Solutions to the freight challenge: Cargobikes

Christian Wolmar looks at Cargobikes as a solution to freight transportation

Cargobikes are often derided as irrelevant given their weight limitations. But they could undoubtedly make a contribution to sustainability, particularly now that e-versions are becoming available.   Certainly, the Government thinks so.

Last September, Jesse Norman, at the time a junior transport minister, announced GBP2 million in grants to support the uptake of e-cargo bikes. The department has agreed to pay 20% of the purchase price of a new e-cargo bike up to the first GBP5,000 of the cost and to support capacity building in the industry.  It’s hardly revolutionary, but it does demonstrate interest in the concept. 

Germany, where more than 15,000 e-cargobikes are sold annually, has gone much further, with grants of up to a third of the purchase price in order to encourage their use in urban centres. Cargobikes are not a new concept. They were ubiquitous for butcher’s deliveries a couple of generations ago.

But they can be revived with the extra power which electricity can give them. Payloads of up to 350kg are now feasible, though there are concerns that such a heavy vehicle would be a risk to pedestrians in congested city areas.  Cargobikes do have a number of advantages in cities.

They are able to dodge traffic jams and have the flexibility to be wheeled into depots, delivery areas and even some shops rather than, as with vans, be parked illegally on high streets.  In Europe, major delivery firms such as DHL, TNT and UPS are all investing in cargobikes. They have become commonplace in some cities, notably in Holland, Germany and Belgium, and the potential is large. 

A Dutch study into their use suggests that e-cargobikes could replace up to 20% of delivery vans in large cities.  In the UK, Zedify, which was originally Cambridge-based Outspoken Deliveries, has merged with a similar outfit, Recharge Cargo from Brighton, to build a nationwide company to provide ‘last mile’ deliveries.  The company has depots in Cambridge, central London, Waltham Forest, Brighton, Glasgow and Norwich, which take in deliveries every morning for distribution later in the day using either conventional or e-cargo bikes. 

In July, it announced the opening of a new depot in Hackney, east London, which it hopes will eventually handle up to 1,500 deliveries daily.

Read Christian Wolmar’s full article on the freight challenge and potential solutuions from the Smart Transport Journal

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