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  • In cities situated close to waterways, inland navigation is considered increasingly in logistic supply chains. Urban logistics embraces a broad field of freight distribution comprising various interactions such as Business to Business (B2B) or Business to Customer (B2C) and the passenger transport system within urban areas.20 Sustainable urban logistics should enable the flow of goods that enter, leave and circulate in the cities to be transported in the most environmentally friendly and sustainable way.
  • IWT in urban logistics has found more interest in the last decade, thanks to initiatives for more sustainable urban logistics coming from the public side (cities), and from companies active in the retail or construction sector with logistical activities in cities. However, it is still far below its reasonable potential.21 This report will give an insight into both already operational projects and pilot or research projects. It distinguishes between urban passenger transport and urban freight transport.



  • Urban passenger transport using waterways can be divided into public transport services for commuter traffic and touristic transport. There is of course a certain overlap between these two categories. Within this report, the focus will be on public transport services. For touristic transport a number of examples in cities (e.g. Amsterdam, Paris, Hamburg, etc.) exist, but this is not a new market. However, public transport by inland vessel in large agglomerations is an activity that, although not entirely new, was largely abandoned over a long time. This is the reason why it is integrated in this report as a new market.


    • The canal shuttle Waterbus navigates between Brussels and Vilvoorde, an approximate distance of 10 kilometres on the Zenne canal. It brings commuters, other passengers and tourists on a daily basis from remote locations to the city centre of Brussels. In only less than an hour, with a speed of 12-14 km/h on average,23 the shuttle travels from Vilvoorde Centrum, Park Dire Fonteinen, Cruise Terminal, Quai de Heembeek, Pont van Braet, Quai de Peniches, all the way to Sainctelette. The stops accessed via other public transport modes or by car have free parking places.
    • Waterbus illustrates an extension of the public transportation system in Brussels allowing to reach out to remote areas and interconnecting the city to a better extent. Sub centres are emerging in the different areas to attract citizens. Through Waterbus, incentives to develop sub centres are reinforced.
    • Launched in 2013, the Waterbus project proved its economic viability and its role as a solution to urbanisation challenges such as emissions and high road congestion and related long travel hours. It transports on average 40,000 passengers per year.24
    • A similar project has been implemented in Antwerp known as ‘DeWaterbus’ connecting Antwerp to Lillo and Hemiksem.25 In the Netherlands, a waterbus project has also been implemented connecting the city of Rotterdam better via the waterways.26

      Source: CCNR based on and Open Street Map data



    • The Roboat project aims to develop autonomous sailing on waterways. Roboat is a concept born from the collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Amsterdam Institute of Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS). Besides the main partners, Roboat also enjoys the support of the municipality of Amsterdam, Waternet, Torqeedo, Vetus and Murata.
    • Roboat aims to make use of the existing infrastructure provided by the canals of Amsterdam and is open both for freight and passenger transport. The floating platforms using self-driving technology are in fact versatile, which is a quite unique characteristic. They can be used to transport persons, collect waste, deliver goods, combine to form bridges and performance stages. According to the project’s official website, the use of Roboats as floating dumpsters carrying away waste could serve 70% of the city centre’s needs in terms of waste collection. The project is currently still in a pilot phase. With a duration of five years, the partners began testing the first small scale prototypes in 2017. In the following years, research continued and in 2020, the full-scale prototypes were developed.
    • Concepts such as that of Roboat have the potential to improve passenger and freight transport in cities that are deeply interconnected with inland waterways, especially since it has touched a niche in the city logistics of Amsterdam. However, regulatory obstacles hamper the full implementation. Roboat’s advantage is that its headquarters are located directly on the Amsterdam waterway, allowing them to perform real testing of the vessel on their own ‘private’ waters to allow a better and real testing of the vessel. In general, for autonomous sailing, a boatmaster needs to be on the vessel to be allowed on public waterways.
    • Roboat does not consider freight transport yet, as the necessity of human interaction in this field entails increased labour costs. So far, two business cases have been assessed. The Roboat for passenger transport as a taxi carrying up to five passengers and the second relates to waste collection. Both projects show increased potential. Roboat in future could also be used as an infrastructure component of a passenger bridge for example, in congested areas.

      Source: Roboat Project by MIT and AMS institute



      Source: Adobe Stock, Castel Sant’Angelo and Ponte Sant’Angelo – bridge over the Tiber River, Rome, Italy

    • The city of Rome has shown interest in using the Tiber as a passenger transport infrastructure.
    • This further proves that IWW transport methods are attractive for their unexpressed potential in cities where they are far less developed. Tiber Cat is a project, yet to be implemented, on which architects Paolo Carlodalatri and Fabrizio Vinditti are working. Tiber Cat involves building a fully electric catamaran capable of carrying up to 50 passengers. It would be able to navigate with a water level of one metre, and would complement the existing public transport network, differentiating itself from existing tourist boats.
    • The idea is part of plan of the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, in collaboration with the city of Rome, to redevelop the area of the Tiber to make it navigable over a 60 km stretch. The use of the catamaran would be the first step towards this long-term goal, allowing navigation on the most navigable stretches of the river (from Prima Porta to Isola Tiberina, a distance of about 10 km). This initial choice would avert the challenge posed by the rapids that characterise the Tiber, improving the chances of success. Constant support from the administration represents the necessary condition for the project to get off the ground.

      Project of the catamaran, source: Professor Paolo Carlodalatri



  • Inland navigation allows for many different types of cargo to be transported in city centres (parcels, food products, cardboard, construction material etc.) and in varying forms (pallets, bulk, barrels, containers and so on). This is demonstrated by the large number of projects (non-exhaustive) presented in this section. For each project, it is specified whether the project is already implemented or whether it is still in the pilot stage (on its path to implementation/ showing potential for sustainable urban logistics solutions).


    • Multimodal parcel delivery in urban areas has rooted on fruitful ground. Projects operating in various cities provide an insight into sustainable transport methods addressing urbanisation challenges.
      Holland’s Glorie – DHL in Amsterdam – implemented project29

    • In Amsterdam, Holland’s Glorie, a retired passenger ferry, found its passengers replaced by parcels. Since 2017 Holland’s Glorie has been operating using three modes of transport, inter alia electric trucks, a vessel and cargo bikes to bring parcels to the city centre of Amsterdam.

      Source: DHL




    • The ferry navigates twice a day from its base towards the city centre. Figure 1 captures the different steps of the delivery process. Parcels arrive at Schiphol airport and are loaded onto electric trucks which then transport the parcels to the vessel. Once in the vessel, the journey begins on Amsterdam’s waterways, to reach a platform in the city centre (Koningsplein) where cargo bicycles await the parcels to be delivered. In total there are 21 bicycle messengers.
    • The advantages of delivering by bike lie in the efficiency of deliveries by hour. One can reach up to 17 deliveries per hour, whereas by car it amounts to 5 or 6 deliveries. The reasons for this are set in the narrow streets of Amsterdam’s city centre, where traffic, many bikes, motor bikes and almost no available parking places slow down the delivery process.
      ULS in Strasbourg30 – implemented project

    • Another promising and operational example of successful parcel delivery using waterways is Urban Logistic Solutions (ULS) in Strasbourg. With a rental vessel from VNF, parcels are transported from the north area of the Port of Strasbourg (Quai du Bassin des Remparts, where the warehouse is situated) to a platform located in the city centre (Quai des Pêcheurs),31 a distance of approximately five kilometres. The parcels are packed into container-like boxes, and are thereby protected from all kinds of weather conditions and from being lost.
    • Once arrived in the city centre, 15 available cargo bikes deliver the parcels to the final recipient in the city centre area. For the time being the vessel carries out one rotation per day but shows increasing potential in the near future. In fact, plans to invest in a larger vessel running on alternative fuel are under preparation.
    • A mobile crane on the platform helps transfer the loads from the vessel onto the cargo bikes. According to Thomas Castan, Director of ULS Strasbourg, cranes on the berths handle goods more efficiently and allows a better quality of transport service. In addition, an integrated crane on the boat would come with additional maintenance costs.
    • As well as parcel delivery, ULS transports different kinds of goods and recycles used cardboard boxes on its vessel. The capacity of the vessel amounts to 680 palettes which amount to 180 kg each. It yields a total capacity of 122 tonnes and has a width of 3.06 metres.
    • Source: Le Monde /Frederick Florin


    • In addition to the environmental and efficiency reasons fostering the use of IWT in this segment, the market of parcel delivery is also booming due to increasing online trading. Hence there is potential to expand, especially as regards last mile deliveries and usage of inland waterways. During the interview, the impact of public policy actions was also highlighted. For instance, possible changes in the access routes or possible access restrictions for trucks to the city centre could encourage some economic actors into looking for alternative transport modes, including IWT.
      Fludis in Paris – implemented project32


      Source : Fludis


    • Created in 2016, Fludis is a new player in urban logistics. As it is fully electric, it provides competitive and decarbonised solutions for major players in transport, logistics and trade, handling the overall provision of the first and last kilometre. The aim is to avoid costly stock-outs in the warehouse. The company employs 11 people, including eight cyclists.
    • Fludis operates as follows: a semi-trailer truck transports the goods directly to the boat and the bikes deliver to the final customer:
      – for the outbound journey, Fludis delivers for the company Lyreco in several districts of Paris every day;
      – for the return journey, it collects electronic waste from Paprec.
    • The boat makes several stops in Paris depending on the delivery addresses. Each day, approximately 700 kg of goods are delivered. The sailing time is valued by working onboard (preparation of the packages on board: breaking down the pallets and reconstituting the loads).
    • Despite the advantageous position of the Seine, outstanding issues remain which could impact the viability of the project. The berths available for urban logistics in Paris are multi-purpose berths and can be used for 15 minutes only. However, this is not adapted to the specific demands of urban river logistics, as Fludis deliveries require a two-hour stay at the berth to accomplish the different deliveries. To make this possible, an adaptation of the current contractual model with Haropa, the port company managing the infrastructures of the Port of Paris, would be needed.
    • Fludis has to pay high dock dues compared to trucks which can circulate in Paris freely without having to pay any kind of tax. This affects its competitive position compared to other transport modes. Eventually, political and economic decision-making should have an impact on the development of urban river logistics, whether negatively (i.e. limited use of berths for transshipment operations) or positively (setting up of incentives for the use of IWT solutions in urban areas).



      Beerboat in Utrecht – implemented project33

    • In the historic city centre of Utrecht, the damage done by heavy duty vehicles is an ongoing concern. In 1996, the waterways came into spotlight for the delivery of various goods to the city center, more specifically to establishments located near the canals of Utrecht.
    • The municipality of Utrecht introduced a more innovative and economically viable way of freight transport using the waterways, the B2B beer boat. This concept is considered as an efficient last mile operation for the delivery of beer from four breweries and food products from one catering company to 65 bars and other establishments in Utrecht. It should be noted that this project benefitted from government subsidies.
    • By 2010, the beer boat was updated to a zero-emission electric boat thus addressing the further urbanisation issue of high emissions. Given its economic viability in the transport of food products and beverages, another electric zero emission vessel was introduced in 2012 transporting also other goods segments such as waste. The loading capacity of the electric beer boat, which is 18 metres in length and two metres in width, amounts to 18 tonnes of cargo or an equivalent of 40-48 containers.
    • Source: City of Utrecht


    • Overall, the concept has successfully contributed to a better air quality, noise reduction, less road occupancy and less road congestion. It has made accessibility to the city centers easier and more comfortable.34 According to a beer boat fact sheet, the boat has contributed to a yearly reduction of emissions of 17 tonnes of CO2, NOx by 35 kg and PM10 by 2kg.
      Franprix in Paris – implemented project353637

      Source: L’Antenne


    • This urban distribution concept was launched in September 2012 and is based on a multimodal chain combining river and road transport. It is the result of a partnership between XPO Logistics (transport and organisation of the chain), Haropa Ports de Paris (port infrastructure), SCAT (river transport) and Terminaux de Seine (handling). It received the support of Voies Navigables de France and the Ile-de-France region.
    • In two Franprix warehouses, approximately 20 km south of the Paris city centre, 50 containers filled with grocery goods are loaded onto inland vessels each day. The convoy leaves the warehouses at the end of the day in order to pass through two locks on the Marne before 8.30 pm. It arrives in the evening at the Port of La Bourdonnais, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, and stays there until 5.30 am, when the first handling operations begin. The containers are then transported by truck in order to be delivered to 300 Parisian shops.
    • According to Franprix, the system saves 450,000 kilometres of travel by road per year, the equivalent of almost 13,000 laps of the Paris ring road, 3,800 fewer lorries on the road and almost 250 tonnes of CO2 saved.
      Bioboot in Ghent – implemented project38

    • Fertile fields close to the banks of the Leie allow waterways to be integrated into the supply chain. Indeed, crops can be brought by a vessel, directly from the production site, into the city centre of Ghent. The vessel has an electric sail using solar energy from its starting point Goedinge along the Leie all the way to the Ghent city centre (approximately 8 km). The investment into the vessel was supported by subsidies, thereby reducing the investment costs to be mobilised by the Goedinge farm. Operational costs for the vessel are reported to be low. The project leaders reported to be positive about the long-term viability of the project. Once the fresh vegetables arrive in the city centre the last mile to the final recipient is concluded with bicycle trailers or the vegetables can be picked up directly at the berth. The boat sails once a week with the vegetables.
    • The interesting aspect of this project is the network of organic farmers. Consumers register on the platform by paying an annual share of the harvest. Three different vegetable packages can then be collected. The packages differ in the number and size of vegetables included.


      Package TypeAnnual FeeWeekly fee
      Small (5 vegetable portions)410€10.25€
      Medium (5 large vegetable portions)620€15.5€
      Large (7 vegetable portions)810€20.25€


    • The project supports local farmers in guaranteeing a number of predefined customers.
    • However, a number of factors regarding its economic viability remain open. The sailing of the boat and its size do not necessary allow scale effects to be present, and this factor consequently creates upward pressure on prices charged to the end consumer. In a greener set-up, such higher prices might be borne by the end consumer in the form of an add-up factor on the competitive price.
    • Source: SmartShip – eu39



      A-Swarm in Berlin – pilot project

      Source: University of Rostock, Institute for automation engineering


    • The city of Berlin and its surrounding area possesses a dense inland waterway network, with the rivers Spree and Havel, and numerous canals. The capacity offered by this network for cargo transport is tremendous, but currently massively underutilised. The A-Swarm project aims to fill this gap by developing a new city logistics system according to the following main principles:40
      a) Small vessel size: Development of small vessels with a length of 6 to 8 m and a width of 2.5 to 3 m, compatible for small waterways and a fine distribution of unitised cargo (goods are loaded on pallets on the vessels) within cities. The vessels are currently tested in towing tanks as well as in natural test areas.
      b) Flexibility of operation: The system allows changing between two main operation modes, depending on logistical needs: 1) coupled-mode: coupled convoy (‘swarm’ of boats coupled together with a push boat) and 2) decoupled mode: self-propelled vessels operating on their own for a fine distribution of cargo.
      c) Autonomous sailing: All vessels should be autonomous in order to achieve a business case from an economic point of view (no labour costs when sailing).
      d) Automated transshipment: loading and unloading of cargo is carried out via ramps and roll-on/roll-off systems without hoisting cranes (no labour costs including during transshipment).
      e) Electrification: the push boat, as well as the small boats, have electric propulsion, as is the case for the last-mile logistics for which electric trucks and/or bicycles are foreseen.
    • The type of goods that the project partners41 consider to be relevant concern: parcels, food products and beverages for shops and restaurants, waste, unitised cargo (pallets).
    • Automated navigation must be safe and collision free, and the vessels must be capable of ‘understanding’ the topology of waterways, which is more complex than the environment of roads for autonomous trucks or cars. The higher complexity of waterways is due to the additional dimension represented by water depth. Furthermore, water in different areas has different physical properties such as different densities, viscosities, currents or depths, and these variables have an influence on the vessel’s hydrodynamic frictional resistance and fuel consumption. This is a different situation compared to automation in road traffic, where the road surface is more a ‘constant’, rather than a variable such as a fluid like water.
    • An autonomous vessel must distinguish between ducks, human beings and carry out appropriate manoeuvres in each case. Over and above that, a vessel must measure water depth, currents and their variations to determine the optimum speed within a dynamical optimisation algorithm that should be integrated on a single-chip computer in the ship.42
    • Research in automation in inland waterway transport is ongoing, but certain scientists believe that fully autonomous vessels will not become available over the next two years.43 Of course, this also depends on the level of automation and the size of the vessel. Semi-autonomous small vessels might be available and permitted on the market earlier. Larger vessels are less likely to be fully automated, at least such concepts might not become available in the near future.
    • From an economic and logistical point of view, the largest port area in Berlin (Berlin Westhafen) plays an important role as a hub, where goods for the retail sector arrive per railway hinterland transport from the seaport of Hamburg. The fine distribution of these goods to retail shops in Berlin is currently carried out by trucks. With a full implementation of the A-SWARM concept, electrified boats could take over this role, at least partly, in the future. The Amazon company has already shown interest in the project for its parcel distribution.
      AVATAR in Hamburg and Ghent – pilot project

      Source: Adobe Stock, Barkasse auf dem Nikolaifleet in Hamburg, Deutschland

    • AVATAR aims to develop and test innovative and sustainable urban freight transport concepts with autonomous and emission-free vessels in order to achieve a shift from road to waterborne transport in the urban context on the last mile.
    • The project is co-financed by the European Union from the EU Interreg North Sea Region 2014-2020 programme (European Regional Development Fund). The international structure of the project is reflected by the main project partners, from Germany (Logistik Initiative Hamburg, University of Oldenburg), Belgium (University of Leuven, Development Agency East Flanders) and the Netherlands (TU Delft).44
    • The focal points of AVATAR are:
      – development of prototypes of automated / autonomous ship units;
      – development of remote monitoring and control concepts;
      – development of use cases and business cases for deployment in an urban context;
      – analysis of the political and legal framework for the deployment of autonomous ship units in the participating regions;
      – implementation of pilot tests.
    • The project partners consider automation as a necessary tool in order to develop positive business cases for small vessels. This requires electronic tools such as remote-control systems, ship-to-ship communication and programming of fairways. A first step is to develop a small vessel with a loading capacity of 10 tonnes and to carry out pilot tests, possibly in cooperation with the Hamburg Port Authority.45
    • Regarding the potential cargo groups, four groups are identified (waste; parcels and courier; b2b retail logistics; building materials). However, the exact outcome depends on the experiences on the economic viability during the studies and should be determined via a recursive adaptation process. Hereby, vessel technology and business cases interact and are adapted in a recursive way: vessels are designed for specific market segments and tasks, and the experiences from the business case provides feedback for the vessel technology which then needs to be adapted within vessel design.
    • From an infrastructural point of view, the small historical canals or ‘Fleete’46 in Hamburg near the port area, that were used for cargo transport from the Middle Ages until the beginning of the 20th century, are considered as an asset which should be used again.



      Amsterdam Vaart! in Amsterdam – implemented project

      Source: Adobe Stock, Channel in Amsterdam, Netherlands

    • Due to its larger capacities, enabling the transport of large batch sizes, inland waterways can prove to be an effective tool for reducing the number of trips needed to transport construction materials in urban areas. It can also ease congestion in the city, causing an improvement in air quality and reduced pressure on the city’s road network. Moreover, water transport allows for additional storage capacity on the quay, because materials can be left on the vessel until they are processed.47 This is what the Amsterdam Vaart! project has succeeded in demonstrating over the past two years.
    • The project is part of the Smart and Sustainable Mobility programme of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Launched in 2018, Amsterdam Vaart! involved a consortium consisting of the Municipality of Amsterdam, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Waternet and the Port of Amsterdam. The project tested and measured the effects of this modal shift through the consortium’s support of experimentation in nine living labs. The nine construction sites involved provided encouraging lessons on the potential of IWT in this logistics segment. The modal shift to inland waterways resulted in a 37% reduction in CO2 emissions, 1,600 fewer truck trips within the city and 19,700 fewer trips outside the city in 2019.
      Transport of building material in Paris – implemented projects

    • The construction segment on the Seine has performed very well in recent years, as its volume was 36% higher in 2019 than in 2014. In the Ports of Paris, by far the most important segment is that of sands, stones and building materials. In 2015, it represented 68% of total waterside traffic, and this share increased further to 77% in 2017 and to 78% in 2019. Not all of these volumes reflect urban transport, some also reflect long-distance transport, as sands, stones and gravel are transported between the Benelux region and Paris. However, the urban transport projects in the construction segment have shown particular dynamics in recent years in Paris.
    • Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the market experienced a rapid slowdown in March and April 2020, as reported by the Haropa ports, due to the closing of important building sites. However, despite the crisis, IWT showed a certain resilience with a drop of only 3.8% in 2020. The major Parisian construction sites are driving the BTP activity (+12% at the end of November 2020), thus confirming the essential role of river transport in the construction of Greater Paris and the 2024 Olympic Games.
    • Grand Paris Express
      Indeed, the underlying reason for the upward trend in the construction segment on the Seine and in the Port of Paris is the project Grand Paris Express, which foresees the construction of new metro lines in Paris and in the surrounding region of the Île-de-France. As part of the work on the Grand Paris Express, a partnership has been set up between HAROPA – Ports de Paris and the Société du Grand Paris to give priority to the use of waterways for the delivery of sand and building materials for this construction work and evacuation of construction debris from the site. Around 45 million tonnes of sand, building and excavation material are expected to be transported over 15 years under this project. In 2019, one million tonnes of soil were evacuated by inland vessels, which is the equivalent volume of 50,000 loaded trucks.
      To this end, four river transhipment platforms are being built at the following ports, near the tunnel boring machine shafts: Île de Monsieur in Sèvres, Gennevilliers, Aubervilliers and Les Ardoines in Vitry-sur-Seine. The Gennevilliers platform was inaugurated in 2021. This platform will also overlap with the circular economy pillar. In fact, it will receive and recycle concrete from manufacturing processes, unused material from construction sites or resulting from deconstruction. Aggregates resulting from the recycling process will be sold or directly integrated into the production process of ready-to-use concrete for renovations or new constructions. Inland vessels will evacuate, where possible, the remaining non-recycled material.
      The Grand Paris Express is a good example of how IWT presents further opportunities for growth in urban areas, and how public support can foster its development.
      Olympic Games in Paris
      The preparation for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 also represents such a best practice example. In this case, the French waterway administration, the Voies Navigables de France (VNF), involved in the preparation of the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 as the contracting authority for the Olympic works delivery company (SOLIDEO), signed a protocol of commitment with HAROPA ports, SOLIDEO and the Prefect of the Île-de-France Region on 21 January 2020. The aim of this commitment is to promote river logistics in the construction of the Athletes’ Village in Saint-Denis.
      In total, the use of river transport could reach one million tonnes for all the Olympic construction sites along the Seine. VNF has set up a quay dedicated to the evacuation of spoil for the construction sites on the Île-Saint Denis. In total, 250,000 tonnes of spoil have been evacuated by waterway since May 2020 from the VNF and Ports of Paris facilities. In addition, VNF is working to develop partnerships to encourage the use of river transport in the logistics of the Games and for the aftermath.