SubEx: Moving Small Package Freight Through City Subways, Not Streets

LOCATION: New York City, USA

SUMMARY: Sub-Ex is a start-up. Our timing is opportune as transit officials seek sustainability options generating creative revenues for fiscally-challenged cities like New York.

Over the next three years, SubEx would enter into conditional arrangements to establish four revenue streams:
• Courier services convenience fees for completing their package’s delivery (the “last mile”), to be recouped at a profit when eco-aware customers select SubEx services as their package’s route on the courier’s online shipping label generator.
• Corporate purchases of “carbon offsets” from SubEx, so as to further reduce their urban carbon footprints.
• Transit authorities annual fees for SubEx providing services at peak commuter hours to disabled persons on dual-use elevators at interchange stations, thereby enhancing equal access compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates.
• SubEx advertising revenues from its website, cargo train exteriors, delivery labels, hybrid and bicycle delivery vehicles and other infrastructure.

We would use the Challenge’s $100,000 prize to create a three-dimensional model of New York City’s transit system with and without SubEx in place, and estimating the savings in traffic congestion, carbon footprint, urban air quality and other benefits. The model would also estimate and “stress test” the subway and bus systems’ potential for delaying small package freight or passenger average trip times, so as to iterate improvements in the hardware and software for SubEx.

Transportation is a mix of “modes”: street and highway, rail, air, water, bicycle, pedestrian and even Web. Preconceptions of modal “ridership” (i) focus myopically on how to “green” cars and (ii) obscure smart inter-modal innovations. Politically-fixed circles of lethargic government transportation funding favor vehicular traffic over rail service. Greener “trips” for small packages and people are synergistically profitable. We would use SubEx’s computer model to attract investment in greener small package freight service.

PROBLEM SPACE: Major cities’ subway systems move people efficiently through central business districts – why not freight? Starting in NYC, a pooled service would push surface small package freight underground into under-utilized subways and commuter buses.

SubEx Freight Systems (SubEx) would operate franchises, as public-private partnerships with local transit authorities, for the major courier services. We complete “the last mile” of urban small package freight delivery cheaply and ecologically. SubEx leverages subway capacity idling between peak rush hours. Tracks, stations, fiber optic and other subsurface infrastructure already exist. When fitted for small package freight services, subway systems evolve to organically grow congestion mitigation capacity.

SubEx’s design includes:
• A smart cargo railcar attached to the back of commuter subway trains and operating at convenient times of day (i.e. so as to conserve short platform “dwell times” during peak morning and evening rush hours),
• Containers for commuter bus holds to transport small package freight,
• At interchange stations (i.e. where subway lines converge), dual-use (freight and passenger) elevators that travel from subway platform levels up to the street surface,
• Interfaces with the major courier services’ tracking systems that recognize and preserve each package’s bar code, report its real-time location along SubEx routes and confirm its ultimate delivery time and recipient back to the courier,
• A fleet of eco-friendly hybrid vehicles and bicycles to transport each package from subway interchange stations to its intended recipient, and
• A sensor network to assure that packages and personnel carried by SubEx are free of threats to subways and buses

Cities are the legacy of land use choices, and once teemed with freight delivery options. Riverfront neighborhoods housed shipping wharves, ferry docks and freight rails. Over time, freight districts converted to luxury residential housing, commercial offices, shopping malls and sports complexes. Now, they exacerbate the freight congestion they originally mitigated. Last century, fossil fuel politics ignored viable options. Underground freight was proposed in 1908. Gigantic Plan to Relieve Street Congestion, New York Times October 4, 1908.

Bulging cleantech venture funds and the new politics of urban sustainability offer support for retooling old options, into SubEx.

• Comprehensive - SubEx leverages existing rail and bus mass transit passenger systems to add new revenues, improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and retrofit elevators for speedy freight and handicapped access.
• Anticipatory – In urbanizing regions, SubEx mitigates the transportation needs of city dwellers who increasingly order goods online for local delivery.
• Ecological - SubEx removes urban dependence on fossil-fueled delivery vans, reduces traffic congestion and improves rail transit for city neighborhoods.
• Feasibility - SubEx is a trimtab for transit infrastructure. As the last car on a daily commuter’s subway or as the cargo in the holds of empty commuter buses, SubEx makes today’s freight delivery services eco-friendly economically.
• Verifiable - SubEx’s impact is quantifiable: Our bar-coded packages map smaller carbon footprints, as compared to delivery by normal trucks/vans.
• Replicable - As an island where density demands functionality, Manhattan is a perfect setting for scaling SubEx.

CONTACT: [email protected]