It’s time for cities to ditch vans – for cargo bikes

And when you factor in the price of a van, the cost of fuel, insurance and depreciation, plus parking fines and congestion charges, the cost-effectiveness calculation swings even further in favor of cargo bikes – so there seems to be an economic incentive for it too. companies to make the switch. However, this is where it gets tricky.

There is a traditional parcel depot on the outskirts of the city and a cargo bike, which has less capacity than a van, is subject to a time penalty for traveling to and from these locations. To be competitive, the authors of the Paris study concluded, cargo bikes must carry shipments to a centrally located micro-hub, from which they can be loaded, delivered and returned multiple times a day. But these micro-hubs are expensive in terms of overhead and personnel costs, and only by making many deliveries from them will the savings in transportation costs cover the extra cost of running the operation.

“To make cargo bikes economical, you need a high density of people around a distribution center. But rents are also often highest there,” says Antoine Robichet, co-author of the Paris paper and PhD student at the University of Gustave Eiffel in France. “So, if you want to get all your packages on the bike, your price will skyrocket.”

To overcome this, UPS has attempted to use satellite hubs, essentially parking short articulated trucks in neighborhoods and distributing packages from there. Meanwhile, in Prague, about a dozen logistics companies deliver thousands of parcels by cargo bike each month using shared micro-hubs provided by the municipality, dividing operating costs.

Until they can fix the economy, it’s hard to imagine many large companies rolling out cargo bikes on a large scale. Upfront investments are necessary for the bicycles, maintenance and depots. In addition, larger companies must adapt their logistics software to be able to direct riders to charging points during the day.

“The existing software is intended for vans that pick up at the start of the day and then deliver for eight hours,” said Nicolas Collignon, co-founder of Kale Collective, a startup focused on cargo bike logistics technology. “But a cargo bike cannot transport eight hours of deliveries, so the routing has to be more dynamic.”

In addition, rather than riding around town, cycling requires a more athletic profile from the worker, and there is an additional cost associated with training them. Because cargo bikes are heavier, wider than conventional bikes and have larger turning circles, riders must be taught how to handle them, says Chris Dixon, director of training at Pedal Me.

“If we were in an ideal world and accounted for the costs not only in terms of running a business, but also the environmental and social costs such as CO2 emissions and road safety, cargo bikes would be a lot more feasible,” says Verlinghieri. “But because those things aren’t taxed, it becomes harder to drive change because van delivery is an established model that allows large companies to make deliveries affordably.”