Deliveries and freight make up almost one third of inner-city traffic, which make climate friendly cargo bikes predestined for the so called “last mile”. A study by the environmental organisation ‘Possible’ and the Active Travel Academy of the University of Westminster showed that electric cargo bikes are considerably faster and more efficient in central London then conventional van deliveries. The cities of Vienna and Innsbruck are also dedicating themselves to studies in this field.
Study shows: Fast, low-carbon freight is possible
According to the study, the distances covered by delivery vehicles in the last 25 years have doubled. This has led to less liveable public spaces, higher levels of air pollution and more traffic accidents. In cities like London, space is at a premium and room for goods and deliveries is often badly lacking. Cargo bikes, however, can offer the solution. They take up much less space than current vehicles, are quiet, eco-friendly and don’t use combustion engines.
Route comparison cargobike / van over one day.
In the study, Ersilia Verlinghieri and her team processed GPS data from London cargo bike courier firm ‘Pedal Me’ and compared it to the amount of time the same route would have taken a conventional delivery van, taking into account factors such as differences in speed, capacity and loading times. The results showed that electric cargo bikes can complete delivery routes up to 60% faster, due to their ability to move through heavy traffic and not having to search for a parking space. On average, the electric cargo bikes could deliver 10 packages per hour; conventional vans managed only 6.
Impressive results: Cargo bikes and vans travel the same daily distances (Top Left), yet the average speed of the bicycle is markedly higher (Bottom Left) and the working time of couriers much shorter (Bottom Right).
Pollutants greatly reduced
Compared to traditional diesel vehicles, which still account for the vast majority of delivery vehicles, electric cargo bikes are able to reduce the total CO2 emissions by 90% and 30% compared to electric vans. If just 10% of current delivery distances in London were replaced by cargo bikes, 133,000 tonnes of CO2 and 190,000kg of carbon monoxide could be saved! 1.6 million van-driven kilometres would be avoided and 32,000 cargo bikes would replace the vehicles that drove them.
CO2 emissions comparison of electric cargo bike, electric van and conventional van. The main source of cargo bike CO2 emissions comes from the food the rider eats, which is of course, much less than the energy needs of even the electric van.
Comparable studies show that more than half of deliveries currently done by vans could be accomplished by cargo bike. However, this is heavily dependent on the extent to which cycle infrastructure is implemented and developed, maximizing the efficiency of cargo bikes. A well developed cycle network makes for shorter riding distances, as the route comparison demonstrates and according to the study, London is heading in the right direction. The authors of the study suggest that even more can be done to encourage the adoption of cargo bikes, such as subsidies for purchases, tax breaks for companies considering adopting the technology and support for infrastructure such as charging stations and low emission zones.
Pilot projects in Austria
The london study has shown how well eco-friendly deliveries using cargo bikes can work and Austria is also looking at how “last mile” logistics and be solved by a green cargo bike solution.
RemiHub Logistics terminal at the Stadtlauer subway station in its Test phase.
The Viennese research project RemiHub (an acronym of remise (coach house) and logistics hub) has been testing the concept of combining public transport depots with city logistics hubs since 2018. The project partners – TBW research, Traffic planners at the TU Wien, Wiener Linien and Heavy Pedals are investigating how to relocate logistics terminals from outside the city to shared use, multi-modal spaces (Cityhubs) within well connected city districts in order to shorten the distance to the end customer and optimize routes for “last mile” cargo bike delivery.
Creation of inner-city logistics hubs and reduction of “last mile” distances – central elements of the RemiHub project.
Innsbruck tests alternatives
The pilot project “Inns’paket”, led by the working group for intelligent traffic systems at the Institute for Infrastructure at the University of Innsbruck and financed by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, is currently being trialed in Innsbruck’s city center. In cooperation with logistics company DPD and the Tirolean supermarket chain MPreis, an all-day emission-free delivery window is being trialed in the city center. The project is supported by the region of Tirol and the city of Innsbruck.
A picture of the current logistics situation in Innsbruck city center. The pilot project will run until the 17th of September, at which point an evaluation will be carried out assessing the extent to which cargo bike deliveries can be further rolled out.
An important point to consider when comparing efficiencies in the logistics branch is the employment status of its workers. This can vary from full employment, like the employees at Heavy Pedals Cargo Bikes in Vienna, to the use of independent subcontractors, a common sight in larger, international delivery companies. These different models bring with them varying degrees of employment and social securities as well as differing overhead costs for employers.
The entire study can be read here in the Cycle Competence Knowledge database: Ersilia Verlinghieri, Irena Itova, Nicolas Collignon, Rachel Aldred (2021): The Promise of Low-Carbon Freight. Benefits of cargo bikes in London.