Smart Freight Centre studies how to improve flow of goods

From take-out pizza to online shopping – which nearly doubled in Canada this year – the use of home delivery has greatly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Matt Roorda, a professor in the University of Toronto’s department of civil and mineral engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, says what happens between clicking “add to cart” and picking up a package on the doorstep is a complex process – and one that could benefit from fresh ideas.

“Our whole economy and way of life depend on freight transportation,” Roorda says. “COVID-19 has highlighted some key issues, but the need for innovation was clear before the pandemic and will continue after it’s over.”

Roorda chairs the Smart Freight Centre (SFC), a centre of excellence for goods movement. SFC is a collaborative network established in 2019 by the Region of Peel, McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business, York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering and the U of T Transportation Research Institute (UTTRI).

“Approximately $1.8 billon [worth of] goods move through Peel on daily basis, accounting for 43 per cent of jobs in Peel Region,” says Peel Regional Chair Nando Iannicca. “But with strong growth pressures and the current pandemic situation, businesses are becoming increasingly challenged and need even greater support. This partnership is key to helping us find innovative solutions for safe and efficient movement of goods and ultimately creating more jobs for Canadians.”

This fall, SFC received an Alliance Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council to fund a new research initiative called City Logistics for the Urban Economy, or CLUE. More than $3 million in NSERC funding is matched by contributions from the institutions and partner organizations for a total of over $11 million in direct and in-kind support.

“Goods movement hasn’t been studied as extensively as people movement, but interest is growing as it becomes clear just how much we rely on an efficient goods movement system,” says Judy Farvolden, executive director of UTTRI. “CLUE addresses issues of significance to Canadians and this collaboration of public and industry partners further strengthens our chances of success.”

by Tyler Irving

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