City Logistics Mobile Depot of TNT Express in Brussels, Belgium

Context of Transport Climate Action

As most large European cities, Brussels is a congested city in terms of traffic jams. This hampers urban deliveries as these are usually carried out by vans or small trucks. The combination of diesel vehicles and a congested urban area makes urban deliveries environmentally unfriendly, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and for other pollutants such as NOx and PM10. Furthermore, having to deal with busy traffic and congestion makes it expensive for the transport operator to keep the inner-city deliveries and pick-ups reliable and fast.

TNT Express, a global express parcel service provider, in association with Vrije Universiteit Brussel, tested a new concept that could be cost-efficient, less hindered by traffic and congestion and be emission free: the Mobile Depot (MD). It consists of a trailer fitted with a loading dock and warehousing facilities that can be used to take the inner-city deliveries from a depot outside the city to a central parking location. From there, the final deliveries are carried out by dispatch riders on electrically driven tricycles and by small electric cars.


TNT Express tested the Mobile Depot (MD) for a period of three months, June to August 2013, for their pick-ups and deliveries in a part of the city-center of Brussels. The chosen area of just over 12 square kilometres is densely populated and highly urbanized. Therefore, there is a relatively high density of small shipments to collect and deliver. The loaded MD was delivered to the Parc du Cinquantenaire (a central location) at around 9.15 am. From there, the deliveries and pick-ups were, carried out by four (depending on the volume of that day) dispatch riders on electrically assisted “cyclocargos”. During the twelve weeks that the MD was tested, 1,292 pick-ups and 5,286 deliveries were performed and 4,534 cyclocargo kilometres and 2,544 truck kilometres were driven.



As part of the pilot project, which was part of the FP7 project Straightsol, the mobile depot was developed as well as a new operational process for pick-up and delivery in Brussels city center. The new operational process was closely coordinated with different stakeholders, such as third party transport providers. A challenging part of the preparation phase was finding the right location for the mobile depot (size, accessibility and access to electricity).

As part of the pilot period, the whole operational process was tested from start to end, including transport from and to TNT’s depot at Brussels airport (Brucargo). Alternative ways of sorting the parcels was also included in the pilot. This involved either sorting at Brucargo or sorting at the mobile depot in Brussels city centre.

Based on the results of the pilot, TNT will further develop the concept as part of Citylab, a project under the Horizon 2020 programme. Main focus point of the follow up project is to make the project more (financially) sustainable, by making the concept more lean. This can be done for example by increasing the used capacity of the trailer, using a trailer with less features or partnering with a supplier that is already operating electric vehicles.


  • Considerable reduction of greenhouse gasses (estimated reduction of23%) and pollutant emissions (over 50%) as the delivery cargo cycles were practically emission-free.
  • Increase in operating costs: deliveries and pick‐ups through the mobile depot are twice as expensive compared to the initial situation with vans. Decreasing costs by making the concept more lean and increase the used capacity of the depot are focus points of the follow up project.

Potential for scaling up

The mobile depot concept can aid in reducing emissions in city centers. Most cities should have suitable drop densities and freight profiles, especially those with historic city centres. The concept will be further developed to make the concept sustainable on all fronts (both environmentally and financially).

In a wider roll out of the concept, cooperation of the city authorities is required, since it is vitally important to secure a good location for the Mobile depot..

Selected references



Belgium, Brussels






Belguim, Mitigation, Freight, Technology, Partnerships


TNT Express, Vrije Universiteit Brussel


Dominique Mamcarz

“For TNT the Brussels pilot was important to test a new concept in a real life environment. The case enabled TNT to understand the impact of the concept on service, operations and emissions.”
-Dominique Mamcarz
Global Manager Environment
Network Operations