Cargo bikes > vans
Ever growing van traffic in London is contributing to congestion, emissions, pollution, and road danger. And with online retail demand continuing the need to move goods around London quickly isn’t going away anytime soon. LCC’s Climate Safe Streets report made clear the need to reduce freight trips overall (van trips account for 17% of journeys in the capital) and converting much of the remainder to electric or pedal powered vehicles.
The good news is that new electric cargo bikes can carry larger loads, are versatile, often can move faster than vans and are emission-free. This creates an opportunity for switching from diesel- and petrol-powered vans to bikes for shorter trips and smaller loads. Companies like Pedal-me and Zedify, which offer e-cargo bike delivery across large parts of the capital, show one way in which the Mayor’s target of ‘Net Zero’ emissions by 2030 could be reached. Even major firms like Amazon and DHL are now using boldly-branded versions of e-cargo bikes in the capital taking advantage of their speed and efficiency on shorter trips.
According to Transport for London’s Cargo Bike Action plan 17% of van kilometres in central London trips could be replaced by cargo bike by 2030. Already, according to TfL, several large firms have cargo bike fleets of more than 50.
An obvious barrier to increased cargo bike use is a lack of awareness by businesses even though there have been several prominent trials in the London Bridge area and in the construction sector. That may be changing: as well as the prominent pink branding of the ubiquitous Pedalme cargo bikes plus Amazon and DHL riders , the use of cargo bikes by councils and the large London cargo bike fleet of Freddie’s Flowers must have come to many firms’ attention.
Once the awareness barrier is overcome there is also the cost of the cargo bikes, though DfT and other subsidies have been available. Several councils have committed to using cargo bikes for local deliveries and some are offering use of shared cargo bikes for local residents and businesses.
A challenging issue, not just for cargo bikes, is infrastructure – whether that’s space for overnight storage, loading access, last-mile centres, micro-hubs, maintenance zones, or charging facilities. In terms of the cycle lanes, often used by cargo bikes to speed their journeys in London, these need to be of adequate width to cater for both wider cargo bikes and regular cycle users at the same time. Bike shops too need more space to handle larger cargo bikes, including the recently popular three and four wheelers.
Local authorities and TfL must lead in the search for, and allocation of, suitable land for cargo bike use that will help shift trips from diesel vans to much cleaner cargo bikes via ‘consolidation centres’ (where lorry and van loads can be swapped into cargo bikes for the ‘last mile’ or more).
Standards and regulation
Established players in the cargo bike sector have long been calling for standards that would determine what is and what isn’t a safe and reliable cargo bike. Firms would be foolish to purchase sub-standard equipment but independent contractors working for gig-type employers may be tempted to cut corners. Guidance on loading procedures and maximum weights is also required which in turn means training is necessary.
Leading cargo bike firms already provide rider training not only in road skills (akin to Bikeability level 3 training) but also in the loading and handling of the goods carried by cargo bike. Given the potential risk to the rider, and other road users, of fallen loads it is important that all cargo bike riders get specialised training. The Bicycle (industry) Association, which now incorporates the UK Cycle Logistics Federation is developing a training programme.
Currently there are limits to the rollout of cargo cycles – they need places to be stored, loading bays need to be adapted and their riders need enhanced training. But in a Net Zero world, it’s clear that cargo bike freight at the local level is not only here to stay and growing already, it’s also apparent that it represents a major alternative to more vans, more lorries, more congestion, more road danger, and more particulate pollution.
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