Cargo Bikes: Andrea of the K4rgo blog explains why bicycles are gaining in popularity for transporting goods in London

Suitable for a wide variety of users, cargo bikes are becoming more visible on London's streets. Andrea Casalotti from Islington looks at why they're gaining in popularity.

Cargo bikes are increasingly seen as solutions to congestion and pollution in London. Both companies and local authorities are realising that a substantial number of van trips can be substituted with these load-carrying two-wheelers, yielding financial and environmental gains.

For instance, one of the main conclusions of the Road Task Force is a recommendation to start a "pilot scheme to shift freight journeys from vans to bicycles". In its response to the above, Transport for London stated that it will "participate in the EU-funded 'last mile logistics' (LaMiLo) project which proposes that goods are delivered to a consolidation centre [at Euston Station] and delivered to their final destinations by less polluting modes of transport including electric vehicles and cycle freight". 

Besides the above LaMiLo, the EU is funding the CycleLogistics project with initiatives across the continent. In the UK, Brentford has launched a free cargo bike hire scheme to promote their use. Similar schemes have also been launched by councils in Lambeth, Camden, Hackney and Redbridge.

There are now more than a thousand cargo bikes in London used by hundreds of families to transport children and groceries – and by businesses in a wide range of activities, for deliveries, as catering vehicles, and for services such as street cleaning, etc.

The increasing popularity has led to the establishment of a number of new businesses that sell and service cargo bikes. Among these, London Green Cycles in Camden has opened a new showroom and service centre, while Carry Me in east London offers test rides to families and businesses.

London, of course, is way behind many European cities, where the convenience, cost savings and fun of using a cargo bike have already convinced tens of thousands of people. For instance, in Copenhagen a quarter of families with two or more children own a tricycle, and the Danish Royal Mail has recently ordered more than one thousand electric cargo bikes (which have been featured on official stamps). 

This is in stark contrast to the UK's Royal Mail which, under the leadership of a North American, has been drastically reducing its fleet of bicycles to be replaced by vans that have a poor reputation for road manners among London's cyclists.

It is therefore satisfying to see courier firm TNT using Pashley cargo bikes for several central London postcodes. London courier companies that have added cargo bikes to their fleet include Creative Couriers and Control Couriers.

In Cambridge and York, cyclelogistic businesses are thriving. For example, in central Cambridge, Outspoken distributes daily hundreds of parcels for TNT, ParcelForce and APC, all by cargobikes. See their presentation at Velocity Venna here.

In London, besides the LaMiLo project above, the Crown Estate, owners of the Haymarket area, is considering a transhipment point with final deliveries made by electric vans and cargobikes. Several other business districts, such as the City, Holborn, Soho/Fitzrovia, etc. would benefit from similar cyclelogistics initiatives.

The bottom line case with cargo bikes for businesses is quick to calculate. For example, Pure, a chain of salad bars with six locations, wouldn’t be able to offer an office delivery service without its fleet of 10 tricycles.

Similarly a holiday letting business, with 15 flats in central London is saving hundreds of pounds a month by switching from van to cargo bike for its laundry logistics.

There are tens of similar stories, from florists to bakers, from plumbers to gardeners: small businesses that can do their jobs better thanks to cargo bikes.

The free-rental schemes offered by the councils mentioned above are converting more people. A gardener who has used one of the Brentford Bikes told us:

"The trike was very useful because it allowed me to fill up 10 sacks or so of garden cuttings and take them directly to the recycling center about 5 miles away.Riding was easy and enjoyable. There is no way I could have moved the garden cuttings by hand or on foot or using public transport and I have no desire to use a van. But the trike did the job nicely. No petrol costs, parking charges or insurance needed!"

In future blog postings, we will look how cargo bikes are used by families, by street food vendors, for promotions, to transport OAPs, for council services and much more.

Andrea Casalotti is the UK agent for Christiania Bikes (a Danish cargo bike manufacturer) and edits the K4RGO blog.