News | Dablanc Examines Mobility Questions within the COVID Context

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by Brittany Cooper

Of the many distinguished researchers connected to METRANS, Laetitia Dablanc, the Paris Team Leader for the MetroFreight Center of Excellence stands out as a major contributor, having enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the Volvo Research and Education Foundation (VREF) and gaining international recognition for her work in the field of city logistics. Dablanc’s reputation as an eminent scholar in the fields of urban freight and logistics, freight planning and policy, and logistics sprawl has led her to be invited to visit USC as a VREF summer visiting scholar for the past 5 years. Recently, Dablanc’s research on “Testing the ‘Freight Landscape’” gained international acclaim and was awarded Best Paper of 2018 by the Urban Freight Committee of the Transportation Research Board.


The majority of Dablanc’s research centers on freight mobility in Paris and the logistics that keep the city running. She is currently working on observing the logistics sector in Paris during the COVID-19 pandemic, surveying multiple companies and platforms, and noting the changes rocking the sector during the pandemic. The results of daily surveys collected from companies over the last six weeks are presented in “Barometer of Logistics under Lockdown in Paris.” The Logistics City Chair, a major mixed-use development research organization, together with the City of Paris, created the initiative to increase knowledge and awareness of the situation of the urban logistics sector in times of lockdown. The survey has revealed that, as of May 8, “the majority of companies were still facing a reduction in their activities.” It identified new trends such as an upturn in meal deliveries (barometer 6). The survey also reported that, as the city starts to reopen and businesses resume operations, many companies are anticipating fewer delays in delivery flow. To view the barometers, click here


In addition to this research, Laetitia Dablanc has authored an article about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on transport companies, “Logistics, an urban activity that comes to the forefront during the COVID-19 crisis.” The article states that there has been a major decrease in circulation of French National Transport Federation members’ trucks, with86% of members reporting a complete or partial halting of activity. Deblanc describes this as being due to the “evolution of demand” during the crisis, with non-food commerce dropping significantly, and only marginally being made up by e-commerce. While food deliveries initially increased significantly in the face of stay-at-home orders, the rates quickly returned-to near pre-COVID rates, which Dablanc argues may be due, in part, to significantly increased wait times, discouraging further food delivery orders. Dablanc asserts that using technology, like robots and drones, would “make situations more efficient and ready for the next emergency.”


Recently, Dablanc spoke with Jesse Feller Hahn, Executive Director of Meeting of the Minds, on the impacts of COVID-19 on freight activity in Paris. Dablanc reported that while traffic dropped by about 30% in the first few weeks of COVID-19 lockdowns, activity has picked back up and returned to near pre-COVID rates. However, the rapidly changing lockdown rules have prompted many municipalities to respond with decisive action by increasing funding for bicycle lanes, smart vehicle usage, and data management. Says Dablanc, “I’ve seen many changes on the public policy side, they have been accelerating their data collection on urban freight, because [the data available] was very poor. Now they have realized, because of COVID-19 that they needed much better data.” Dablanc is optimistic about the bike lanes in particular, noting that “there are many more deliveries by bicycles” in the city, which may be part of a growing trend of greener last-mile deliveries.


When asked about her work in the logistics sector, Dablanc commented that "looking at urban issues through the lenses of logistics and freight movement is fascinating. New jobs, innovations, environmental challenges, urban real estate, and local policies are all targets of the research we conduct.” Dablanc noted the importance of MetroFreight’s work, stating that “the program has been instrumental in developing international cooperation, sharing data, and inventing new methodologies for comparing large metropolitan areas.” Paris has benefitted directly from the results of these partnerships as Dablanc and her team build on MetroFreight’s work to develop new research directions, many of which directly link to the current pandemic.


To learn more about Dablanc’s research, click here.