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E-cargo bike delivery service takes on COVID-19

Beate Kubitz
07 April 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic means many people are isolating themselves especially if they exhibit symptoms or are particularly vulnerable to the virus. As Government ‘Stay at home’ instructions were issued, very quickly it became clear a large number of people would become dependent on delivery services and this happened pretty much overnight. One of them was me. A cough early in March and I and my entire household had to isolate for two weeks.

With supermarket deliveries maxed out, I wondered how could I support our local shops and suppliers to meet the needs of people who had to stay at home? I am a transport consultant so I wondered: ‘What if we could help meet those needs with electric cargo bikes rather than relying on petrol and diesel cars and vans?’

Todmorden is a market town in the Upper Calder Valley in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England. It is about 17 miles from Manchester and has a population of just over 15,000 people. Ours is a semi-rural area with people living on the hillsides around the main roads, together with hamlets and farmsteads on the surrounding Pennine moorland. Would a cargo bike delivery service work in this hilly terrain?

I hired a single Riese and Müller Packster 80 from Manchester Bike Hire to find out and engaged a pool of cyclist friends to help me make the deliveries.

Our main suppliers are the Todmorden Indoor Market which has hurriedly gone online so that people can order and pay for vegetables, meat and cheese contact-free. Then there is the Tod Almighty wholefood shop which takes phone orders. On market days we get a list of addresses for deliveries around 12:30. The wholefood shop texts a list around 16:00. We have had help with creating optimal routes from Q Routes, and with managing the round from Drivernet. Our rider sets out about 13:30, and on busy days completes about 15 orders for the market and 3 or 4 for the wholefood shop over the next 3-4 hours.

In our first 11 days, we completed 99 deliveries in 150 miles. Some days were many drops within one small area, so one Friday we made 19 deliveries in 19 miles. Another day there were more ‘drops on the tops’ and it took 25 miles to complete 10 drops.

As the service progresses we are keeping tabs on the data, so eventually we will be able to compare it with more urban services and evaluate the carbon and air quality savings for our valley.

Although this is just a trial, with such an uncertain future for everyone, I am looking at ways it could become a permanent part of the transport landscape in Calderdale. I have already had neighbours asking will the service continue after COVID?

Beate Kubitz is a transport consultant 

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