Logistics rethought: how cargo bikes are revolutionising last-mile delivery

Allstedt, 27 May 2021: Inner-city delivery traffic in German metropolitan areas has steadily increased in recent years. This is also the conclusion of the study "Changes in commercial delivery traffic and its impact on urban logistics", which was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI). According to the study, residents are increasingly concerned about the sometimes massive impact of daily deliveries and find them disturbing. On the other hand, the supply of goods to a city is essential for its residents and economy. It is not only end customers who benefit from free delivery. Traders also need to receive goods - sometimes on a daily basis - and sell them on. Hotels, bakeries and restaurants, for example, cannot survive without a permanent supply of fresh goods.

New approaches for inner-city deliveries

In order to meet increased demands for inner-city deliveries, a change in delivery logistics is required. However, new technologies - for example transport tunnel systems, autonomous vehicles, delivery robots or drones - are still in the development phase. "Delivery by cargo bike, on the other hand, is already a proven alternative today. It can be used to deliver goods cleanly, safely and quietly over the so-called last mile - that is, the stretch of road to the customer's front door," says Raik Vollmann, Managing Director of VSC Bike GmbH. The last mile is often a challenge for logistics companies, since many individual destinations have to be reached with small consignments. The driving distances between the delivery stops are short and the recipients are often not met. To make matters worse, the price structure of this service demands high productivity to be profitable. More and more logistics companies are therefore using the combination of a larger vehicle delivering to a micro-depot outside the city gates and a cargo bike for the last mile. "Cargobikes are virtually predestined for many delivery stops at short intervals," explains Raik Vollmann.

Aachen as a role model

The city of Aachen is a pioneer in delivery by cargo bike. With "smart emma", an online sales platform was launched in 2019 that consistently uses the advantages of this delivery vehicle. Here, customers can put together a shopping basket online from various local retailers. Delivery is made by electric cargo bike. Even freshly cooled goods can be delivered.

Delivery bikes on the road with many advantages

Delivery by cargo bike offers further advantages: Cargobikes are climate-friendly and take up little traffic space. Depending on the size of the cargo bike, the search for separate parking spaces is often completely unnecessary. Riders can use cycle paths or shortcuts in traffic jams. In addition, the bike can often be parked right outside the front door. Backyards are also usually easy to reach for delivery bikes. "Overall, operators and drivers of delivery bikes have less friction with other road users or the authorities," Raik Vollmann summarises the advantages.

Cycle paths must be further developed

However, in order for cargo bikes to effectively contribute to achieving climate neutrality, a declared goal of the German government, municipalities and urban planners are also challenged. In many places in Germany, the cycle path infrastructure does not match the growing demand for cargo bikes. Northern European cities like Copenhagen can serve as a model here. Hardly anywhere else is bicycle traffic promoted as intensively as in the Danish capital. On central traffic roads, for example, cycle lanes are clearly separated from car lanes by kerbs. In some streets, the traffic lights have also been changed so that the slower participants, who are travelling at around 20 kilometres per hour, have a green wave. The faster ones, on the other hand, stand at the traffic lights more often.

A start has also been made in Germany. The federal government has committed itself to the cargo bike with a purchase premium and subsidises its purchase with a grant of 25 per cent of the price - up to a maximum of 2,500 euros.