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Cargo bikes can solve logistics squeeze

Our logistics sector is vital to the operation of our cities, but productivity is declining and reliability of delivery can no longer meet customer expectations. What can be done?

A major two-year investigation has found that e-cargo bikes and other light electric freight vehicles (LEFVs) can reverse the trend by replacing 10-15 per cent of delivery vehicle movements.

Research institutions in Amsterdam worked with logistics operators, shippers, vehicle suppliers, network organisations, and municipalities to see if there was a sustainable business model for carbines and other members of the LEFV family.

The answer was yes, but...

While LEFVs are cost effective, a range of business and regulatory systems needed to change to make broth in the sector scalable, the report, City Logistics: Light and Electric, says.

"The number of delivery vans in city logistics is increasing due to growth in the hotel and catering industry, online purchases by consumers and businesses, construction and renovation projects and changes in customer demand, with shipments becoming smaller and more time-critical. 

"This growth in freight traffic has negative consequences for the liveability of cities and residential areas."

The researchers say LEFVs are quiet, agile, emission-free and take up less space than conventional vans and trucks – with food, construction, services, non-food retail and post and parcel delivery being the industry sectors with most potential.

"Transportation costs are determined largely by personnel costs", they say. "LEFVs can be beneficially deployed if the delivery can be performed faster than with a conventional vehicle. This occurs in areas where vehicle speed or access is limited, where the delivery addresses are close together or where finding a good parking place is important. 

"To utilise this time advantage, a logistics concept is required either solely with inner-city rides or with transfer points in the city where the extra transshipment costs incurred at a hub (personnel, equipment, location) will be recouped in the chain. This requires planning and control systems that match the load capacity and routes of LEFVs, suitable load carriers and suitable staff.”

The reports says that vehicles such as e-bikes place far less stress on the electric grid while re-charging than electric vans, so do not need elaborate charging infrastructure.

However the report also states that urban infrastructure and traffic rules are not yet prepared for an increase in the number of the vehicles, with uncertainty over which part of the streetscape they will be allowed to use to ride, load and unload.

(Some Australian cities permit motor bike parking on footpaths but ban cargo bikes to park on the same footpath to load and unload.)

"There is more to city logistics than just clean and emission-free transport. Equally important is smarter transport, less traffic, flexible loading and unloading space, more traffic safety, better traffic flow, a stricter exemption policy, rewards for good city logistics in the form of privileges and a smart supply to residential areas.”

See the full City Logistics: Light and Electric report here.

Related cargo bike stories:

Pollution fears accelerate cargo bikes

Brits set sights on cargo bikes

As cars go, VW goes cargo

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