3 Sep 21

New report: why cargo bikes beat EVs for last mile deliveries

New research reveals huge opportunities for cargo bikes to make last mile deliveries, after GPS tracking showed they were 1.6 times faster than vans.

The study by researchers at the University of Westminster used GPS data to compare routes taken by cargo bikes in London with routes that vans would have taken to deliver the same parcels.

More deliveries per hour

It found that in central London, cargo bikes delivered nearly seven parcels an hour compared to four for vans. The bikes are also significantly cleaner than both electric and diesel vans, according to the researchers. And even when vans transition from fossil fuels to battery power, cargo bikes will still have an advantage in terms of the smaller road space they occupy and their better safety record, say the researchers.

‘The Promise of Low Carbon Freight: Benefits of cargo bikes in London’ was funded by the climate charity Possible. It used telematics data from 13,735 cargo bike deliveries by Pedal Me, a cargo bike logistics company with 55 e-assist cargo bikes in London that cover 25,000km per year, to compare the speed and emissions of cargo bike deliveries compared to van deliveries.

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E-bike emissions

The report does not position cargo bikes as zero emission, estimating 4.5g CO2/km for electricity used and 22g CO2/km to produce the extra food used to fuel the cyclist. But e-cargo bikes still have substantially lower wholelife carbon emissions than either an electric or diesel van. Pedal Me estimates thatone of its cargo bikes could be manufactured and ridden for over 300,000km before it produced the same amount of emissions as a brand new electric van just rolling out the factory.

“Over its lifetime, a diesel van would emit at least eight times as much CO2 per kilometre as an e-cargo bike,” says the report.

Vans cause congestion

It adds that delivery vans cause congestion, spending at least nine minutes per trip looking for a parking space and frequently blocking pavements and cycle lanes when they can find nowhere to park.

Lead Researcher Dr Ersilia Verlinghieri said: “Thanks to the availability of GPS cargo bikes data, we had the great opportunity to develop one of the first detailed simulations comparing actual cargo-bikes’ with vans’ routes.  The results highlight the great potential that cargo bikes can have in helping cities responding to the myriad of challenges they are facing. From tackling transport carbon emissions to reducing the negative health impacts of urban motor traffic, cargo bikes can be of assistance whilst simultaneously improving delivery times in densely populated areas.”

DHL e-bike deliveries

Major logistics firms have already invested heavily in fleets of cargo bikes. DHL delivered 58 million small parcels last year with its fleet of 9,000 e-bikes and e-trikes, and has plans to buy 5,000 more e-trikes by 2025 as it rolls out bicycle delivery in The Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany and Ireland.

Rufus Nijhuis, Ground Operations Support Manager, DHL Express Netherlands, said: “A normal van route makes seven stops each hour. A bicycle route will deliver 10 packages each hour. That is a big increase in productivity with zero emissions.”


Image: Pedal Me

Authored by: Jonathan Manning