How e-cargo bikes can deliver change

Rebecca Morley examines how changing travel habits and online shopping trends will impact demand for e-cargo bikes

Demand for deliveries in 2020 is high – many people have been working from home and shopping online during COVID-19 and there’s potential for this trend to continue in the coming months.

And one option that might help, particularly in our cities, is the e-cargo bike. Even pre-COVID, their use had been growing rapidly as businesses looked for zero-emissions delivery solutions that can travel through congested streets faster than other vehicles. And earlier this year, funding was awarded to 18 local authorities from the £2 million eCargo Bike Grant Fund, funded by the DfT and delivered by Energy Saving Trust.

“E-cargo bikes are an attractive low carbon transport solution that are becoming more widely adopted,” says Tim Anderson, head of transport at Energy Saving Trust. “They offer significant benefits, most impressively fuel cost savings and contributing to improved local air quality which are particularly attractive as we work towards a green recovery following the COVID-19 outbreak.

“With more deliveries to our homes than ever, last-mile delivery is an important area for consideration in our journey to reduce transport emissions to net-zero by 2050. We expect the eCargo Bike Grant Fund to support wider and longer-term uptake of these light vehicles.”

Home deliveries
E-cargo bikes allow companies to make deliveries in a more environmental way, something which many businesses will be putting a great emphasis on.  “E-cargo bikes fit in really well with the push for green recovery and clean air in cities,” says Rob King, co-founder and CEO of Zedify.

Moving forward, King says people are likely to continue having goods sent to their homes as they look for choice in when exactly they get their deliveries. “If you book something online, you’d expect it to come the next day. That’s changed in the last five to ten years.

“Our model means that we can be much more flexible – we can do evening deliveries, we can offer people time windows for when they want their delivery to be.”

E-cargo bikes also offer the city-wide benefit of cleaner air and more livable streets as well as flexibility for businesses. “People tend to be happier on a cargo bike. It’s a stressful job being a delivery person – if you’re stuck in traffic and get frustrated that can end up being a negative experience on the doorstep. But if you turn up having done an active delivery on a cargo bike, that pressure is often released in the exercise. And it’s a much clearer demonstration of your environmental principles than an electric van.”

The technology platform Zedify has developed is set to improve too, with the company recently completing its first external funding round having raised over £300,000 from a group of private investors led by Green Angel Syndicate (GAS).

The funding will further enable Zedify depots to optimise and manage first and last-mile deliveries efficiently as volumes grow across the group. It will also expand the capacity of its national team with new hires in sales, marketing and operations to accelerate the growth of the national network and support its plans for up to 20 depots to be operational by.

Creating space
European research suggests that 10-15% of all deliveries could be replaced by the e-cargo bike sector in the coming years. e-cargobikes.com aims to capture 20% of this market, replacing nearly 12,500 diesel vans, saving 300,000 tonnes of carbon per year plus savings of embedded carbon over vans – around ten tonnes of carbon per diesel van replaced.

“We keep hearing this term ‘shovel-ready solutions’ and that’s exactly what we are: a sustainable, ready-to-go solution without the infrastructure changes that electric vehicles would need,” says Clare Elwes, co-founder of e-cargobikes.com. “It will be interesting to see what remains of the work we’ve done during COVID and what we were doing before, but either way, there’s going to be more acceptance that cargo bikes are good for many things.”

e-cargobikes.com was among 11 winners at the annual Ashden Awards announced on 2nd July, chosen from over 200 applicants for their work creating resilience, green growth and fairer societies. Many of the finalists and winners were also applauded for their quick and effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting businesses and communities, and the Ashden judges commended e-cargobikes.com for making its cargo bike fleet available to move vital food and medicines in London.

The company has shown that just one single e-cargo bike can deliver the same amount as a conventional 3.5 tonne diesel van over an eight-hour shift, while requiring only a fraction of the energy.

Using the well-to-wheel metric – a measure of the total energy required to power a vehicle, including the energy required to produce and distribute the fuels they use – one e-cargo bike requires less than 0.5% of the energy needed to power a 3.5-tonne conventional diesel-fuelled delivery van over an eight-hour delivery shift. An electric van, however, provides just a 30% improvement over the diesel van.

Additionally, Elwes says one of the complaints people have about cycling infrastructure is that it’s mainly used during rush hour, therefore taking up road space during the day from other vehicles. But if cargo bikes can replace delivery vans, that space will still be used during quieter periods – creating a win-win scenario for everybody.

“How we live and do business in our cities is crucial to meeting climate, jobs and inequality targets and delivering a green recovery,” says Harriet Lamb, CEO of Ashden. “Improving infrastructure for bikes is key to improving the air in our cities and all our health. E-cargo bikes in the UK are demonstrating how low carbon last-mile transport can and must replace high carbon van delivery.”

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