Cargo without carbon: the rise and rise of e-bike deliveries

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Demand for electric cargo bike couriers has boomed since first lockdown, bringing the hope of cleaner, quieter, safer streets


Would you like your groceries delivered without a side order of traffic congestion? Boilers, books and beauty products dropped off without a roar of diesel? Or even take a taxi ride without the carbon emissions?

Since the first lockdown, increasing numbers of companies have started delivering their products – and passengers – on electric cargo bikes. According to a new directory, there are now almost 450 independent businesses and tradespeople across the UK transforming the sight, sound and smell of our cities and towns by delivering goods to customers using nothing but electricity and pedal-power.

“Over the course of the pandemic, the rise of businesses using e-cargo bikes for deliveries has been breathtaking,” said Helena Downey, the founder of the Bought by Bike directory. “The rise is so dramatic that this could become mainstream.”

Like many other cargo bike delivery services, The Grace Network’s The Bike Drop in Stroud was set up in the early days of the pandemic to help businesses struggling to reach customers.

“There was immediate interest as soon as we opened from both companies and customers: companies wanted to choose the greener option for deliveries while customers loved having their shopping delivered by bike – and we all love having cleaner, quieter, safer streets,” said Harry McKeown, the managing director of The Bike Drop.

During the first month of lockdown, the grocery sector alone saw a 91% increase in home deliveries more generally. And McKeown said demand for their bike delivery services started high and had continued to climb.

“Business grew quickly: we soon had 13 employees delivering items for 36 local businesses,” said McKeown. “We now have a fleet of electric bikes that have, in total, made over 6,500 individual pickups and deliveries for local businesses, cycled over 10,000 kilometres and saved over 2,300kg of CO2.

“During the pandemic, we delivered takeaway beer bladders for pubs, as well as deliveries for restaurants and pizzerias, local food co-ops, bakeries, florists, independent cosmetics producers and music shops, bookshops, other social enterprises and local publications. We’re now expanding in all directions: we even offer an eco-post service and have delivered over 2,500 letters for Stroud district council.”

E-cargo bikes have a host of advantages over vehicles: they can move more quickly through the city streets, meaning they are able to deliver packages 60% faster than their van equivalents. They’re cleaner – saving about 90% in carbon emissions – quieter, and cut congestion, as a cargo bike uses a fraction of the road space of a typical delivery van.

Pedal Me, which transports not just packages but people around central London, has seen business double since the pandemic began. Velocious, a Bristol-based bike courier business, has also found demand for the delivery of everything from sensitive documents to groceries increase dramatically since lockdown.

Zedify, another cargo bike delivery service, had so much business during lockdown that it set up 10 mini-hubs on brownfield sites outside cities to make thousands of zero-emission deliveries into each city every day. “Everyone’s a winner,” said Zedify’s Rob King. “Our hubs mean that instead of loads of vans driving into the city each day, you’ve got a handful of bikes zipping around.”

There’s also a growing number of electric cargo bikes covering remote areas: Cargodale started delivering orders during lockdown from local businesses to customers in the dales of West Yorkshire and has seen business boom.

Cargodale’s co-founder Beate Kubitz said: “I live in a rural area and when lockdown happened and home deliveries increased, I saw cavalcades of vans coming down my little lane, destroying the delicate countryside roads and polluting our air. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t an alternative.”

Kubitz and some of her mountain-biker friends hired a cargo bike for a month and experimented with making local deliveries. “The interest from businesses and customers was immediate and strong,” she said.

Cargodale now has a team of 15 riders covering 30 square miles and delivering for up to 100 local businesses. “We’ve had requests for advice from across the UK,” said Kubitz. “This really could be the start of something wonderful.”

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