Smart Loading Zones Program Moves Ahead

smart loading zones Automotus

A smart loading zone (source: Automotus)

A pilot program creating smart loading zones for last-mile deliveries in Pittsburgh is seeing progress in terms of easing congestion from double-parked vehicles, and will expand next to Omaha, with at least four other sites being selected for launch later this year.

Automotus provides $100,000 worth of hardware, software and services, through partnerships and revenue-sharing agreements, so municipalities can launch the smart loading zones program at no cost. The national program is called the Commercial Curb Challenge.

The company is providing hardware, software and services for cities to set up the pilot programs. Sensors from Automotus identify delivery vehicles registered to operate in Pittsburgh’s 20 smart zones, and the operators are automatically billed by the minute based on dwell time. The zones were selected based on a high amount of congestion due to local deliveries from Uber, DoorDash, Amazon and others.

Anil Merchant, head of product at Automotus, said there has been about a 40% reduction in double parking in the past month in the Pittsburgh smart loading zones, adding local businesses are seeing a higher turnover of parking zones. “They seem to be pleased overall with how the pilot is playing out and the outcomes,” Merchant said.

Automotus’ sensors can detect the year, make and model of vehicle, determining if it’s all electric, hybrid or gas-powered. Cities can then incent fleet electrification by adjusting the fee structure, charging more for gas vehicles, or allowing for more dwell time.

Cities that applied for the program listed out their pain points, what they hope to accomplish, and what kind of infrastructure is in place to support the sensor technology. The deadline is May 31.

Separately, Automotus is part of a team awarded a $4 million Department of Energy grant in 2021 to explore ways to reduce curbside congestion and emissions. This program will support further deployment of zero-emission delivery zones. In Pittsburgh, for example, the DOE grant money will support a second phase of the program focused on EV services in the smart zones.

Automotus is working on zero-emission, EV-only delivery zones through first-in-the-nation pilot programs in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, CA. Separately, URB-E has launched a zero-emission delivery service in the Santa Monica zone.