Freight and the Electric Grid— New Lessons From Old Stories

The Storm

In the winter of 1888, a blizzard blanketed New York City in multiple feet of snow. The city came to a standstill as its world class infrastructure seized. In the days that followed, the New York Times wrote,

“Before the fury of the great blizzard they all went down, whether propelled by steam or electricity. The elevated trains became useless; so did the telegraph wires, the telephone wires, the wires for conveying the electric lights, the wires for giving the alarms of fire.”

While poles were fine when the city was sparsely populated and the stakes low, New York City was then a bustling metropolitan — businesses depended on telegraph and power lines for their everyday tasks. The original system was no longer good enough. The blizzard made it obvious that if the city were to thrive, it would need to rethink how its critical infrastructure could be better. This would involve a bold change — moving all the electric cables from poles, to beneath the streets.

“As speedily as possible constructed and that all the electric wires — telegraph, telephone, fire alarms, and illuminating — must be put underground without any delay.”

Power Today

Today, businesses in New York City don’t worry about electricity. The underground electric grid hums along 24 hours a day, 365 days a year providing electricity to 3.4 million customers with few interruptions.

Imagine if the city that never sleeps had flickering billboards in Times Square or outages during trading hours on Wall Street. The decision to put the electric grid underground laid the cornerstone for the next 100 years of growth in NYC; businesses here enjoy the freedom to grow unencumbered by critical infrastructure woes. All thanks to the people who saw an urgent problem, and made a big change to fix it.

A New Storm

The success of cities has begat more success, driving increasing urbanization all across the world. Cities are growing at an unprecedented rate- putting new pressure on critical infrastructure. Now it is New York’s freight system that is beginning to buckle.




Since the days of the railroads, trucks have become the dominant mode of freight transportation in the country. They carry over 90% of it in New York City and haven’t changed much since their inception. These dinosaurs are dangerous, and contribute greatly to noise, congestion and pollution. While this system has hobbled along for decades, new expectations of reliability, performance, and quality of life are taking hold.

As fundamental as electricity, reliable freight transportation plays a greater role in the success of businesses now more than ever. Human-driven fleets are already behind and show little hope of improving. Unreliable just in time shipments hurt retailers with little space dedicated to storage. Precise tracking and modern integrations are desperately needed, connections with which businesses can streamline their operations. At the same time, citizens demand cleaner and quieter trucks that will stop endangering their streets. Once again, the city needs something better.


Stocker’s Autonomous Freighter Concept — a purpose built vehicle for city freight.

This is why Stocker is building an autonomous freight service, starting with New York City. By 2045, there will be a 58% increase in freight volume- up to 312 million tons moving through the NYC area. 9 out of 10 tons are still going to be delivered by trucks. Like the poles holding up electric cables in 1888, the trucking system of today is a relic of a simpler time, and a less demanding environment.

An update to the 100 year old approach is needed if the city is to continue thriving. Stocker is meeting these challenges by developing autonomous vehicles designed specifically for a freight service in cities, with modern features businesses need.

Our mission is to be like the electric grid, humming quietly along 24 hours day, 365 days a year while providing a dependable piece of infrastructure that supports the growth cities and businesses for decades to come.

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