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Cargo bikes in city logistics

The power of pedals

They are fast, efficient and climate-friendly: cargo bikes and cargo bike trailers are becoming increasingly popular for the last mile. Up to 30 per cent of inner city goods traffic could be transported via cargo bike in future. However, for this to happen, we still need good transport concepts, standardisation and storage space – and greater commitment on the part of politicians.

It quietly meanders along the cycle paths, past the traffic jams, crosses pedestrian and low emission zones and does not block any no waiting zones or streets: the cargo bike. Cargo bikes and cargo bike trailers are becoming increasingly popular for the last mile – and the benefits are clear: using them reduces emissions, cuts down inner city traffic, saves on expensive delivery vehicles and counters the lack of lorry drivers. They are manoeuvrable, efficient, save space and can absolutely replace a small van in inner cities. In 2019, the German Federal Government laid down a target in the National Cycle Transport Plan 3.0: to shift 20 per cent of urban delivery traffic to cargo bikes.

Ralf Bogdanski, Professor of Sustainable City Logistics at TH Nürnberg
Ralf Bogdanski, Professor of Sustainable City Logistics at TH Nürnberg

According to Ralf Bogdanski, Professor of Sustainable City Logistics at TH Nürnberg, this goal could even be set at 30 per cent. As a logistics expert and engineer, he has assisted in the development of many cargo bikes. ‘Our research shows that at least 30 per cent of urban parcel shipments could be transported by cargo bikes. But currently we are far below this target at well under five per cent’, says Bogdanski.

In terms of figures, the market is still a niche one, but the potential is huge. Cycle logistics is one of the most dynamic industries in Germany. According to the German Cycle Logistics Association (RLVD), its turnover is growing by over 50 per cent every year and new manufacturers, models and fields of application are added every year. Almost all the major parcel service providers have established their own fleet. The main advantage for logistics specialists: cargo bikes can travel on other transport networks.

Standardisation is key

However, there are some disadvantages compared to motorised vehicles: a cargo bike can only travel at 25 km/h and has a limited capacity with a maximum net load of 300 kg. They do not work for all goods, but the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages, particularly for the parcel industry. ‘Cargo bikes can bypass traffic jams, are permitted in pedestrian and low emission zones, can take shortcuts and go down one-way streets in the opposite direction to the usual traffic. These are clear advantages in efficiency – particularly with small and light parcels. The biggest challenge, however, is that you can’t just buy a cargo bike and ride off on it. ‘You need a concept that compensates for its speed and cargo capacity disadvantages,’ says Bogdanski.

‘Standardisation is key for logistics’, emphasises Bogdanski. ‘Cargo bikes and cargo bike trailers can only be successful in logistics if there is standardisation in terms of removable racks and carriers for efficient parcel exchanges. In addition, heavy cargo bikes must be able to transport euro pallets.’ The latter is already used in the industry but there are so far only a few manufacturers of interchangeable containers whose boxes mainly only fit on their own bikes. ‘At the moment, every manufacturer is creating their own system in the hope that potential customers will opt for theirs. But in logistics, this is the wrong approach. It all has to be compatible. And the market is big enough for lots of suppliers,’ says Bogdanski.

Frank Jørgensen, President of the DACH region for UPS
Frank Jørgensen, President of the DACH region for UPS

The pioneers on the logistics side include UPS. The parcel service provider carried out a small test operation using cargo bikes together with the City of Hamburg back in 2012. ‘The aim back then was to find new ways of cutting down inner city traffic while maintaining reliable deliveries without having to make compromises’, says Frank Jørgensen, President of the DACH region for UPS. ‘Right from the start, we knew we needed a solution that could be applied to other cities too. We started locally, but were already thinking globally.’ Today, UPS has around 100 cargo bikes in Germany and fleets in more than 30 cities across the world, including Dublin, Paris and Portland.

Interim storage remains a challenge

When UPS launched its pilot project ten years ago, it was a kind of start-up within a traditional global company that needed to prove itself. ‘We need to be the ones who are disruptive to ourselves, otherwise it will be someone else’, emphasises Frank Jørgensen. ‘Our city logistics is now an established form of delivery. But many cities have still got their heads buried in the sand and are standing in the way of the potential offered by sustainable logistics.’ Suitable storage spaces and microdepots in particular are often lacking and logistics providers often have to fight for rare parking spaces without the support of the authorities. In Hamburg, for example, UPS has small storage spaces in various private buildings and has recently started collaborating with the parking space management company Apcoa. In Frankfurt, the company uses a mobile container, in Paderborn a trailer with parking permit and in Munich, where UPS covers two thirds of the low emission zone with cargo bikes, it uses all three variants. Despite this, temporary storage remains a considerable challenge.

‘The lack of space is a problem. In places where you need them in urban metropolitan regions, logistics facilities are not easy to come by or are far too expensive,’ agrees Bogdanski. He is therefore researching alternative solutions for the very last mile without the use of microdepots. His approach? A mixed use of public transport. In the first step, Bogdanski wants to use train stations and bus stops as transfer points. Deutsche Bahn already makes this possible at its stations and this could be made possible at bus stops too. After all, these are located in public spaces and are very easy to access by motorised vehicles. In the second step, Bogdanski wants to transport goods via public transport. So as not to disrupt passenger traffic and also enable easy planning for logistics companies, goods should be transported during times of low use.

Germany is a pioneer

But cargo bikes are not just lacking storage spaces and parking zones, but also suitable transport routes. Above all, conventional cycle paths need to be made wider and safer for these bikes. The National Cycle Transport Plan 3.0 adopted by the German Federal Government is a step in the right direction, because cargo bikes are at least now actually being discussed by politicians. Germany is a pioneer when it comes to heavy and three-four wheeled cargo bikes, and could become a global market leader given the right political framework. ‘If just a fraction of the amount that has been invested in e-mobility in the private sector were to be invested in cargo bike manufacture, we would be light years ahead of where we are now. Up to now, it has been neglected and manufacturers have had to create under their own steam. And this is not feasible at all for many,’ says Bogdanski.

The industry is currently in an invention phase. Not only is it demanding more commitment from politicians, but it also needs to cater much more for the needs of logistics companies. UPS wants future cargo bike models to be completely independent of the electricity supply from the socket and either undergo a reduction in bike weight or an increase in engine power to be able to better master gradients, says Jørgensen.

And Bogdanski thinks that the urban logistics of the future will be a three-way mix of cargo bike, small electric vehicles and electric commercial vehicles – combined with a blended use of existing transport infrastructures: ‘We don't have a one size fits all solution, but a whole toolbox. Only if we use these will we be able grow sustainable city logistics rather than have a bunch of isolated individual solutions.’

Dr.-Ing. Tom Assmann, Chair of the Cycle Logistics Association Germany (RLVD)

Dr.-Ing. Tom Assmann, Chair of the Cycle Logistics Association Germany (RLVD)
Dr.-Ing. Tom Assmann, Chair of the Cycle Logistics Association Germany (RLVD)

"Cycle logistics is one of the most dynamic and innovative industries in Germany. Its turnover is growing by 50 per cent annually and every year there are new, exciting cargo bike and trailer models on the market and ever more new fields of application are being tapped into. At RLVD, we want to ensure that 30 per cent of commercial traffic in cities is handled by cargo bikes by 2030. After parcels, we now need to focus on pallets. Cycle logistics requires just ten per cent of the energy of conventional delivery vehicles and thus makes an active contribution to climate protection. To leverage this potential, however, the authorities need considerably more room to manoeuvre in order to bring their transport systems in line with CO2 reduction policies. This includes a speed limit of 30 km/h, zero emission zones, superblocks and the establishment of continuous, safe cycle networks."

Markus Bergmann, Founder and engineer of CARLA CARGO

Markus Bergmann, Founder and engineer of CARLA CARGO
Markus Bergmann, Founder and engineer of CARLA CARGO

"We are convinced that cargo bikes and cargo bike trailers are essential elements for climate-friendly delivery in urban areas. If we consider the consequential costs of cars in an honest way – such as particulate matter pollution, time stopped in traffic, the ratio of vehicle weight to transport weight and increasing numbers of bans – we can see that cargo bikes and cargo bike trailers are more climate-friendly, quicker, space-saving, more efficient – and more affordable in lthe ight of increasing fuel costs. With the use of CARLA CARGO trailers, companies can often quadruple their transport volume and weight without having to take on extra staff. However, clear commitment from politicians is still lacking, along with the associated redesign of urban spaces towards a city that is good to live in and has people at its heart. Germany is lagging behind in this respect and will not be able to keep up with the international trends and banning of cars from urban spaces in the long term."

Johannes F.D. Hill, Head of Global Business Development RYTLE

Johannes F.D. Hill, Head of Global Business Development RYTLE
Johannes F.D. Hill, Head of Global Business Development RYTLE

"RYTLE is focusing on a holistic, networked transport concept and can electrically lift and transport goods with standard euro pallet dimensions with the new cargo bike MovR 3. This is a core feature of our concept because after all, the vehicle needs to be adapted to suit the dimensions and requirements of logistics. Given that modularity and flexibility are king, cargo pick-up and cargo containers are playing an ever greater role. Cargo bikes require less space, are subject to fewer restrictions and are thus quicker, more efficient, quieter and more climate-friendly for short distances in densely built-up urban areas. This is why the bike should be taken into consideration when it comes to the further infrastructure-related planning of inner cities. This involves both the seamless integration of micro depots at operationally sensible hubs for route optimisation as well as traffic safety. Because one thing is certain: volumes on the last mile are continuing to grow."

Beres Seelbach, Co-CEO and co-founder ONOMOTION

Beres Seelbach, Co-CEO and co-founder ONOMOTION
Beres Seelbach, Co-CEO and co-founder ONOMOTION

"Our goal is to improve quality of life in inner cities by rethinking urban logistics. Our e-cargo bike ONO replaces conventional vans for the last mile. It is more efficient, quieter, quicker and completely emission-free. In order to bring about a sustainable change in the commercial transport used for the last mile, we need better infrastructure, more micro hubs, containerisation and standardisation. Funding for e-cargo bikes must also be adapted by politicians."

Robin Haycock, CEO and Founder Fernhay

Robin Haycock, CEO and Founder Fernhay
Robin Haycock, CEO and Founder Fernhay

"Our system works in harmony with existing van fleets and scales the opportunity for sustainable last mile deliveries improving the lives of people in cities and reducing planet impacts. We have created an eco-system of equipment from eWalkers to eQuads and all associated equipment required by a depot that compliments the existing (electric) van. We design for the needs of large van fleet managers by making our designs robust, serviceable and with lifetime costs far better than the typical freight cycle (or van). The designs are based around utility which enables our equipment to enter through doors and navigate the narrowest of infrastructures. Fernhay, has a significant and well-funded Innovation team and we are continuously working with our customers to test equipment and systems that make cycling and walking logistics scalable with higher performance and continuously improving the customers experience of working with us on a great sustainable future journey."

David Müller, Director Urban Hubs at APCOA Parking Deutschland

David Müller, Director Urban Hubs at APCOA Parking Deutschland
David Müller, Director Urban Hubs at APCOA Parking Deutschland

"Car parks can be so much more than a place to leave cars. Together with our partner firms, we offer numerous services in our car parks, such as car washes, parcel collection stations, e-charging stations and micromobility services. The challenges in setting up urban hubs are the legal and construction-related stipulations. One example of this is the so-called parking space key. Authorities use this to determine how many parking spaces a multi-storey car park or underground car park must have. The basis for this is assumptions from the 1970s when everyone still went to work by car. Another challenge is a structural one: the height limit, which is two metres in most APCOA car parks. This means that logistics service providers can currently deliver parcels using small vans to car parks so they can be loaded onto emission-free vehicles such as cargo bikes for the last mile. APCOA is currently in discussions with both authorities and other partners and we are optimistic that we can find solutions here and make our contribution to a revolution in mobility and climate-friendly future."

Eurobike Frankfurt 13 – 17 July 2022

Plakat Cargobike Area auf der Eurobike

Be there when important players from logistics and industry discuss the topic of "Cargo bikes & urban logistics" at the Eurobike. The experts include: Dr. Tom Assmann, from the RLVD bike logistics association, Prof. Dr. Kai-Oliver Schocke from ReLUT – Research Lab for Urban Transport, Gerd Seber from DPD, Klaus Grund from Sachen auf Rädern and many more.

To the programme of the Cargobike Area at the Eurobike

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  • Future Mobility