Eighty-five percent of the goods arriving in Le Havre by sea are then transported by road to Rouen and the Paris region. In comparison, a river barge can transport 5,000 tonnes of goods, or as much as 250 trucks.

With the growth of e-commerce, which puts ever-increasing pressure on urban areas, river transport is increasingly presenting itself as an ecological alternative to traditional logistics. Low in pollution, it consumes five times less fuel than road transport and emits 2.5 times less CO2 per tonne transported.

It also offers considerable logistical advantages for urban metabolism. Reliable and secure, it has the ability to serve the densest cities without suffering from road congestion, even greatly contributing to reducing it.

Developing urban river and carbon-free logistics on the Seine

With this in mind, the Greater Paris Metropolitan Area, the City of Paris, the Rouen-Normandy Metropolitan Area, Le Havre-Seine Metropolitan Area, Haropa Port and Voies Navigables de France launched a call for expressions of interest in April 2022 to develop urban river and carbon-free logistics on the Seine, as an alternative to road transport, and to identify the players who promote innovative carbon-free last-mile delivery solutions.The Seine has considerable potential: it is estimated that the river could accommodate up to four times more freight traffic than at present. The Seine valley serves a consumption basin of 25 million inhabitants. In 2020, nearly 22 million tonnes of goods were loaded at ports in the Ile de France/Paris region, with nearly one million truck journeys being avoided (the equivalent of 16,000 km of heavy goods vehicles end to end), while improving the reliability of deliveries.

The 21 winners of the call for expressions of interest were announced in October 2022

Among the winners were 13 businesses: Coalis (transport of goods by river); Fludis (carbon-free solution for urban logistics with a warehouse boat); Ikea (furniture and home improvement firm); TOWT (French TransOceanic Wind Transport); Transport Duboc; Société Fluviale de Logistique; Greenriver Cruises (private cruises in Paris); Beerlink (dedicated solution for supplying beer in tanks for bars and festivals); Urban Logistic Solutions (combined river and electric bikes); Cemex building materials; Port Community of Paris; Comptoir dyonisien (cooperative of grocers, winegrowers and producers) and Amazon Logistics.Furthermore, eight groups were also identified: Urban Logistics Cluster; Fluviofeeder/Douvet Logistics; Sogestran-Véolia-All in Cycling Rouen; Fibois-AREC-Dalkia-Idex-INOENSF2A; Milliet BBC/Diligo/TGW; Providentiel Coquillages-L’Equipage-Love; Your Waste-Dem Terria and Circoé-Neac Industry-Cybleo-Batai-Log.In accordance with the rules relating to the call for expressions of interest, all of these winners will be able to set up on one or more of the 32 sites that can accommodate the candidates’ projects.

Ikea and Franprix already transport their goods daily by the Seine

Since December 14, 2022, Ikea has navigated the Seine, between the ports of Gennevilliers (north-west of Paris) and Bercy, to transport its goods before delivering them to its customers via 12 electric trucks, which cover the last few miles. Ikea therefore intends to serve 455 customers daily by the Seine and to avoid 320,000 km (200,000 miles) by road every year.  Yet the Swedish furniture giant is not the first to use the Seine to reach the heart of the capital. In the last ten years, supermarket chain Franprix has been supplying 300 Parisian stores with dry products every day in this way. From Bonneuil-sur-Marne to the port of La Bourdonnais, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the retail brand loads 42 containers of dry products (preserves, biscuits, water, etc.) onto a barge, which around ten trucks then deliver to 300 stores across Paris and the nearby western suburbs. This amounts to a saving of 420,000 km (260,000 miles) per year by road and 82,600 liters (21,820 gallons) of fuel. In doing so, Franprix claims to save 3,600 trucks on the roads in the Paris/Ile de France region, with a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions compared with conventional road transport.

Fludis, urban delivery for professionals

Another notable example is Fludis, a cycling-logistics business which, since August 2022, has had three electrically powered warehouse boats on the Seine, measuring 38 meters in length, to develop its daily urban delivery offer for professional customers. It combines goods transport in the city center by river, with the final kilometer provided by a fleet of electric cargo bikes. On the outward journey, the barge takes on orders to be delivered from the customer Lyreco, with the return trip taking waste from the customer Paprec, a recycling specialist.Some 1,500 parcels per day are transported in this way, mainly office supplies, with each bike being able to transport between 180 and 250 kilos per round. As soon as the boat docks, the cargo bikes are unloaded by basket and are taken away for delivery. The Fludis barge is equipped with two cranes and a basket, which allow goods to be unloaded easily throughout Paris.The boat also serves as a logistics space. It is used to maintain the fleet of electric cargo bikes, with each delivery person preparing their orders on it during the crossing. The batteries are recharged at night, when the ship is back at the Austerlitz quay, and the boat has a generator if needed.Fludis also defends responsible entrepreneurship: all delivery people are hired on permanent contracts and several of them are former employees of the Carton Plein association, which trains and supports people who find it difficult to find other means of employment. The firm is also a member of the Les Boîtes à Vélo France association, which aims to promote the use of bicycles as the main mode of professional travel.

Multiplying storage spaces

One of the main obstacles to access to river transport is the availability of warehouses near rivers. Haropa Port is working in particular on the Greendock project, a multi-story warehouse to densify storage spaces, without building on too much land. Measuring 800 meters in length and spanning four floors, the warehouse is expected to accommodate up to sixteen businesses at the port of Gennevilliers.