Electric cargo bikes could significantly improve transport times of smaller freight deliveries, particularly in urban environments, says research by the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy
In a report titled Promise of low-carbon freight, it said electric cargo bikes can deliver 10 parcels an hour compared to six for petrol-fuelled vans, and bikes would contribute to lower carbon footprints.
Also, while vans are able to reach higher speeds, the bikes’ ability to bypass high levels of congestion and take shortcuts through streets closed to traffic increased its appeal for city-based businesses.
“Cargo bikes, having become popular in several cities, can provide an alternative to the current damaging freight transport model which is increasingly relying on delivery vans,” it said.
For instance, the research indicated cargo bikes are more cost-effective than vans when delivery distances and parcel sizes are small.
Hirra Khan Adeogun, head of car free cities at climate charity Possible, which commissioned the report, told the Guardian: “We’ve seen home deliveries skyrocket during the Covid lockdowns and that trend is likely to continue.
“We urgently need to put on the brakes and reevaluate how goods move through our cities. Cargo bikes are one solution that we need to get behind.”
The report found electric cargo bikes cut carbon emissions by 90% compared with diesel vans, and a third compared to electric vans, which are seen as a green alternative to diesel and petrol-powered vehicles.
Over 100,000 cargo bikes were introduced to freight journeys in Europe between 2018-2020, which the report estimated to save the “same amount of CO2 needed to fly about 24,000 people from London to New York and back” each month.
The study used GPS data from the cargo bike company Pedal Me, which operates within a nine-mile radius of central London.
Researchers compared deliveries of the electric bikes to routes vans would have taken and results suggested cargo bikes saved nearly four tonnes of CO2 across the same period, even when accounting for the food the riders consumed.
Previous studies have claimed that “at least” 14% of delivery vans in London could be replaced by cargo bikes, while a report from CycleLogistics estimated 51% of all freight journeys in cities could be carried out by bike.
Although electric cargo bike use is greater in cycle-friendly European countries, there is a growing trend of uptake in the UK.
Courier DHL Express has expanded its cycle-delivery service over the past 10 years to include the use of cargo bikes for deliveries in major metropolitan areas, with a recent focus on London.
Also, Sainbury’s became the first UK supermarket to trial using electric bikes to deliver groceries to people’s doors within an hour, which it used to help give customers their essential items during the first UK lockdowns.
Lead author of the report, Ersilia Verlinghieri, said: "The several examples existing of companies shifting to cargo bikes together with a study like ours can contribute to building confidence, providing concrete evidence around the benefits that widespread cargo bikes adoption can bring for both businesses and customers."