The promise of cargo bikes? Riders should have access to good and fair employment

Cargo bike deliveries have a role in reaching net zero ambitions, reducing congestion, and providing an efficient and affordable means of logistics. Cargo bike deliveries also have the potential to provide quality employment, differentiated from the ‘gig economy.’ However, cargo bike delivery riders can experience precarious work and health and safety risks. Furthermore, the workforce of cargo bike logistics companies lacks diversity.

Existing research paints a picture of a wider logistics sector characterized by low pay, precarious work, and poor working conditions. A new report by the University of Westminster has shown that van drivers experience unhealthier and more precarious working conditions than cargo bike riders.

Through interviews with riders and managers from 15 different cargo bike companies, we found that despite a rhetorical commitment to being distinct from the gig economy, companies struggle to provide riders with secure work and pay reflective of the skills required. Riders must also navigate a highly car-centric environment where they experience aggression from drivers who do not regard cargo bikes as legitimate road users. All female and nonbinary couriers we interviewed recounted experiences of physical or sexual harassment whilst out on the road.

The report invites policymakers and cargo bike companies to develop and implement an action plan around six key areas to improve working conditions in  the sector:

  • Ensuring riders have access to good and fair employment. This includes paying them at least the London Living Wage, giving them paid sick leave regardless of contract type, and allowing trade unions to access workplaces to support riders.
  • Scaling up the cargo bike sector. This includes the formation of an industry alliance to advocate for collective goals, such as increasing the uptake of bikes for deliveries, investing in safer streets for cycling, and launching a public information campaign to promote bikes as a viable alternative to vans and cars, both for businesses and individuals.
  • Improving cycling infrastructure. This includes expanding the network of wide, segregated cycle lanes and creating couriers’ hubs that provide sheltered public space for riders to stop and rest between or during deliveries.
  • Improving health and safety. Central to this is providing adequate cycling infrastructures, but also taking seriously riders’ repeated reports of harassment and aggression by drivers. Firms should provide riders with fully functional bikes and access to regular mechanical checks for their vehicles. New riders should also be given comprehensive cycle and road safety training and basic cycle maintenance training.
  • Adopting a clear Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) strategy to diversify the workforce at all levels, including management.
  • Improving internal communication and management practices to improve riders’ well-being, such as having clear guidelines defining suitable hours for communication and moving away from ‘personal’ communication platforms like WhatsApp.

Source: University of Westminster

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