Seattle microhub delivery pilot: lessons learned

Urban freight deliveries using microhubs and cargo kibes have gained attention in cities suffering from congestion and emissions. Cargo bike deliveries for parcels and microhubs used as transshipment points in urban cores can replace trucks to make cities more livable.

An Urban Freight Lab study describes and empirically evaluates an e-cargo tricycle pilot delivering parcels conducted with multi-sector stakeholders in Seattle to report practices’ potential benefits and pitfalls. The pilot held stakeholder workshop sessions to collect inputs of interest and expectations from the project.

For empirical assessment, mobile devices used by drivers on cargo bikes and cargo van routes collected delivery data. Total vehicle miles traveled, and tailpipe carbon emissions were performance metrics when comparing cargo bike and cargo van deliveries. The results showed the net benefit of the microhub and cargo bike routes depends on the upstream operations when replenishing parcels

The participatory approach to pilot design also provided insights into the factors of a successful pilot, with implications for scaling future cargo bike delivery systems in North American cities. Namely, microhubs’ ability to host alternative revenue sources and value-added services is a boon for long-term financial competitiveness. However, the lack of digital/physical infrastructure and work training/regulations for cargo bike delivery operations present barriers.

The Urban Freight Lab project implemented a participatory living lab approach. The project design allowed researchers to adapt to participating stakeholder goals, conditions, and expertise, capture operational challenges and supporting business models important for scaling future programs, and validate environmental and operational efficiency gains when replacing last-mile ICE vehicle-based deliveries with electric cargo bikes in a dense urban area. Future efforts can move to higher microhub and cargo bike route densities, leveraging economies of scale that bring crucial environmental and social benefits to cities.

Source: Gunes, Seyma, Travis Fried, and Anne Goodchild. “Seattle Microhub Delivery Pilot: Evaluating Emission Impacts and Stakeholder Engagement.” Case Studies on Transport Policy. Elsevier BV, November 2023.

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