How fleets of cargo delivery bikes are making the last mile greener
Large and small businesses alike are putting their couriers on bicycles to deliver items more quickly — and it's far better for the planet.
“Edinburgh is hilly and steep, with a medieval-era Old Town. It's hardly cut out for delivery trucks — and then you add in the teeming crowds of tourists and the busyness of the city, you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to traffic and congestion. That's where our e-cargo bikes come in," explains Alex Fitzhowle, one of the co-founders of Farr Out Deliveries, a company that delivers goods from bread to cake and beer, to important documents and bulk orders of coffee to businesses — all on the humble bike.
While cycling itself doesn't produce CO2, producing the food needed to fuel cyclists does. But, as this graphic suggests, it's not comparable to the CO2 emitted by ICEs.
Pre-pandemic, Alex was found organizing events in the food industry. But when COVID-19 kicked in, these events ground to a halt. Looking for a new career that could be sustained during the pandemic, Alex and his business partners David Squire and Frazer Martin came up with the genius idea of starting an e-cargo bike delivery company. Two years on, the company is booming and delivering goods from 150 different businesses across the city, which is a bustling, tourist hotspot of windy streets — and therefore perfect for traffic jams, which the bikes can dodge — as Europe catches the cargo bike bug.
“We have a fleet of eight e-cargo bikes at the moment, but we will be expanding on that in the next year," Alex tells HERE360. “It's a good business model for us. Our delivery people, who use location navigation technology to find the quickest route with the least traffic, also get the health benefits of cycling.
"We don't have to pay for fuel — besides changing the bikes' lithium batteries once every ten years or so. And it's better for the planet, not just because the bike doesn't put out emissions but also because the carbon footprint of building a bike is negligible, compared to a truck or car. Our bikes take up less space in the city and can go door-to-door, whereas a truck will block a whole pavement and often get parking tickets."
Using location technology like HERE Map Content and navigation, businesses like Alex's can manage efficient, environmentally sound journeys and cleaner last-mile deliveries. It's everyone's goal: to make cities as close to carbon-neutral as possible. Carbon-neutral, however, doesn't necessarily mean zero CO2 emissions. It means balancing the amount of CO2 contributed via transportation and manufacturing processes with the amount of CO2 that can be negated.
Farr Out deliver for over 50 local businesses in Edinburgh. Image credit: Calum Gundry.
Deliveries for online shopping and groceries boomed during the pandemic and there's been an increase in traffic and pollution as a result, with a report from the World Economic Forum finding that, without intervention, carbon emissions from delivery vehicles globally will rise by 32% by 2030.
With food items often being requiring a same-day delivery to maintain freshness, that's even more congestion on the roads. This is where cargo bikes can really come in handy — a report by UK-based climate charity Possible found that cargo bikes can deliver 60% faster than trucks there's no refueling needed — just an enthusiastic courier.
Within Europe, sales of cargo bikes went up by 38% in 2020, and 65% in 2021, according to the European Cyclists' Federation. The largest market for cargo bikes in Europe is Germany, where 103,000 were sold in 2020, according to the German transport association ZIV, and the delivery bikes are also popular in Denmark, the Netherlands and France, says the European Bike Association (Conebi).
"The US is lagging behind when it comes to cargo bikes, and the UK is significantly behind the rest of Europe, but the bikes are really catching on now," Alex says. “There will be massive growth with them in the next decade in both the UK and Europe."
FedEx is increasing its fleet of e-cargo bikes across cities such as London. Image credit: FedEx.
It's not just small companies that are turning to cargo bikes for a greener last mile. FedEx, which has announced plans to be carbon neutral globally by 2040, has a fleet of 41 e-cargo bikes working alongside its trucks in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cambridge and Norwich. The bikes serve areas where emissions are restricted.
Alun Cornish, Managing Director of Ground Operations at FedEx Express, tells HERE360: “We are committed to procurement targets that will see us electrify our parcel pick-up and delivery vehicle operations. While we continue to develop our electrification plan, the introduction of e-cargo bikes and other micromobility delivery solutions offers a way to reduce emissions in the near term. The use of such zero-emissions transport methods is well received by both the cities and their citizens — bringing added benefits of reducing noise and congestion in these urban centers.'
FedEx has plans to expand its fleet of e-cargo bikes as its moves towards a zero-emissions delivery service. “The continued roll-out of e-cargo bikes across the UK will see us expand to nine cities in the UK by the end of 2022. By the end of 2023, we envisage having more than 150 e-cargo bikes, delivering in 16 cities in the UK," Alun reveals.
FedEx now has a fleet of 41 e-cargo bikes across the UK. Image credit: FedEx.
E-cargo bike fleets rely on location navigation technology to find the quickest and least congested route around town, with Alun explaining that FedEx's delivery people have “numerous applications available" to work out the best route. “Location mapping solutions are built into our standard operating plans for all services," Alan adds. “The technology gives us sufficient data to select a final mile delivery method that suits the end destination and to make sure we plan delivery routes that are optimized for the mode of transport chosen."
Getting cyclists, whether they're couriers or not, used to riding in a major urban center can be difficult. There are major hazards to avoid and safety measures to consider. Luckily there are numerous location-enabled devices to help riders avoid everything from construction, traffic and potholes to oblivious drivers and daydreaming pedestrians.
A cyclist through-and-through, Alex gives HERE360 the bottom line when it comes to his company's cargo bike couriers. “It's much more enjoyable as a job to ride a bike for six hours a day than drive a truck, getting stuck in traffic. I know which I'd rather do, theoretically — because I don't actually have my driver's license!"
And with the success of his cargo bike business, it doesn't sound like Alex will need to bother with a car or a truck anytime soon.
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