E-cargo bikes: the future of urban deliveries
A local community venture in Milton Keynes is embracing zero emissions deliveries by trialling e-cargo bikes – a new way of moving goods and services around the city.
Food Connect, a food redistribution service set up by the environmental charity Hubbub, took delivery of an electric van and two e-cargo bikes at the start of 2020 with another two bikes coming later this year through the new e-cargo bike for business scheme in the city. Hubbub coordinates the Community Fridge Network and Food Connect was set up to address the challenges of transporting surplus food to these fridges.
We asked Helen Innes, Food Connect Project Coordinator at Hubbub, to tell us about her experience of trialling a new way of making urban deliveries across the City.
Why e-cargo bikes?
“Our overall mission is to reduce food waste. Milton Keynes has the highest density of community fridges and we redistribute surplus food from retailers, manufacturers and suppliers to local communities. I wanted to increase the impact of community fridges in Milton Keynes and work with Hubbub on addressing the ‘final mile’ problem, which is a complex logistical challenge facing community fridges in the country.
Our electric van is so useful, but we decided to go a step further by introducing a pilot of e-cargo bikes to find out which would be the most efficient.”
How has the trial gone so far?
“We took delivery of our new e-cargo bikes during lockdown and really had to adapt our project overnight. Working in partnership with Milton Keynes Council, NHS, Carers MK and parish councils, we began delivering food parcels to residents who were shielding or struggling to access food.
The e-cargo bikes gave us the opportunity to respond really quickly to areas in need and helped us to work really efficiently in making deliveries across the city. We set up a network of volunteers and having this fleet meant that we didn’t have to rely on people with their own vehicles. The lifeline that we were able to give to people through our deliveries has been integral and the feedback to the service has been brilliant.
As Food Connect emerges from lockdown, we continue to support parish councils with their food parcel deliveries to shielding homes using the e-cargo bikes. The e-van visits food retailers to collect surplus food for the newly reopened community fridges – anyone can visit and share good food.”
What are the benefits that you’ve found so far in using e-cargo bikes?
“The key thing is that the riders love them. They’re so unique and our volunteers were really keen to try them out. They were coming back from deliveries buzzing. They were getting fresh air and exercise on top of the adrenalin from making deliveries, which was just brilliant.
They’re also highly visible so they have become a real talking point to the people that the riders met on the way. We have branded our bikes so it’s a great way of raising awareness of our work to others.
One of the other long-term benefits will, of course, be the fact that we mitigate the need for fuel costs so the bikes will keep our operating costs down.”
Are they easy to ride?
“They do take a little bit of getting used to, but Milton Keynes Council offer bikeability training to ensure that all our riders were comfortable and safe on the road. This gave us additional reassurance that our riders and the public are kept safe.”
How easy has it been to fit e-cargo bikes into your operations?
“The project has reshaped week by week. There’s never a set amount of food and we have to respond really quickly when we have a collection. What’s been nice about the bikes is that you can just jump on them and go. It will be interesting to see how things will change as the project progresses but I think we’ll continue to appreciate the flexibility that the bikes give us.”
Have you had to worry about range?
“Not at all. The type of journeys that we make mean that we never get anywhere near to running out of battery. They have a really good range and I don’t think we’ll ever get to fully test how far they can go. They’re also really easy to charge – simply plug them into the wall.”
What advice would you give to any business wondering if it could work for them?
“Just go for it! You’ll be surprised and enlightened about how great it is. Obviously colder and wetter months will be more challenging, but we are all enjoying the chance of being outside on a bike away from the traffic.
The benefit of being in Milton Keynes is also the fact that we have the Red Ways and this makes some of our journeys actually much more efficient than by car, so we’re finding deliveries are actually quicker a lot of the time.
It’s been so surprising quite how much you can carry on the bikes too. The GSD Tern and Carla Cargo trailer certainly holds more than the boot of my family car. I see so many benefits for businesses and I’d definitely say give them a try.”
Any business who would like to trail an e-cargo bikes as part of the e-cargo bike lease can register their interest to find out more.
Hubbub is a UK-based environmental charity. They communicate environmental issues that are relevant day-to-day, such as the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the homes we live in and our neighbourhoods. Hubbub coordinates the Community Fridge Network, which consists of over 95 community fridge projects across the country. They helped set up the Wolverton Community Fridge along with other community fridges in Milton Keynes, and are leading the trial for Food Connect. If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact us.