This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 143.
For the old and young, individuals and businesses, students and tourists, the bikes of the future will unlock the benefits of cycling for all. We look at four ways to travel sustainably.
Adam Jenkins explores the rise of ‘last mile’ cargo bikes
Transporting goods by train or container ship is often the most efficient and cost-effective manner of delivery. However, goods still need to be transported from the station or port to a warehouse, store or home. Typically that would be by truck or van, so as well as the simple delivery costs – driver, vehicle, fuel – there may be extra levies such as congestion charges or low-emission zones in big cities. This final part of the delivery chain normally accounts for over 25% of the total cost. Reducing this cost and increasing efficiency is the so-called ‘last-mile’ problem.
While it seems conventional for vans to be used by businesses for the last mile, it hasn’t always been the case. Butchers’ bikes used to be a common sight in Britain from the 1930s to the 1950s. What goes around comes around, and businesses are trying something new again to cut costs and reduce emissions. Cargo bikes are increasingly being seen as viable alternatives to vans, particularly when electrically-assisted. They have several advantages – lower running costs, no emissions and they can use cycle lanes, so are less affected by congestion.
Zedify has been providing last-mile cargo bike and e-cargo bike deliveries in Cambridge for quite a few years now. Waterland Organics, for example, use them to deliver organic vegetables in and around Cambridge on the day that they’re harvested. Owner Paul Robinson says: ‘Our weekly deliveries into Cambridge used to mean our van would be polluting the city centre for two hours. Now we use e-cargo bikes and this has reduced our fuel use significantly.’ Larger companies are starting to trial cargo bikes and trikes as replacements for their vans too (see box).
There are multiple reasons why we’re seeing more cargo bikes being used for deliveries. With the improvements in electric batteries and motors, electric cargo bikes can now carry more goods for greater distances, making them much more viable than human-power alone. Climate change is having an effect on the public perception of companies, so they are looking to ‘greenify’ their credentials. There is pressure from government to reduce congestion and pollution, which has taken the form of increased taxes for high-polluting vehicles, and companies’ daily costs are also increased by the creation of congestion charging and low emissions zones in big cities.
The Department for Transport recently announced a £2-million fund to increase the business use of e-cargo bikes for deliveries. This money is available to limited companies, sole traders, partnerships, charities and not-for-profit organisations, and allows them a grant of up to 20% of the total cost of an e-cargo bike.
While it’s too early to know what the full impact of the trials and fund will be, it’s probably safe to say that we’re likely to see many more cargo bikes on the roads and cyclepaths of the UK. Let’s hope it leads to less congestion, cleaner air and even more people tempted into replacing a motor vehicle with a cargo bike.
Find out more about grants for e-cargo bikes at tinyurl.com/ecargobikefund
Tell us about the cargo bike you use for your business – we’d love to promote you. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us at our Cargo Carnival – see page 23 and cambridgefestivalofcycling.org
Royal Mail is trialling electric trikes for letter and parcel deliveries in three locations including Cambridge. The trial began in late March and will last for six months. The trikes are powered by a combination of pedal, solar, battery and regenerative-braking technology. They are able to carry letters, cards and the majority of parcels, and are designed for use on roads, highways and some cycle paths. Deliveries on the e-trikes will operate as part of a usual delivery pattern on suitable routes. Once the trial period has ended, Royal Mail will make a decision on whether to roll out the trikes more widely across the UK.
Co-op food delivery
The Co-op is trialling an e-cargo bike delivery service from their King’s Road store in Chelsea to shoppers within a 2.5 mile radius. Because e-bikes can use cycle lanes, they claim the scheme will allow deliveries to be made within two hours of ordering, using a fraction of the energy of a conventional van.
London has added an Ultra Low Emission Zone to its congestion charging area to tackle pollution within the city. Certain cars and vans are charged £12.50 each day if they travel within the zone, with HGVs and coaches being charged £100 per day. With Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals both within the zone, but near a cycle path, they are trialling cycle deliveries of medical supplies. The trial will initially focus on blood products, but will also probably include other samples such as biopsies. It will replace an hourly motorbike or van courier service between the