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16 June 2017 | Daniel Gross | Slate
The global logistics system is really fantastic at moving immense amounts of goods over long distances to and from distribution points around the world: We can load up a ship with a huge number of containers, transfer them efficiently to trucks and railroads, and store their contents at high-tech distribution centers. But it’s that last mile—bridging that final small distance from distribution hubs to individual customers—that’s a challenge. Especially to those in the business of delivering fresh goods, which can’t simply be left to rot on customers’ doorsteps while they’re at work.
Given the way most Americans live—in single-family homes, often with significant amounts of space between them—it takes a lot of resources, labor, and customer time to complete the final mile of a delivery marathon. Distributions gets progressively more challenging, and less efficient, the closer you get to the customer and the more individualized the service is. It’s hard to get economies of scale. In my small cul-de-sac in suburban Connecticut, I can watch a series of delivery trucks (from the Postal Service, UPS, Federal Express) roll through over the course of the day, often delivering only a single package to a single home. And as they go about their rounds, delivery people have to grapple with traffic, accidents, the need to fuel up, and roadwork. (Of course, drones could solve some of this problem, which is why e-commerce companies, including Amazon, are experimenting with airborne delivery.)