One morning in October, 7:30 am, at the port of l’Embouchure, in Toulouse. While car passages can be counted in a few minutes on the road in the immediate vicinity at this rush hour, the flow on the Canal du Midi is much quieter, although … At the same time, a cargo bike comes meet a flat-bottomed boat parked at the quay and carrying several imposing and refrigerated boxes.
Inside ? Fresh products for grocery stores and restaurants in the Pink City, such as various and varied young shoots and mushrooms from the Grow Deal vertical farm, fresh produce from market gardeners, prepared meals from Bocal en Boucle and containers from Etic Emballages . In short, all the merchandise on this boat comes from the MIN of Toulouse, located in the Fondeyre area. An hour earlier, the transporter loaded all the cargo in Lalande, before the cyclist collects the goods to go to the AppliColis warehouse, located in the Compans-Caffarelli district. The Toulouse cooperative society then ensures delivery over the last mile to its end customers, before 11 a.m.
“Since the beginning of October, we have launched a river freight experiment, in partnership with Voies Navigables de France. We are testing a route with several stops, on Tuesdays and Fridays. But we will also test other days. because we have other clients at the MIN in Toulouse who are interested in other times of the week, ”explains Vincent Monteil, the co-founder of AppliColis, in his deliveryman costume that morning.
The objective of this experiment is multiple and consists above all in drawing up the good and bad points of a potential return of river freight to Toulouse in the near future: the schedules of the lock keepers, the synchronization between the boats and the deliverers of the last mile, the existing infrastructures. and missing, the passage time through the locks of the Canal du Midi. Short, “the idea is to find the business plan for a sustainable river freight line in Toulouse“, continues the leader.
Colocation of boats for shippers
To encourage this type of initiative, VNF finances the additional cost of a delivery by boat combined with the bicycle for which it takes between 500 and 1,000 euros, rather than delivery by classic truck from the Min de Toulouse to the center. city. “80% of the cost of the overall experiment is financed through their PARM, Modal ratio assistance plan“, met Vincent Monteil forward. An interesting support, at the dawn of the establishment of the ZFE in the fourth largest city in France, especially as the transport capacity of AppliColis is far from negligible on the last kilometer.
The 25 salaried deliverers of the future Toulouse cooperative have 17 cargo bikes that are capable of transporting 80 kg or even 300 kg with a dedicated trailer, as is the case in the context of the river freight experiment on the Canal du Midday. Equipment which currently allows it to make nearly 300 deliveries every day in the streets of the Pink City, for a monthly turnover of 30,000 euros. Already in balance, the activity of AppliColis has experienced growth since the start of the health crisis and is currently working on setting up a national network of ethical deliverers in order to pool the cost of certain supported functions.
A mutualisation which is also the common thread of this river freight experiment. At the last stop of the boat, at the Saint-Sauveur port, if AppliColis once again collects fresh products for its customers, it is not the only local player to play a role in this experiment. While the outward journey is mostly for food, the return journey receives a load from both the local company Les Alchimistes and Green Buro.
For the first, it collects unsold, expired and food leftovers from canteens, supermarkets and restaurants in the pink city of 50 local establishments. “We collect two tonnes per day of organic waste“, testifies the delivery man present that day at the end of the morning at the port who has just deposited his load which will take the direction of Fondeyre-Lalande and the composting site. Proof of the full development of this company, in one year the four associates hired four employees because of an activity favored by the legislation encouraged (not to say necessarily) selective sorting and recycling. In a way, Green Buro offers the same service as its roommate in the boat with the difference ” it recovers and recycles paper and cardboard waste from very small businesses and SMEs in Toulouse.We have eight trucks which collect the filled bins in the companies, then we make progress by the Canal du Midi to the port of Lalande, where a college collects them to make the last 500 meters to our treatment center. It is a significant time saving for us and we reduce the carbon footprint of our activity“, explains Gaétan Corbé, a Scop employee with eight employees and 14 integration contracts, who also collects empty bins generated by the boat on the way there.
As part of the ongoing experiment, the boat makes three stops at different points (Credits: Pierrick Merlet).
A FRIEND coming to an end
Although these three local companies transport several hundred kilograms of goods each week by river freight on the Canal du Midi, this is only a foretaste of the potential of this infrastructure classified as World Heritage by Unesco.
“The objective of this experiment is not to make the tonnage but indeed to verify the feasibility of the return of the freight on the Canal and more particularly in Toulouse”, explains Ghislain Frambourt, the deputy director of Voies navigables de France in Toulouse in charge of the file, while other cities are already in tune on the subject.
In July 2020, the city of Strasbourg and VNF selected the company Urban Logistic Solutions. The objective of this was the creation of a river shuttle transporting goods daily from the outskirts of Strasbourg to its city center with the completion of the last few meters by low-polluting modes. In the Strasbourg case, the experiment involves both the transport of goods by penitentiaries and a last kilometer by electric-assisted cargo bike. On the strength of this example, mentioned for many years but never materialized, river freight on the Canal du Midi could well come back up to date in the coming months. In partnership with the Toulouse Métropole community, VNF, the public institution in charge of the management of the building and its maintenance has just launched a call for expressions of interest (AMI) to soon revive such an activity in the Ville stood up.
“The deadline for submitting bids has been set at October 30. We are expecting five to six bids, from shippers () but also from transport companies,” said the manager of VNF, who should receive an offer from AppliColis-Green Buro consortium – Les Alchimistes.
Once the files are submitted, a period of dialogue opens with the interested parties, both to listen to their diverse and varied support needs, but also to take into account the expectations of Toulouse Métropole and VNF in this operation. “If everyone is satisfied, it could go quite quickly with the first experiments launched in a few months.“, judge the representative of VNF.