Green Cities Fit for Life

Image by M.Štojs

For the short haul

Cities and companies are learning to embrace electric cargo bikes. A new report shows why.

What happens when you convince a delivery service to try out electric bicycles for a year? Turns out they want to keep them.

That’s the finding of an EU-supported research project called Pro-E-Bike which tested the use of electric cargo bicycles, tricycles and scooters for a range of delivery and at-home services—both public and privately owned—in 20 European cities. The goal of the project was to learn whether electric bicycles are a realistic delivery option for businesses and municipal services, and to offer advice and guidelines for those considering a move to cycle logistics in the future.

Most of the public and private companies that took part in the trials—40 in total—chose to hold on to their electric bicycles, some expanding their e-fleet by significant numbers afterward. At the start of the experiment, 79 electric bicycles of various types were used. Today that number has more than tripled. The bikes, it turns out, worked so well in dense urban areas—where delivery rounds are short—that they often outperformed motorized vehicles, saving time, money, and fuel for the test operators.

Hrvatska Pošta, Croatia’s postal service, was one of the trial operators for which the electric bicycles brought significant benefits. After piloting four bikes for a year they decided to buy a fleet of 180 more (worth 500,000 euros) deploying them across the country, each unit replacing a conventional motor scooter.

When GLS, the second largest logistics firm in Italy tried out four pedal assisted bikes in Milan for a year, they went so far as to restructure part of their operation in the city around electric bicycle delivery. The e-bike pilot stimulated new ways of thinking about logistics, resulted in development of a new urban consolidation centre. Simone Vicentini, GLS’s general director in Milan said: “We opened a new logistics centre in downtown Milan, replaced six delivery vans with nine bikes, and hired more staff for the extra vehicles. The result was increased deliveries, productivity and efficiency. Even though GLS hired more people to do the same work, we still save money.” That’s thanks to an 85 percent reduction in energy costs and avoidance of Milan’s congestion charge.

Staffers of a home care service run by the city of Motala in Sweden also embraced their new electric bicycles. “Not everybody wanted to ride bikes instead of cars,” conceded a manager that works for the service, “but there were plenty of other people who did want to use the e-bikes for their work rounds. So there was no problem to find willing employees.” When five neighboring cities learned of Motala’s success, they decided to jump on the electric bandwagon, too, buying a number of e-bikes to use for their own municipal operations.

There is a clear trend in European transport policy to address the problems of motorized transport—congestion, CO2 emissions, road accidents, and noise pollution—of which logistics is a major contributor. And with the rapid growth of e-commerce, fulfilling last mile deliveries in cities with tougher and tougher traffic restrictions is becoming more of a challenge.

Cycle logistics—both the electric and non-electric variety—not only contribute to EU and national policy targets but can also allow cities to stand out as front runners of green urban policies.

Torres Vedras, 2015 European Green Leaf, is one such example. The Portuguese city took part in the Pro-E-Bike study as one of eight pilot cities that developed mobility action plans incorporating e-bikes into their own services. Torres Vedras’s municipal water service, which is responsible for water supply and sanitation for the entire county, started using electric scooters to perform meter readings. The city administration has also started using bike couriers to transfer documents between their offices.

Cities considering cycle logistics to beef up their sustainable mobility plans should check out Pro-E-Bike’s final report “A new move for business: Electric cycle logistics in European cities” which outlines major learning points and success factors, and sets out nine recommendations for authorities at all levels of government.

“New markets are being unlocked throughout Europe,” said Dr Randy Rzewnicki of the European Cyclists' Federation who co-authored the report. “We’re excited about the success of the projects which are bringing e-bikes and cargo-bikes to places with low levels of cycling.”

Pro-E-Bike is a project of the European Cyclists' Federation and nine other partners, funded by the Intelligent Energy Europe Programme of the European Union