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise, Northumberland County Council
Project reference: MN72
Application deadline: 10 April 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic and economic climate have placed an existential threat on many rural bus routes that are vital for the communities they serve. During 2022, almost one in 10 local bus services ceased in Great Britain despite government promises to improve local transport. This is a significant problem for many local authorities throughout the UK and therefore finding ways of reducing or offsetting operating costs. For example, through the carriage of cargo as well as passengers. This is an important research topic, as well as a practical challenge.
Northumberland County Council highlighted the need to strengthen deep rural aspects in terms of expanding goods delivery beyond food and drink. It also emphasized the need to enhance the financial sustainability of the bus service by improving the vehicle utilization which is currently around 25–30% during the off-peak hours.
Detailed project description:
Across the UK, buses provide vital access and mobility for both rural communities, particularly low-income groups, commuters and the disabled, and provide a means to cut congestion and carbon emissions. However, fragmented, and lower density populations make the provision of bus services in remote rural areas more challenging (Campaign for Better Transport, 2018; Department for Transport, 2021). Many services run with few passengers and their existence is financially precarious, especially as passenger numbers on buses remain approximately 70% of the pre-pandemic level (Department for Transport, 2022). Identifying new sources of income to improve the financial viability of bus services is an important industry challenge (Campaign for Better Transport, 2018). The COVID-19 pandemic and economic climate (especially high inflation) have placed an existential threat on many rural bus routes that are vital for communities they serve.
This is a significant problem for many local authorities throughout the UK and therefore finding ways of reducing or offsetting operating costs (for example, through the carriage of cargo as well as passengers) is an important research and practical challenge.
A mass of small-scale businesses characterizes rural economies (Phillipson et al., 2019), often distribute their goods to buyers themselves, with transport and logistics a substantial cost financially and in terms of staff time. For instance, food and drink industry producers typically undertake regular deliveries to local and regional buyers but many of these journeys involve small loads. Improving the efficiency of logistics can improve business performance and reduce carbon emissions (De et al., 2022; De;Tocco and Gorton, 2022) but requires greater co-operation with other actors for mutual benefit (De;Tocco and Gorton, 2022).
Cargo buses carry both passengers and goods on regular services (PortCalls, 2017), and they can utilize existing bus vehicles but with dedicated space for the transport of goods.
1. Map the logistics needs, and deliveries, of small-scale producers in remote rural areas of England against existing bus routes and timetables to identify the most promising opportunities for co-operation and establishment of cargo bus routes. This will involve working with Food and Drink North East (FADNE) and their members.
2. To investigate the practical and legal requirements for the establishment of cargo buses. This will involve liaison with business service operators, local authorities and transport authorities. Attention will also be paid to costs and willingness to pay for cargo bus services.
3. To model the potential financial benefits and costs for small-scale producers across England of adopting passenger buses for cargo shipments and examine the impact on carbon footprints.
4. To undertake a small number of test cargo journeys to establish the proof of concept, to provide a basis for future service development and commercialization.
1. Can we develop a robust machine learning model for forecasting the order amount from various small-scale producers in remote rural areas of England while considering the historical customer demand for various products?
2. Can we propose a machine learning model for estimating the available cargo spaces on the passenger buses running from remote rural areas to nearby towns and cities during the off-peak and peak hours while considering the information about the number of passengers boarding the buses during different times of the day?
3. How can we propose a robust optimization model for delivery of the ordered amount from small-scale producers while considering the available cargo spaces on the existing bus routes and timetables for passenger bus services from remote rural areas to nearby towns / cities?
4. Can we develop a multiple objective optimization model aiming to minimize the transport cost, fuel cost, carbon emissions from passenger bus services, and travel time for delivering products, while maximizing the profitability of the bus services, profitability of remote rural producers and vehicle space utilization?
Partner contributions to project:
Northumberland County Council (NCC) will contribute to the CDT PhD Project by connecting the logistics modelling research with its end-users operating across multiple sectors in the rural economy. This project is of interest to NCC as a way of improving air quality and the financial viability of rural bus services by optimising vehicle utilisation (especially during off-peak periods when there is often spare capacity available) and reducing carbon emissions in remote rural areas. NCC will support the development, scope, and ambition of the planned work, providing advice to the research team, facilitating stakeholder connections, knowledge exchange services and promotional activity.
The National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) and Food and Drink North East (FADNE) will contribute to the CDT PhD Project by providing a physical base for the successful PhD student to undertake fieldwork and interact with stakeholder partners in the north-east of England. Furthermore, NICRE would give advice to the PhD student on rural economy aspects of the project and help manage relationships with Northumberland County Council (NCC), Food and Drink North East (FADNE) and other regional stakeholders. NICRE and FADNE would also help the PhD project in providing access to rural businesses and facilitate practical tests to achieve the proof of concept.
Campaign for Better Transport (2018) The future of rural bus services in the UK. London: Campaign for Better Transport. [Online]. Available at: https://bettertransport.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/legacy-files/research-files/The-Future-of-Rural-Bus-Services.pdf.
De, A., Gorton, M., Hubbard, C. and Aditjandra, P. (2022) ‘Optimization model for sustainable food supply chains: An application to Norwegian salmon’, Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, 161, p. 102723.
De, A., Tocco, B. and Gorton, M. (2022) ‘Improving the operational efficiency and reducing transport related carbon emissions of food distribution hubs’, 182 EAAE Seminar on Sustainability via biodiverse agri-food value chains. Chania, Greece.
Department for Transport (2021) Bus Back Better. London: Department for Transport. [Online]. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/980227/DfT-Bus-Back-Better-national-bus-strategy-for-England.pdf.
Department for Transport (2022) Quarterly bus statistics, England: April to June 2022. London: Department for Transport. [Online]. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/quarterly-bus-statistics-april-to-june-2022/quarterly-bus-statistics-england-april-to-june-2022.
Phillipson, J., Tiwasing, P., Gorton, M., Maioli, S., Newbery, R. and Turner, R. (2019) ‘Shining a spotlight on small rural businesses: How does their performance compare with urban?’, Journal of Rural Studies, 68, pp. 230-239.
PortCalls (2017) Cargo bus service underpins Quick Reliable’s customized logistics solutions. [Online]. Available at: https://www.portcalls.com/cargo-bus-service-underpins-quick-reliables-customized-logistics-solutions/.