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Contributions to the safety and efficiency of the multi-drop or local/short haul operations

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STRIA Roadmaps
Transport mode
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Transport policies
Transport sectors
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

To date a considerable amount of the research regarding goods transportation by road has focused on the long-distance haulage sector, focusing largely on driver fatigue.

This research effort opens a relatively new field of interest by looking at another strand of the transportation business, the local/short haul Urban Multi-Drop Delivery (UMDD), whose specific characteristics distinguish it from the long-haul operation and result in different implications.


The overall aim of the research is to systematically assess the key factors that impact the safe and efficient transport of goods in the greater Dublin area.

Urban multi-drop delivery (UMDD) comprises a complex network of interacting systems - suppliers, distributors, customers and the regulators - that has the following characteristics: 

  • Distribution provides an interface between product supply and the retail organisation. The logic of the distribution system is set to a large extent outside the distribution process itself, for example through the just-in-time systems and the power relationships it entails. 
  • Important parameters such as safety fall between different imperfectly co-ordinated systems (product safety, occupational safety, traffic safety, public liability).

For these reasons, safety in this increasingly important nexus of transport activity has not been either very extensively or coherently addressed. While there has been quite a substantial amount of research in the long-haul transportation area which has highlighted key safety concerns for this sector of the industry much less systematic research has been conducted in the urban multi-drop operation. It also appears that in relation to public awareness as well as current transport policies the primary focus has been on the long-haul transport sector as opposed to the UMDD sector. To our knowledge this is the first study of its kind in Ireland.


The overall objective of the research is to develop a systemic framework for managing safety and risk in the UMDD sector. A 2-phased research project is underway to identify the origins of key sources of risk in this industry and to develop a systemic framework for identifying and managing safety and risk in this transport sector.


In order to get a comprehensive and comparative insight into the processes, tasks and related safety and efficiency issues in the L/SH delivery business a range of methodologies have been applied:

  • Focus Groups,
  • Management Audits per company,
  • Drivers Interview/Survey Diaries,
  • Observation Protocol.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Institution Name
Trinity College Dublin
Type of funding
Public (national/regional/local)


Overall the key findings of Phase 1 can be summarised as follows: 

  • Delivery time restrictions imposed by customers coupled by unloading time restrictions imposed by the regulations is placing the delivery operations under significant strain; 
  • Narrow 'delivery window' results in too many suppliers trying to deliver at the same time ('queuing effect') therefore adding to traffic congestion in certain areas; 
  • There is a serious shortage of loading bays and commercial zones in Dublin City Centre; 
  • Drivers reporting high levels of potential risk while driving; 
  • Drivers reporting high levels of stress due to constant time pressure; 
  • In most cases the driver pushes through the day (without taking breaks) in order to accomplish his goals; 
  • Drivers are violating traffic laws in order to complete their tasks and this violation is widely accepted; 
  • Almost all managers interviewed highlighted the increase in traffic levels in Dublin City Centre and the lack of an integrated traffic strategy as a major problem for their operations; 
  • In relation to the role of the regulatory authorities in urban multi-drop there was a clear message that these officials lack an understanding of the business and, therefore, are not providing adequate support; 
  • All managers acknowledged communication and coordination as central processes that underlie all operational processes and link the network of interacting systems - suppliers, distributors, customers, and the regulators.

The criticality of communication and co-ordination reflects the features of the system as being highly complex and interdependent distributed system that demands a high degree of flexibility (quick response) without inherent mechanisms of control. Overall, the communication and co-ordination is: 

  • Informal and mostly reactive within all the companies;
  • Driven by a clear power hierarchy in customer relations; 
  • Virtually non-existent with the regulatory authorities, especially concerning road safety.

Overall the findings of phase 1 identified a number of constraints and incompatible requirements that are impacting the safety and efficiency of the UMDD operations. The combination of traffic levels, transport policy measures, ineffective regula

Policy implications

In phase 1 of the project, the focus had been on one part of the network system of UMDD - the delivery companies and their drivers. It became evident during the first phase that it is essential to understand more fully how distribution processes fit into the wider set of process in both suppliers and customers and how these are constrained by external factors such as the physical infrastructure, regulations and enforcement.

Phase 2 is designed to provide this wider framework, with the overall objective of identifying the possibilities for a proactive framework and programme for safety and risk management that could work effectively in this type of industrial sector.

In order to extensively address the issue of safety and risk in this sector it will be necessary to understand how operational processes in this sector actually work and how people manage and cope with these processes in order to maintain the required operational flexibility to deliver an effective distribution system.

It is proposed to apply a 'process mapping methodology' that can provide a framework within which situational and behavioural risks can be identified and analysed. This methodology will involve a combination of interviews and focus groups with key groups of stakeholders across the distributed network (e.g., customers, delivery companies, Dublin City Council).

The aim is to identify the systemic origins of key sources of risk, which provides a basis for identifying how to manage and reduce those risks. The research plans for Phase 2 can be summarised in the following steps: 

  1. To map the complex interacting operational processes of the network of urban multi-drop delivery (UMDD). 
  2. To provide a rich description of the social processes through which these operational processes are enacted. 
  3. To describe the way in which the system is circumscribed or supported by technology of different types, and to describe the regulatory and enforcement environment. 
  4. To construct a behavioural risk model which can be mapped onto the operational and social processes. 
  5. To define the parameters of the total safety space (in which all relevant domains of safety can be contrasted and reconciled). 
  6. To map the safety dimensions onto the network of operational processes (and where relevant the social processes).

In mapping the relevant processes and assessi


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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