In a six-month pilot program, tests will begin with each of the companies running two cargo bikes with electric pedal assist. However, UPS alone operates 6,400 trucks in New York City, meaning far more bikes must be deployed to have any significant impact. Many other countries are already testing similar systems, and New York can learn a lot from those during this pilot, before deciding on how to scale the service.
Anyhow, converting parts of the current delivery service from trucks to cargo bikes could have immense positive effects, both economically and environmentally for companies like UPS and DHL, especially in congested urban areas where parking is difficult due to dense traffic (New York City being a perfect example).
Today, delivery is generally made by trucks carrying packages back and forth from large loading centers on the outskirts of cities. However, as our cities get more crowded and e-commerce continues to grow, business as usual will become even more unsustainable than it already is. And yes, one step is to utilize electric trucks instead, for environmental sustainability, but even then, cargo bikes are far more efficient. The idea is to instead establish several “microhub” locations, strategically spread across the city where last-mile deliveries using cargo bikes who navigate more easily and cause less congestion makes sense. However, freeing up central locations available for microhubs requires good collaboration with the city.
Regarding economics, a partial transition to cargo bikes could save a LOT of money that is currently consumed by parking tickets, at least in New York City. Last year, delivery companies FedEx, UPS, FreshDirect and Peapod had a combined parking ticket cost of $27 million!
Peter Harris, director of sustainability for UPS Europe, emphasize that cargo bikes won’t be the full solution, but they are definitely an important contributor to sustainable urban deliveries. We need to learn “[…] how to optimize that combination in a way that minimizes the cost of deployment, because that maximizes the rate at which we can bring things to scale”.
We have the tools available for transforming our current recipe for urban deliveries. It’s just a matter of thinking about how to combine those tools into efficient systems. And I agree with the article, cargo bikes and other solutions are not enough themselves, city authorities need to help out. Imagine a future scenario where each city has a bunch of microhubs, shared by delivery companies like UPS, DHL, Amazon and FedEx, all operated by swarms of small, efficient cargo bikes that can utilize bike lanes instead of taking up road space. And about that, the New York biking infrastructure is still insufficient compared to cities like Copenhagen. Continued efforts from the New York City authorities are needed to enable a transition to cargo bike deliveries, and biking in general of course.
Written by Hampus Alfredsson, RISE Viktoria.