The Travelling Salesman Problem – more on EVs

The Travelling Salesman Problem asks you to figure out the best route between lots of points on a map, given you know the distance between each point.  “Best” is typically taken to mean the shortest route, rather than the most scenic.

With deliveries of online orders ever increasing, it seems likely that, in any given area, a dozen companies – UPS, DPD, DHL, Parcelforce, Yodel as well as Ocado, Tesco, Sainsbury etc – are all grappling with this problem.  In reality I suspect that each driver has a reasonably defined route – the same people are generally placing the orders day to day and week to week – with occasional exceptions that deviate a little from the route.

We’re in a society where “we want it all, we want it now” has become the mantra.  Order online and “get it tomorrow if you order within 1 hour 3 minutes and 16 seconds.”  Or get it this afternoon if you order before 11am.  Or get it in an hour if you live in a certain postcode.

And, at the same time, we want to be greener, cleaner and less polluting; we want less traffic on the roads.  We certainly don’t want more diesel vans racing around the streets of the towns or villages in which we live.

Would you accept a later delivery – perhaps all of your orders in a week come on a given day of the week, at an agreed time (when you, or someone, will be home or when there is access to your “safe place” etc) – if the quid pro quo was that the vehicle was modern and electric?

Would you prefer it if all of the deliveries in your area – be that post code, borough, village etc – were made by a single company, with each company carving out an area of operations that made sense for them, based on their fleet size, investment plan and ability to retain drivers?

With the average life of a diesel van perhaps 10-12 years (a little longer than the life of the average car), it will take time to make the move to Electric Vehicles, but, at the same time, it feels like it could take far too long to make this happen unless we propose, or even impose, some constraints on delivery companies, and on the customers of online sites.

There are, already, some companies that propose “green slots”, that is delivery when they know that they are coming to your area and will be close by, thus reducing the overall mileage.  But what if you had to pay extra for an EV to make the delivery, or pay extra if you didn’t want an EV?  Or you had to wait a few days and got it for free, but paid if you wanted it tomorrow?

I suspect that these are the only ways to, ahem, accelerate the change in vehicle type … along with some consolidation of delivery companies.  The railway franchise model is clearly not a good benchmark, but perhaps there is a way to carve up territories between just 2 or 3 delivery companies – enough for competition but not enough to fill the roads with vehicles?

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