Research: cost trade-offs cargo bikes versus delivery trucks

Completing urban freight deliveries is increasingly a challenge in congested urban areas, particularly when delivery trucks are required to meet time windows. Depending on the route characteristics, cargo bikes may serve as an economically viable alternative to delivery trucks.

The purpose of this new paper is to compare the delivery route cost trade-offs between box delivery trucks and cargo bikes that have the same route and delivery characteristics, and to explore the question, under what conditions do cargo bikes perform at a lower cost than typical delivery trucks?

Methods of research

The independent variables, constant variables, and assumptions used for the cost function comparison model were gathered through data collection and a literature review. A delivery route in Seattle was observed and used as the base case; the same route was modeled using cargo bikes. Four separate delivery scenarios were modeled to evaluate how the following independent route characteristics would impact delivery route cost – distance between a distribution center (DC) and a neighborhood, number of stops, the distance between each stop, and number of parcels per stop.


The analysis shows that three of the four modeled route characteristics affect the cost trade-offs between delivery trucks and cargo bikes. Cargo bikes are more cost effective than delivery trucks for deliveries in close proximity to the DC (less than 2 miles for the observed delivery route with 50 parcels per stop and less than 6 miles for the hypothetical delivery route with 10 parcels per stop) and at which there is a high density of residential units and low delivery volumes per stop.


Delivery trucks are more cost effective for greater distances from the DC and for large volume deliveries to one stop. For example, the observed route had a large volume of deliveries to one major office tower. Due to the trucks large carrying capacity, the route could be completed by one truck, instead of deploying at least ten cargo bikes to complete the same delivery. Moreover, by delivering a greater number of packages per stop to office towers or any high-rise building with designated loading docks, trucks are able to legally park for longer periods of time.

Cargo bicycles have some competitive advantages over delivery trucks in that cargo bicycles have more options for maneuvering through a city using the road, bike lane, sidewalks, and accessing pedestrian-only areas, so a more detailed modeling of those aspects is warranted. The time spent looking for parking and the act of parking the bike itself is minimal. Cargo bikes may be a good substitute for trucks in cities that are considering policies that restrict the time and type of freight trucks driving through cities using congestion charges or simply banning them. Another possibility is to incentivize the use of cargo bicycles by including city support for bike storage in or near downtown.

Source: Butrina, P., Sheth, M., Goodchild, A., & McCormack, E. (2018). Measuring the Cost Trade-Offs Between Electric-Assist Cargo Bikes and Delivery Trucks in Dense Urban Areas (No. 18-05401).

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