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Environment

Why cargo bikes could be the future of green home delivery

A growing appetite for home deliveries is driving up carbon emissions – could a fleet of cargo bikes be the green solution?

For most organisations, the pandemic was bad for business. For app-based cargo bicycle company Pedal Me, however, there were silver livings.

The London-based fleet of cargo bikes jumped into gear during lockdown, delivering nearly 10,000 care packages to people in need, then giving free rides to vaccination appointments once the rollout began – a safer option than taking a taxi or bus. 

What’s more, thanks to the expansion of bike lanes during the pandemic, Pedal Me’s ability to deliver people and cargo at speed has been vastly improved. 

“Bikes can get around easier now – plus we can filter through traffic”, Guy Dorrell, head of business development at Pedal Me explains.

“On an average morning, you’ll see cars and trucks backed up across any of the bridges into central London – but we can just fly by them on nice wide cycle lanes,” he adds. 

Delivery services via bike have been around for some time now, but while most focus on small deliveries – such as pizzas or a bag of groceries – Pedal Me bikes are able to carry as much cargo as “a small van”, says Guy Dorrell.

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This capacity is perhaps Pedal Me’s key USP. Around 20 per cent of one mile journeys are made by car, and thanks to a growing appetite for home deliveries, van-based “last minute mile” deliveries (the journey between the distribution centre and destination) are becoming increasingly common.

This landscape is bad news for carbon emissions. A study published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2020, in fact, found that this growth could lead to slower transits and higher emissions, forecasting a 36 per cent rise in the number of delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities by 2030. 

That’s where cargo bikes come in. Able to carry anything from two adults to a cement mixer or 50 hot meals, Pedal Me offers a way to satisfy delivery needs without the carbon footprint. 

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Perhaps surprisingly, cargo bikes can also deliver at competitive speeds when compared to cars and small vans, with data collected by Pedal Me showing that bikes are faster-moving than both within 3-5 miles of Inner London. 

Further time is sliced off by the fact that cargo bikes don’t need parking spaces, while an agile model – with riders dispersed across London – means that request response times are speedy.

The organisation has attracted a roster of regular customers, many of whom are small businesses looking for ways to reduce or eliminate their carbon footprint. There are some deliveries, however, that have been particularly memorable.

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“There really isn’t much that we can’t carry”, Dorrell says. “I think one of the craziest was last summer when we carried a five-metre perspex dodo for Extinction Rebellion when they were protesting.”

Navigating the roads with such cumbersome cargo isn’t for novices – a fact that Pedal Me recognises when hiring riders, who, unlike employees of other riding apps, are paid fair wages and benefit from sick pay. 

Potential employees must undergo four days of training and pass a rigorous exam before being allowed on the bikes, mitigating the risk of any accidents. 

What can’t be entirely avoided, says Dorrell, is the pushback they’ve received from some car users – a phenomenon that’s become increasingly visible following the expansion of bike lanes and low-traffic neighbourhoods. 

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“Like every cyclist on the road, we’ve suffered from close passes all the time – some of them intentional, which is disgraceful,” he says. 

In spite of these attitudes, Dorrell remains “largely optimistic” about the future potential for cargo bikes and cycling in general. 

“I think those old attitudes are dying out. What we hope is that more people will recognise what a powerful tool cargo bikes are for decarbonising cities.

“I hope we’ll see many more local authorities buying them and gradually getting rid of all their older diesel vans,” he explains.

Were this to happen, the carbon savings across the country would be enormous.

Even when compared to the carbon emissions of electric vehicles (EV), cargo bikes are by far the less intensive option, taking just 280kg of CO2 to manufacture (compared over 8800kg for an electric vehicle) and producing around 4.5g of CO2 per km to run – 10 times less than an EV. 

Dorrell hopes the bikes can go even further than cargo deliveries, potentially tapping into transportation for NHS workers and school kids, and expanding further across the UK.

“I think in five years time, we will see cargo bikes will just be an absolutely regular feature in cities across the UK,” says Dorrell.

“There’ll be thousands of them in every city at every moment – it’ll just become totally normalised.”

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