Can’t Boston wait until afternoon to hit the rosé? Apparently not, to judge from the large delivery truck that parked illegally in a travel lane on Congress Street — across the street from the Globe, coincidentally — on a recent Tuesday morning. Festooned with “Babe Runs on Rosé,” referring to a brand of canned, bubbly rosé, the unattended truck blocked a travel lane, snarling traffic and adding to the city’s crushing congestion.
Delivery trucks, as the Globe Spotlight Team’s recent report on congestion pointed out, play an especially irritating role in the city’s congestion. They double-park, squat at bus stops, lurch to a halt in travel lanes, and generally make nuisances of themselves. Fines don’t deter chronic scofflaws like UPS and FedEx, which simply eat the cost of the tickets. What makes it galling is that for many shipments, there’s no reason they couldn’t occur at off-hours: Except in the rarest circumstances, nobody urgently needs canned rosé at 10:30 a.m.
Although Babe did not respond to an inquiry from the Globe, the truck was likely making what city officials call an “inventory” delivery. Restaurants and retailers have regular, predictable shipments. Those deliveries have been the prime target of efforts to reduce truck congestion in other cities, and, according to Chris Osgood, the City of Boston’s chief of the streets, transportation, and sanitation, the city is assembling a pilot program to coax shippers and delivery companies to move inventory deliveries to off-hours.
Already, he says, the city has upped fines and shifted traffic enforcement to high-need areas. The city is also planning to conduct a pilot program aimed at restricting curb access for ride-hailing and delivery vehicles. Having wielded the stick, the city also wants to offer businesses carrots, by coordinating shifts in delivery times. In high-traffic areas, businesses that ship or receive shipments ought to jump at the opportunity if the city calls. In New York, which has a longstanding off-hours delivery program in Manhattan and Brooklyn, truck drivers themselves have been one of the biggest beneficiaries, reporting lower stress on the job.
Even if the city shifts inventory deliveries to off-hours, that would still leave two major categories of deliveries: parcel deliveries (i.e., UPS), and restaurant deliveries (i.e. Domino’s). The parcel delivery services are how Amazon delivers your cat food on time, and no mere fine will stop them from completing such critical missions. One UPS truck identified by the Globe has run up more than 1,550 parking tickets in four years.
Faced with the same problem, Seattle plans to install delivery lockers at public transit stations, so that instead of having personal packages delivered to work, employees would have the option to pick them up at a locker on their way home. For the shipper, it means making one quick delivery to a central location instead of double-parking in front of a dozen office buildings and wheeling packages to a dozen front desks. Boston should keep an eye on the experiment and, if it works, try it out here.
Delivery trucks clogging traffic is more than an annoyance. For cyclists and pedestrians, trucks on city streets can also pose a serious safety hazard: Light trucks are the type of vehicle most frequently involved with cyclist and pedestrian fatalities, according to federal data. Then there’s the extra air and greenhouse gas pollution that comes from idling at delivery locations and sitting in traffic.
With more Americans shopping online, the number of freight deliveries per person has doubled in the last decade. The delivery trucks that keep restaurants stocked with wine and deliver Amazon Prime packages shouldn’t be singled out as scapegoats for congestion, any more than ride-hailing companies or commuters should. But the city can shift deliveries to less trafficky times of day and streamline daytime deliveries so they create less congestion and pollution. This ought to be at least one solution to Boston traffic woes that’s easy to deliver.