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Crowd-shipping for urban food rescue logistics

Anuj Mittal (Industrial Engineering Technology, School of Engineering, Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)
Nilufer Oran Gibson (Industrial, Manufacturing, and Systems Engineering, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas, USA)
Caroline C. Krejci (Industrial, Manufacturing, and Systems Engineering, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas, USA)
Amy Ann Marusak (Industrial, Manufacturing, and Systems Engineering, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas, USA)

International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

ISSN: 0960-0035

Article publication date: 9 March 2021

Issue publication date: 27 May 2021




The purpose of this research is to gain a better understanding of how a crowd-shipping platform can achieve a critical mass of senders and carrier crowd members to yield network effects that are necessary for the platform to grow and thrive. Specifically, this research studies the participation decisions of both senders and carriers over time and the impacts of the resulting feedback loop on platform growth and performance.


An agent-based model is developed and used to study dynamic behavior and network effects within a simulated crowd-shipping platform. The model allows both carriers and senders to be represented as autonomous, heterogeneous and adaptive agents, whose decisions to participate in the platform impact the participation of other agents over time. Survey data inform the logic governing agent decisions and behaviors.


The feedback loop created by individual sender and carrier agents' participation decisions generates complex and dynamic network effects that are observable at the platform level. Experimental results demonstrate the importance of having sufficient crowd carriers available when the platform is initially launched, as well as ensuring that sender and carrier participation remains balanced as the platform grows over time.

Research limitations/implications

The model successfully demonstrates the power of agent-based modeling (ABM) in analyzing network effects in crowd-shipping systems. However, the model has not yet been fully validated with data from a real-world crowd-shipping platform. Furthermore, the model's geographic scope is limited to a single census tract. Platform behavior will likely differ across geographic regions, with varying demographics and sender/carrier density.

Practical implications

The modeling approach can be used to provide the manager of a volunteer-based crowd-shipping program for food rescue with insights on how to achieve a critical mass of participants, with an appropriate balance between the number of restaurant food donation delivery requests and the number of crowd-shippers available and willing to make those deliveries.

Social implications

This research can help a crowd-shipping platform for urban food rescue to grow and become self-sustainable, thereby serving more food-insecure people.


The model represents both senders and the carrier crowd as autonomous, heterogeneous and adaptive agents, such that network effects resulting from their interactions can emerge and be observed over time. The model was designed to study a volunteer crowd-shipping platform for food rescue, with participant motivations driven by personal values and social factors, rather than monetary incentives.



Mittal, A., Oran Gibson, N., Krejci, C.C. and Marusak, A.A. (2021), "Crowd-shipping for urban food rescue logistics", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 51 No. 5, pp. 486-507.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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