E-Cargobikes.com: A sustainable journey.


E-Cargobikes.com: A sustainable journey.

By Alan Braithwaite (NED, e-cargobikes.com)

The world is burning

Look no further than the comments of Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, in relation to the scorching temperatures and wildfires in Southern Europe. It is also gasping; the impacts of such events on health and wellbeing are well documented by Kings College London. The UK Climate Change committee is clear that our country is not on track to meet its Net Zero 2050 goal.

The recent controversy about extending the Greater London ULEZ is evidence of the tensions that are being created in the transition: short term economic self-interest vs. the longer term greater good, during a cost-of-living crisis.

Transport is the biggest single emitter of carbon dioxide (27% of the UK total) and a significant contributor to particulates, albeit the latter has much improved over the last 30 years. The cost for consumers and industry of the transition to electric vehicles is substantial; hence the ULEZ resistance. These costs are experienced as higher vehicle acquisition costs (net of subsidies), a narrower running cost advantage vs. internal combustion engines due to high electricity costs and the challenges of installing charging or finding capacity at the roadside. The press carries repeated stories of the lack of capacity and as much as a 10-year delay to hit targets.

Every little (or big) helps.

Decarbonisation is a profound challenge for people and industry, and the legislation has some hard stops in transport with the sale of internal combustion engines in cars, vans and smaller trucks banned from 2035 and large trucks by 2040.

Focussing on the challenge for business by 2035, and looking specifically at vans, the landscape for operators is confusing, particularly in big cities where air quality measures are being introduced on shorter timescales.

The realities for operators are that the vehicles are expensive, difficult to acquire and lease, and on current electricity prices no cheaper to operate. The shortage of charging infrastructure and the high investment for fleets to instal fast charging make the transition difficult. As the saying goes this is somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

Good management practice includes the idea of continuous improvement. What are called ‘Lean – six sigma methodologies’ offer a structured way to pick off lots of small improvements; together these combine to be transformational. TESCO adopted this in their management methods, enabling them to dominate their sector; the idea was included in their consumer strap line “Every little helps”.

But vans are rather more than a little thing. There are 4 million vans on the UK roads and every day before the pandemic, Transport for London (TfL) estimated that there were:

  • Registered vans in London 217,000
  • Vans crossing the inner London cordon daily 200,000
  • Vans crossing the Greater London boundary cordon daily 350,000
  • Estimate of Vans operating in London daily 500,000

That is a lot of vans looking for a new solution in London alone, let alone other big cities.

Let’s take that as a challenge and discover just how e-cargobikes can be the small thing that fills the big need.

Electric cargo bikes – the potential and benefits

The Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences recognise the potential estimate of maximum e-cargo bike penetration to replace vans is 10% - 15% of current van use (1). A more recent paper in The Transport Review puts the potential at up to 50% (2).

The lower end of this range at 15% penetration would take 75,000 vans off the roads in London and 600,000 in the UK – the upper end is 250,000 vans in London and 2 million nationally: rather more than a little. E-cargobikes are not the entire solution to last mile city logistics – just an important element.

However, the application of e-cargobikes at industrial scale is relatively new; e-cargobikes.com has accumulated a hundred thousand of hours of operating experience, making over half a million tempurature controlled zero-emission deliveries - perhaps more than any other UK operator in this area.

Here are the highlights:

  • An e-cargobike can do the work of a 3.5t van within a defined area of around a 5-mile radius.
  • The use of bike lanes and traffic free zones overcomes congestion, enables faster road speeds, and the ease of parking saves time as well as avoiding PCNs.
  • This more than offsets the need to return to base for additional loading; a so-called ‘petal’ system.
  • Local fulfilment centres enable e-cargobikes to combine next-day, same-day and same-hour service on a single delivery platform, potentially tripling drop density.
  • The bikes are completely clean – requiring less than 0.5% of the energy of a 3.5 diesel tonne van (1.2% of an electric van) – so virtually zero CO2 and the particulate emissions from tyres and brakes are equally minuscule.
  • E-cargobikes can run on a single battery charge for a shift, where more range is required a spare battery can be fitted in seconds.
  • Batteries can be charged from a standard ring main – so there is no need for costly high power electric installations.

A recent policy meeting at the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport heard from freight operators that the impact of congestion, access and parking on last-mile delivery has been significant. Larger vehicles cannot complete their loads in the time available and are being replaced by multiple vans for the same journeys in city and urban areas. The vans in turn are not able to do the work that they once could because of routing and traffic restrictions. Costs are nearly double for some operators.

In this worsening outlook for vans, e-cargobikes estimate their bikes are around 30% more cost efficient than a van. Meanwhile the demand for home delivery and same-day service is growing fast – with delivery on the same day, and same hour becoming the trend in consumer demand.

Achieving fast and widespread adoption

The first major change on this ‘journey’ is the transition to a second generation of e-cargobikes. Traditional e-cargobike design, as illustrated, is pretty much the same vehicle that Dutch and Danish families use to transport their children.

E-cargobikes.com has used these vehicles 100’s of thousands of hours around London and that practical operating experience has shown that:

  • Loading and unloading is time consuming, frequently involving costly double handling.
  • The limited payload is a constraint on productivity potential.
  • Road and cycle infrastructure in the UK is challenging for the ‘domestic’ build standard in areas such as vehicle frame durability due to poor surface conditions, potholes, level crossings, speed humps, etc.
  • Motor and battery technologies designed for domestic use are  inadequate for high duty-cycle use experienced in commercial applications.

Notwithstanding those limitations, e-cargobikes.com have proven that these bikes can do more work than a 3.5 tonne van in urban areas.

Second-generation cargobikes  

E-cargobikes.com have now introduced the Berlin-built ONO-Motion to the UK. It carries 190Kgs in a 2 cubic metre modular load container that can be rolled on and off its tractor unit in under 60 seconds.

This second-generation class of e-cargobikes resolve many of the shortcomings of the earlier vehicles. These feature modular loading to avoid double handling,  greater payload, and are built to automotive standards.

The ONO e-cargobike will support longer delivery journeys, greater bulk and also a whole range of service and support activities: from plumbers and office equipment to catering, food service and retail delivery.

Initial studies show that rider ‘up-time’ (time between arrival at the first delivery and completion of last delivery) for the ONO is 74% compared to 38% for a traditional fixed-body cargobike, promising significant cost reductions for operators and their customers.

Securing the potential cost reduction from this new generation of e-cargobikes require some operators to adjust their logistics operating model. In some cases, like the plumber, service agent, local merchant, it will be a simple plug and play. But for others, they will need to implement software changes. Planning order capture and delivery commitment for a bike is quite different than for a van and the experience is that the algorithms don’t transfer, let alone the geospatial mapping. They may also need to establish micro-hubs to allow bulk movement into the general delivery zone for onward movement by e-cargobikes. ONO’s modular loading enables this with minimal double handling, and micro-hubs will be able to accommodate a range of traffics. This is exactly what amazon.com is doing in Bishopsgate in the city of London, albeit without the increased efficiency of swap-body containerisation.

E-cargobikes.com have secured a multi-year exclusive agreement with ONO-Motion GmbH and are now offering ONOs through a range of contracts, from full-service fleets with trained and insured riders, to vehicle only leasing and maintenance contracts with client rider training programs.

The potential for these high-capacity, zero-emission vehicles is clear - saving operators money, helping address the climate crisis, reducing congestion, and improving air quality, while also overcoming many of the challenges facing van based last-mile delivery such as electric vehicle availability, cost and charging infrastructure.

It is a win-win-win. One might say “Every big helps a lot”.

Change is never easy; e-cargobikes has already travelled many hard yards on this journey and learnt a lot. The vision and potential are clear, the opportunities are huge.

Take the next step of the journey with us as clients and investors.

Contact James FitzGerald. CEO on james@e-cargobikes.com

  • Balm, S., Sluijsmans, J., & Anand, N. (2017). The use of electric cargobikes for the delivery of goods and services: lessons from two experiments in the food and field services sector in The Netherlands
  • Narayanan, S. and Anonio, C. (2022) Electric Cargo Cycles – A comprehensive review, Transport Policy 116


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