Research Projects

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Research Projects

STATUS: Complete YEAR: 2015 TOPIC AREA: Integrating freight and passenger systems CENTER: METRANS UTC

Quantifying the Impact of Next-Generation Modes of Delivery

Project Summary

Funding Source

U.S. Department of Transporatation

Total Project Cost


Agency ID or Contract Number

Grant No: DTRT13-G-UTC57

Start and End Dates

7/1/2015 - 6/30/2016

Brief Description of
Research Project

In the last two years, a new delivery paradigm has emerged for transporting goods on the so-called last mile to households, pioneered by such services as Google Shopping Express, Amazon Prime, Instacart, and Walmart To Go [8, 11, 18, 23], among many others. Such services reduce the need for households to travel because one can simply order products online and have them delivered quickly to one’s doorstep. However, it is not yet understood (or, more specifically, quantified) to what degree such services result in social benefits vis-a-vis congestion and carbon emissions.
A major complication in studying problems of this kind is the difficulty of creating a model that is mathematically tractable enough to give useful insights as well as faithful to the original phenomenon being modelled. For example, one complicating factor in modelling household behavior is the existence of multi-stop trips made by households: on a given day, a person will often visit multiple locations on one outing (such as running errands on the way to or from one’s place of work), and each of these locations will usually have alternatives (e.g. there are usually multiple choices of which grocer or post office to use). Thus, the calculation of the cost of a multi-stop trip is more complicated than a mere direct trip to and from the various destinations and the household. The objective of this project is to apply tools from geospatial analysis, geometric probability theory, and mathematical optimization to develop an integrated model that predicts the changes in congestion and carbon footprint that result when households in a geographic region adopt (or reject) such delivery services.

Describe Implementation of  Research Outcomes (or why not implemented)

We have submitted a research paper to Operations Research entitled “Household-level economies of scale” that describes an algorithm for routing a heterogeneous fleet of vehicles to visit a set of locations, and an undergraduate in Carlsson’s ISE 330 class, Evan Duy Le, will test this algorithm’s performance in practice for his final project.   We have already completed Tasks 1 and 2 from our project proposal (a literature review and an analysis of a problem called the “generalized travelling salesman problem) and Evan’s project will be an integral component of Task 3, in which we apply our algorithm to simulate different behaviors of adopting delivery services.

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation (actual, not anticipated)

The project has benefits from both a policy angle and a strategic angle: first, we have derived simple formulas that allow one to determine the social benefit (or lack thereof) of introducing delivery services for groceries and food.  Second, we have developed new algorithms for routing a collection of vehicles to deliver goods to clients.

Web Links, Reports, Project website

Draft of the paper:



John Carlsson
Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering; Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
3650 McClintock Ave.
Olin Hall of Engineering (OHE) 310FLos Angeles, CA 90089-0193
United States
[email protected]