Fleet Operators Consider Cargo Bikes to Replace Trucks and Vans for Last-Mile City Delivery
August 17, 2022 — The growing trend of using cargo bikes for last-mile deliveries can simultaneously solve corporate priorities, as well as urban ones, with a multi-benefit solution.
Many fleet owners and managers are actively working to make their supply chains and deliveries more sustainable, and some are also working to improve their safety. Sustainability and safety, however, don’t have to be exclusive to one another, and the growing trend of using cargo bikes for last-mile deliveries can simultaneously solve corporate priorities, as well as urban ones, with a multi-benefit solution.
“We’re sitting at the intersection of two crises, one of which is climate change and the desperate need to decarbonize the transportation sector,” said Harriet Tregoning, director of the New Urban Mobility alliance (NUMO), who moderated a panel discussion, “Sustainable is Safe and Safe is Sustainable,” during the Together for Safer Roads (TSR)’s recent second annual Vision Zero Fleet Forum. “We’re seeing that freight, in particular, is a growing use in transportation and we expect that to continue. We’re also seeing a very distressing rise in the number and the rate of fatalities and injuries associated with traffic, which was true through the pandemic and it continues—and these trends are causing some cities to have deaths at an all-time high. We want to investigate if there’s a possibility of these two issues—safety and sustainability—intersecting.”
She stressed that while the increasing use of freight and delivery to meet the many needs of households across the country and around the world is an ongoing trend, there is also a disproportionate amount of large vehicles that account for the number of fatalities—two to three times their share of their vehicles on the road. The most vulnerable users, Tregoning said, are pedestrians and cyclists, who have the most “distressing fatality rates.”
“We talk about cargo bikes like it’s a novelty in the United States, but in other parts of the world, and especially Europe, they’re making deliveries for all types of products. What we’re seeing with cargo bikes is more of a shift as a result of the ‘Great Resignation’ and workforce issues for people who might be attracted to jobs in delivery and logistics using bicycles, and less so by a need to acquire a commercial driver’s license and being behind the wheel of a truck all day.”
Panelist Chris Lutick, UPS director of Public Affairs, who began his career with the company as a driver 30 years ago, said that although UPS safety numbers continue to improve, there’s an industrywide need to train and re-train drivers on best practices.
“You can never rest and say, ‘We’re the best in the industry,’ when it comes to safe driving. Not by any means,” he said, adding that UPS has more than 90,000 vehicles on U.S. roads daily. “We always have to find a way to get to zero accidents and remove any issues when it comes to safety. It always requires a deeper dive and an ongoing learning process.”
“People will often say, ‘We hear you only make right-hand turns.’ That’s pretty much true, when possible. It’s safer, more energy efficient, requires less driving and promotes sustainability.”
While UPS has been in business for 115 years, Lutick said it is always learning something new when it comes to safety that it can incorporate into its business model. “We want to be carbon neutral by 2050, whether that’s using e-bikes or electric vehicles. Bike lanes are good avenues for us to pursue as city traffic congestions become more elevated. As an integrated carrier, there’s an opportunity and need for UPS to look into e-bikes and how they would serve us in and around cities, logistically and strategically. We’ll never rest.”
Panelist Sara Sweeney, product manager at Wheels, Inc., an automotive fleet leasing and management company, echoed similar statements, adding that as companies move toward a more sustainable future, they will need to replace older vehicles with more fuel-efficient options, which could mean smaller vehicles or alternative powertrains such as EVs—or cargo bikes.
“It’s a great opportunity because many of today’s newer vehicles come heavily equipped with safety technologies. So not only can [fleets] move toward a more sustainable future, but they can also add those new safety features. There’s definitely a conversion as technology moves forward. Our advice to customers is to not allow safety initiatives take a back seat to sustainability objectives. Both are critically important and need to move forward in sync—I wouldn’t want to see one or the other compromised.”
“This is a shift that the fleet industry hasn’t experienced before, which requires collaboration and alignment across organizations, from the highest levels of leadership to shareholders and cargo bike drivers. They need to show how they are going to be more sustainable and carbon neutral with zero emissions. We’re going to run into unexpected challenges along the way that we’ll have to face head on and find the path forward. It’s an exciting shift.”
Panelist Eugenia Tang, senior freight planner at New York City Department of Transportation, said that safety and sustainability must work hand in hand. “We need to leverage and improve safety, as well as sustainability, and that includes switching over to cargo bikes from vans and trucks for last-mile deliveries.”
In a pilot program launched in 2019, New York City DOT began with 100 cargo bikes and Tang noted that the program is becoming more permanent with more than 400 bikes presently and is continuing to grow.
Panelist Ben Morris, CEO of Coaster Cycles, builds an end-to-end platform that enables companies and freight carriers to use electric car bikes and trikes for the last mile. “When we think about safety and congestion, particularly flow within cities, bikes and trikes operate quite differently from other vehicles. One of our unique abilities is how we can move around cities in bike lanes and traditional loading zones. We’re working with carriers large and small to figure out how they can move and consolidate freight within cities.
“The overarching theme that we’re seeing with traditional carriers is a monumental shift of fleets with numerous vehicles, big and small, moving toward cargo bikes. It’s very different from an operational, maintenance perspective. We’re helping and advising companies on how to integrate those into their fleets and how to train drivers to operate those vehicles. It’s wildly successful in Europe and they are slowly gaining momentum in the United States. We’re going to see more of these bikes deployed in cities across the country.”
“There’s more to it than just making bikes available and making deliveries—there’s a lot of backend integration that has to happen. Much of our objective right now is working with public and private sectors to better understand their needs and how we can support them so they can be successful.”
Infrastructure is also “hugely important” and the United States will be spending more on it than it has for generations, said Tregoning. “We have to ensure that we’re building an infrastructure that will support greater safety for both bikes and pedestrians, as well as decarbonization. More and more cities would welcome more deliveries by smaller and less-polluting vehicles.”