Bloomberg: we are going to need a lot more electric cargo bikes

Parcel delivery companies in European cities are replacing delivery vans with cargo bikes. But the US rollout of cargo bikes has been slow. Bloomberg reports about it.

Electric cargo bikes could replace many of the delivery vehicles that deliver parcels around cities. A recent study in London found that cargo bikes could reduce emissions from parcel delivery by one-third compared with electric vans and by 90% compared with diesel ones. The London study found that cargo bikes delivered an average of seven parcels per hour, compared with four for a delivery van. 

Cargo bikes offer other benefits, too. Unlike delivery vans, they seldom obstruct traffic lanes, cycle paths or crosswalks when idle. And they don’t worsen street congestion by circling the block in search of a place to unload, which can consume up to 28% of van drivers’ time, according to one Seattle study. With cities struggling to cope with a surge in online purchases (B2C and B2B), cargo bikes offer an alternative for increasingly overloaded curbs and streets.

Globally, the cargo bike market is growing fast. One market research group projects $900 million in worldwide sales this year, 43% of which would come from cargo bikes sold to businesses. In Germany, DHL/Deutsche Post now manages a fleet of 17.000 cargo bikes anmore significantes, with another 5.000 on order. If anything, growth in the business side is bigger than in consumer markets.

Why is the US market slow? According to Bloomberg: “If American cities want cargo bikes to play a bigger role with package delivery, simply asking shippers for help won’t do it. They’re going to need to restrict delivery van access”.

Giacomo Dalla Chiara, a research associate at the University of Washington’s Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center, sees obstacles blocking the adoption of cargo bikes in the US. One is the general lack of cargo-bike-friendly infrastructure. More extensive networks of protected bike lanes could facilitate cargo bike delivery. Giacomo and his colleagues examined a cargo bike pilot in Seattle and found that the delivery cyclists rode on the sidewalk 40% of the time. An infrastructural issue is the lack of microhubs in US cities. You need charging infrastructure, overnight storage for the bikes, and space for a van to deliver parcels to the microhub. In addition, big parcel companies are running software that isn’t designed for cargo bikes. Finally, some US legal barriers to cargo bikes would need to be lifted. For example, New York bans cargo trikes wider than 36 inches wide, outlawing many larger heavy-duty cargo bike models. 

Source: Bloomberg

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