Thursday, August 23, 2007

Alternate Distribution Systems

Pursuant to a discussion-via-comment thread on an affair with urban policy, I'd like to elaborate a bit on my ideas for an alternate goods-distribution system for a city. Before I get started, however, let me review the motivating cause for this idea.

As a transit advocate, I've been endlessly frustrated by Americans' tenacious love of their personal automobiles. This is a common emotion for transit boosters. "Why can't people take a bus!" we cry. Of course, I'm disingenuous--I drive myself to work just like everyone else. But this emphasis on personal transportation made me realize that car-as-people-mover is only one half of the equation. The private automobile is also a goods-mover. That is, people buy things, and then take them home with their cars. Aha! Light bulb moment!

What if there was a distribution system for goods in a metropolitan area? You go to the clothing store (by bus!), buy something, and then leave without it. You leave without it because you paid an extra 1% to have it delivered to your home in the next 24 hours. After you leave, the metro area delivery guys stops by the store for his daily pickup. He picks up perhaps 20 orders, and over the course of the next day delivers those various goods to locations around the area.

The logistics for such a system are not an easy thing. How would package drop-off work securely? How could you ensure that delivered goods weren't stolen?

My apartment building has a rather clever system for package delivery. There are perhaps 100 units in my building. In the mail room, in addition to the 100 mini-mailboxes, there are about a half-dozen fairly large package mailboxes. On any given day, there are perhaps a half-dozen packages delivered to the entire building. Each package is placed in a single large form mailbox. The key to the large form mailbox is placed in the resident's mini-mailbox.

The resident comes home, and opens his mini-mailbox. He takes the "parcel 2" key out of his mini-mailbox and opens the large form mailbox. The key opens the door, but once placed in the lock cannot be removed. The resident takes his package out of the large mailbox and closes it. The mailman swings by later and takes the package keys out of the large mailboxes. Voila! Quite a system!


Blogger lookout said...

Mr. Gross -- here's my question. So I go to the clothing store, and leave without the clothes I just bought. How does it save any resources not to take them home with me? I'm going home anyhow, aren't I?

1:24 AM  
Blogger Arthur Willoughby said...

I think the possible flaw in the system would be comparison-shopping.

My wife and I have considered Simon Delivers, but frankly I don't think I trust some guy in a warehouse to determine which cantaloupe is freshest, which box of breakfast bars wasn't slit open by a wayward box cutter.

Same with clothing. I know what kind of dress shirts I like, for example, and order them online. However, I only chose them after perusing the physical aisles of a bona fide store.

Also, I shop clearance a lot. Getting 75% off retail in exchange for fighting mall traffic is a price I have thus far been willing to pay, and I'm practically a shut-in.

However, I think your system is beginning to work for any number of items. For the second semester in a row I have purchased textbooks for college, online, from a non-U of M source. I saved well over half, including postage, and they were shipped in short order to my front door.

I don't think we'll ever be a car-free society. So long as window shopping is a pastime, we're stuck with what we've got.

10:52 AM  

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