Workers who have their online shopping delivered to their offices are creating a new wave of congestion in London, with calls for convenient “click and collect” hubs to reduce the number of vans on the road.

While HGV numbers remain stable and car use is in decline in the capital, that drop in traffic has been filled by white vans scuttling back and forth to offices with small packages, creating air and noise pollution.

During peak hours, one in five vehicles on the road is a van and Transport for London estimates this will rise by 22% by 2031. Home deliveries exacerbated the problem because often vans have to make more than one journey because no-one is in.

President of The AA Edmund King said office delivery was “very inefficient”.

He told the London Assembly transport committee, which is currently investigating congestion: “Some companies have actually banned it because it is causing congestion in their reception area, let alone on the roads so its something we have to look at – better hubs where you can pick up your stuff – maybe at a Tube station.

A click and collect point at a London Tube station

“During the Olympics TfL did advise all companies to restrict the number of deliveries and many stopped their staff from taking any deliveries at all and that made a difference.”

The growth in office delivery of personal shopping has seen the rise of office-based parcel collection services like Doddle, which has an outlet in Canary Wharf , but transport experts believe the service should be more widespread, as society increasingly switches to online shopping.

Mr King said: “We do have to start looking at hubs where people can go and pick up their stuff at railway stations or Tube stations on their way home. That would be much more efficient than having a fleet of vans with just one small book being delivered to an office in central London.”

The last mile

Dr Rachel Aldred, from the London Cycling Campaign , said: “We’re only just waking up to this. There’s scope for TfL to take a much more active role.

“We also need to remember the potential for ‘last mile’ of delivery made by non-motorising modes, for example ebikes and cargo cycles – a European study showed there was potential to replace 25% of freight trips so that has massive benefits.”

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Other solutions include the consolidation of deliveries to reduce journey numbers and using local shops as general collection hubs.

But Imperial College’s Prof Stephen Glaister issued a word of caution. He said: “Delivery vans are a particular issue but if you go out and look you’ll see this is a lot of commercial vehicles doing their jobs – moving building materials, plumbers – all the life stuff of London and if you impede that you risk damaging the economy of London.”

Car club doubt

Car clubs, once viewed as a means of reducing congestion, could be counterproductive in the longer term, the London Assembly was told.

Transport expert Dr Aruna Sivakunder, from Imperial College , said: “The people who have shifted to car clubs are people who are not necessarily drivers, a good number are those who use public transport, and in that sense it’s not improving the congestion problem.

“If this starts shifting the attitude to less car ownership then in the long term you may see some benefit but there’s a lot of research that’s showing that young people are naturally less likely to own cars. So car clubs could be encouraging these people to start driving.

“I’m not convinced the argument for car clubs in reducing congestion is sound.”