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Negotiating the Barcelona ‘obstacle course’ with A.T. Robles

11 JUNE 2018

Carrying goods from a state-of-the-art warehouse in the Catalan town of Abrera to the narrow, crowded streets of Barcelona, haulier A.T. Robles uses a Scania liquefied gas truck to meet the challenges of past and future in this bustling city.

The daily supply of goods to Barcelona is a daunting logistical exercise that calls for experience, skill and street-smarts. It also requires a highly sophisticated system for transporting goods from modern depots and warehouses outside the city limits to delivery sites downtown. And that is precisely what Spain’s largest food retailer Mercadona has developed, with the help of local haulier A.T. Robles and Scania.

At its state-of-the-art Abrera warehouse, located near Catalonia’s famed Montserrat Mountain, Mercadona is still completing its huge logistics complex. The fully-automated dry goods warehouse alone encompasses an area equivalent to that of ten football pitches. Throughout this enormous space, pallets are stacked bit by bit with minimal human intervention, in preparation for loading at dozens of truck bays.

Five-minute loading window

On this particular Monday morning, A.T. Robles driver José Manuel Carballo pulls up at Abrera with his Scania liquefied gas truck. He must arrive within a strictly enforced five-minute window to offload recycling materials before loading the truck with dry goods at a pre-selected bay. With its entire contents emptied and re-supplied every eight hours, the mammoth logistics complex works like a giant clock, and drivers are expected to be in the right place at the right time.

Once the truck has been emptied, cleaned and reloaded, Carballo embarks on the 40-kilometre journey to the Mercadona supermarket at Carrer del Duero. In contrast to the ample warehouse loading facilities, urban distribution in the metropolitan Barcelona region is a daily challenge. With nearly one million vehicles competing for limited road space, more than 20,000 trucks and twice as many vans are certain to deal with regular traffic issues.

Scania liquefied gas truck is investment for the future

Operating the Scania liquefied gas truck is an investment in the future for A.T. Robles. Barcelona is perhaps less known for its traffic restrictions than the Spanish capital Madrid, but its clean-air objectives are as far-reaching, with an aim to reduce pollution by 30 percent to comply with World Health Organisation standards.

In fact, Barcelona is the first Spanish city to implement an emissions classification system when vehicles enter its city centre. A CCTV system identifies each vehicle’s emissions performance by matching registration plates against the national vehicle registration database.

“The gas truck offers advantages in terms of particle emissions. It gives us access to the city when traffic restrictions are activated and it also provides lower fuel prices,” says Albert Esteve Calderó, A.T. Robles’ owner and managing director.

Traffic makes urban distribution an ‘obstacle course’

Regardless of fuel, trucks must cope with the intense Barcelona traffic. During the morning and evening rush hours, travel takes 50 percent longer, and this figure has been worsening.

“The most important challenges that we have in the urban distribution process are directly related to traffic,” says Esteve Calderó. “We encounter traffic jams, accidents, traffic restrictions… What can I say? Distribution is an obstacle course when we enter the city. Initially, there are hold-ups, buses and, of course, other trucks. Once in the city centre, traffic is dense, with lots of mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians that come from everywhere.”

He is convinced that distribution will only become more challenging in the years to come. “Speculating on developments over the next five to ten years is very risky. Changes happen so quickly that no one can anticipate them. But it’s quite certain that we will move towards more regulations and a wider variety of fuels.”