The last mile: a transportation challenge

“The Last Mile” is a phrase that was popularized by telecommunications companies in the 1970’s. It refers to the operational challenge of getting phone (and now internet) from central hubs to individual homes.

Nowadays, “The Last Mile” problem also applies to healthcare transportation, supply chain management, and e-commerce. This is tricky business - according to Business Insider, 53% of transportation shipping costs go to last mile delivery!  Why? In rural areas, it takes a long time to reach homes that are far away from the main depot. It’s hard to be efficient with routes that don’t necessarily have other stops nearby. In cities, services get bogged down by traffic where going a mile can take forever. Then there’s time spent trying to find parking, never mind safety concerns when vehicles double-park to unload in congested areas.  

Solving the last mile problem is not just beneficial to corporations, it’s also valuable for consumers. As a working mom, I would much rather have my Amazon boxes delivered to my porch than have to drive to a central shipping facility during their business hours.

What are transportation hubs for people?  Railway stations, bus depots and ferry landings are like warehouse depots used in e-commerce.  The last mile problem in civic context is how we get people from these hubs to their work, homes, schools, leisure activities, and so on.

In the healthcare industry, we think about how our patients can use public transportation to get to their appointments. In reality, even if a bus has a stop at a hospital, the patient may not be able to catch that bus close to their home. This is especially problematic when patients live in more remote areas or when cities have limited funds for public transportation programs. It’s also hard for patients with limited mobility when facilities don’t have parking close to the entrance.

The Circulation platform brings together contractors and services to help cover patient needs in rural areas and cities. Our platform creates a network of transportation partners so we can offer door-to-door service to patients who need it. We continue to develop our technology so we can be more efficient and save both our patients and our partners time and money. We are working with our new parent company, Logisticare, to explore ways of integrating our platform with mass transit options. A Circulation rider of the future will be able to take a train from a city to their town, and our vehicle can be waiting at the station to take them the rest of the way home.

How else can the healthcare transportation industry tap into the efficiencies and creative problem-solving modeled by the package delivery industry? Moving patients around with a drone doesn’t sound like a safe option for me. But as self driving vehicles become safer and more accepted, will self driving buses and trains be a thing?  Rather than a driver, perhaps medical personnel will be on board to assess patients and do intake prior to arriving at an appointment. Maybe in certain communities, doctors will be brought to treat patients at hub locations. Autonomous vehicles might allow these doctors to do paperwork, research, or nap while they’re in transit to the next hub. I’m excited to see what innovative improvements we can offer next!  

 Emily is Circulation's Lead Product Manager.