Redefining the bike messenger
Shipping packages by plane, train, or truck to major city hubs is easy enough. The hard part is always coordinating their delivery to specific locations within cities. The process is often inefficient and results in long wait times.
According to some Europeans, the solution is simple: bicycles are an efficient and clean way of delivering many types of goods. Cycle Logistics, a group funded by the E.U., believes that up to 25 percent of urban deliveries in European cities, including small items, could be done by bike. Many cities in Europe have narrow streets and traffic restrictions during certain times of day - not to mention carbon emissions limits.
Several cities have implemented cargo bike delivery systems to varying degrees. Copenhagen has perhaps the largest network of 25,000 cargo bikes (for a population of 500,000 people). Commercial services have also sprung up in countries including the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Belgium.
In Cambridge, England - where the city center is closed to motorized traffic from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. - a company called Outspoken delivers to around 160 customers, among them local clinics, law offices, and sandwich chains. Company spokesperson Gary Armstrong said that three-quarters use the system because of service and price reasons, as well as environmental concerns.
"Conventional wisdom holds that the best way for deliveries to enter a city is from vans and [trucks] to operate out of large hubs many miles from the city center. The problem is that a large [truck] is designed to take large pallets, but is incredibly inefficient at taking small items, which are often the majority of what’s carried," Armstrong said.
Electric cargo bikes show promise as well. The German Institute of Transport Research has found that such bikes could cover up to 85% of deliveries in Berlin.
Could cargo bike deliveries make inroads into the way we receive packages in U.S. cities?