Courier Network Services

Courier network services is a new form of delivery service that uses online applications or platforms to facilitate the delivery of freight. This can either be through a company, or through an individual delivering something (for example if the destination is on their route) and pocketing the fee for delivery. This can increase the efficiency of deliveries, by reducing the number of large vehicles needed, and reducing the number of individual trips needed. These services can be solely for freight, or can combine passenger and goods delivery, to make better use of unused space in vehicles.

• Everyone can be a courier – and often can pocket the fee for delivery.

• Increasing efficiency is particularly important in urban areas – reducing the need for large lorries to enter city centres.

• Apps are already making it easier to connect passengers with empty spaces in vehicles. In the same way, spare capacity can also be used to distribute small loads, possibly saving an entire journey previously required for the goods delivery.

Shaheen et al (2015) define Courier Network Services (CNS) (or ‘flexible goods delivery’) as “for-hire delivery services for monetary compensation using an online application or platform (such as a website or smartphone app) to connect couriers using their personal vehicles, bicycles or scooters with freight”. The emergence of CNS shows that the boundaries between freight and passenger transport are becoming increasingly blurred. Moreover, the problems caused by urban freight delivery have a direct impact on the efficiency of the urban passenger transport system.

Shaheen et al (2015) distinguish between two models:

  • P2P Delivery Services: in this variant, anyone who signs up can use their private vehicle or bicycle to conduct a delivery. This also includes services that connect commuters with individuals seeking couriers. 

Thus, P2P delivery services make use of existing personal vehicles to get items delivered, which reduces the need for a dedicated fleet for delivery services.

Paired On-Demand Passenger Ride and Courier Services: in this variant, existing for-hire ride services conduct package deliveries, either in separate trips or in mixed-purpose trips where a single trip will combine passenger and package delivery. According to Shaheen, all major ridesourcing/TNC operators have expanded their services in this direction.

In Europe, empty runs in freight range from 15% of a trucks km in Denmark to 38% in Greece (McKinnon, 2015). Although there are currently no summary figures on empty runs and load factors in urban areas, the view of the European Commission (EC, 2013) is that “(i)ncreasing the generally poor load factors of existing urban freight vehicles can be a very cost effective way to reduce costs and impacts”

 However, increasing load factors is not a panacea, as (all other things being equal) this is “not possible without driving vehicles out of their way to visit extra stops, which means longer vehicle routes and travel times” (Arvidsson, 2013). 

Creating synergies between private passenger transport and the delivery of small loads could be one approach to improve load factors without increasing vehicle routes and travel times of freight delivery vehicles.

  • Arvidsson, N., The milk run revisited: A load factor paradox with economic and environmental implications for urban freight transport, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Volume 51, May 2013, Pages 56-62, ISSN 0965-8564,
  • European Commission, Brussels, 17.12.2013 COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT. A call to action on urban logistics SWD(2013) 524 final
  • McKinnon, A. (2015), Performance measurement in freight transport: Its contribution to the design, implementation and monitoring of public policy Prepared for the Roundtable on Logistics Development Strategies and their Performance Measurements (9-10-March 2015, Queretaro), International Transport Forum,
  • Shaheen, S., Nelson D.  Chan, & Micheaux, H. (2015b) One-way carsharing’s evolution and operator perspectives from the Americas. Transportation.  May 2015, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 519-536.  First online: 04 April 2015

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