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Cargo bikes proved to outpace vans on majority of urban deliveries

But is your online-bought package still blocking the road? Photo: CitySprint

Joseph Delves
4 Sep 2019

The growth in vans making 'last-mile' deliveries is driving up congestion in urban areas. In recent years their use has been increasing, with total mileage in 2016 over 70% higher than 20 years ago. Many of these will be providing final-stage delivery services.

However, the vans are increasingly becoming unsuited to modern cities, something shown by research aggregated by transport journalist Carlton Reid. Now many companies are switching on to the benefits of cargo bikes instead.

Last year, a project by final year engineering students at the University of Southampton using data from delivery firm CitySprint found bicycle deliveries to be around 50% faster than vans during peak hours.

Cheaper to buy and maintain, navigating inner city areas is often easier by bike. Not suffering from the same problem of finding a parking space when arriving at their destination, their use could also reduce the problem of illegal parking.

Besides supporting the university’s research, the firm is also sponsoring a PhD student to investigate sustainable last-mile transport solutions.

'With our increasing love affair with online shopping, the pressure on delivery companies to meet our ever exacting delivery requirements is increasing,' explains the university on its website.

'This leads to increasing inefficiency in the system, especially as we move into an era of 'same-day' delivery where you can receive your goods a few hours after ordering them. In urban areas, there’s diminishing kerb space for delivery vehicles, while the addition of new low-emissions zones means an increasingly challenging operating environment for couriers.'

Far removed from the postie bikes of old, cargo bikes are now likely to have a large delivery bed along with electric motor-assistance. Given their efficiency and low running costs, more firms are investing in cargo bike fleets. With a £2 million government fund to subsidise their purchase, this has also driven down costs by as much as 20%.

The firm that sponsored the original research reckons the switch is already helping it both reduce its emissions and save money.

'A typical CitySprint delivery might now well be made by bicycle rather than the traditional van,' explained a spokesperson.

'Each cargo bike we use saves around four tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and 100% of our service centres are now powered by renewable energy. We also use technology to full effect. Our intelligent scheduling reduces unnecessary journeys and boosts overall efficiency.'

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