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Local cargo delivery sector: a path to the future

Juliana O’Rourke looks at new developments and further plans from those in the local micro-delivery field who are gathering for their annual event next month

Juliana O'Rourke
25 April 2024


The explosion of online and app-based shopping has increased the pressure for last-mile delivery. Cargo bikes have been the obvious zero emission choice, with the emerging sector helping address net zero, air quality and decongestion targets.

This year’s Cargo Bike Summit takes place on 10 May in London at the Oval where there will be the opportunity to view a range of vehicles and discuss issues and opportunities for the growing and innovative new sector.

Cargo bikes come in a wide range of sizes, styles and formats, from bikes with ‘buckets’ on the front or back to sophisticated roll-on, roll-off container bikes with swappable bodies that can be pre-loaded with pre-packed cargo.

Some are pedal-powered, but the larger models are electrically assisted. They can be bought, leased, acquired second hand or offered via Vehicle-as-a Service models which include maintenance and insurance. Several local authorities and retailers also offer ‘library’ or ‘try before you buy’ schemes, so cargo bikes are becoming ever more accessible to businesses and consumers.

Electric cargo bikes offer a versatile and efficient method of transport: studies have shown that cargo bikes can save time and money as well as the planet, delivering cost savings of 80% to 90% versus a traditional commercial vehicle.

Many can be quickly loaded with Euro pallets (EPAL); some easily accommodate three children and the family furry friend. Most have powerful batteries and plenty of range – up to 60 miles on one charge. All are legally bicycles and as such can be ridden in cycle lanes, with no requirement for the rider to hold a driving licence.

E-cargo bikes include quadricycles, which are rated for higher weight loads but still classed as bikes – these can offer covered, weather-protected cabins. There are even e-cargo ‘pods’ for passengers; enclosed four-wheel e-bikes that are presented as modern micro cars.

Whatever the type, cargo bikes are gaining visibility on the streets and road of the UK. More and more high street names are trying them out – and liking what they find. FedEx Express Europe recently introduced e-cargo bikes to work alongside its vehicle pick-up and delivery fleet in Greater London, mainly in London City and Hornsey, where they are expected to replace six conventional diesel vans and avoid an estimated 22,000 kgs of CO2 emissions per year.

Electric cargo bikes are also making deliveries to Amazon customers in Croydon, thanks to the launch of its micromobility delivery hub. Croydon is among the first Amazon locations in the UK to use electric cargo bikes, following launches in Wembley, Southwark, Shoreditch, Manchester and Glasgow.

Coupled with on-foot deliveries, electric cargo bikes are now operational from hubs in more than 20 cities across the UK and Europe. In Germany, logistics companies are taking innovation even further, with new Mercedes Benz e-vans being partnered with Berlin-based cargo bike manufacturer ONOmotion, combining the all-electric van and the electric cargo bike to create a seamless mobile supply chain. The e-van, serviced for last mile trips by the e-cargo bike, becomes, in effect, a mobile micro-depot – and the idea will be coming to the UK soon.

A growing number of cargo bike services now operate in the UK. These range from specialised fleets operated by national retailers such as the Co-op and Royal Mail to high street delivery services such to local cargo delivery operators and small businesses using their own bikes.

Supporting the development of e-cargo bikes

The Department for Transport recently launched a consultation on doubling the legal wattage of e-bike and e-cargo bike motors. It said: "E-cargo bikes can deliver the objectives and benefits of active travel as electrical assistance helps riders of cargo bikes transport goods with greater ease. In particular, the use of e-cargo bikes by freight and logistics operators can reduce congestion from other vehicles and improve air quality."

It added: "The policy objective is to increase usage of electrically assisted pedal cycles (EAPCs) and therefore contribute to the benefits of active travel in terms of improving health outcomes.

"The proposals should also support freight operators use e-cargo bikes as it will help e-cargo riders transport freight with greater use, including for heavier loads and uphill.

"To support the development of e-cargo bikes, the government has invested in supporting businesses and local authorities to transition to more sustainable business travel and last-mile deliveries through e-cargo bike grants, including £2.6 million for local authorities from 2 rounds of funding administered by the Energy Savings Trust between 2019 and 2022."

The National Cargo Bike Summit on 10 May at the Kia Oval will bring together cargo bike pioneers aiming to scale up cargo bikes to the next step.


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