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E-cargo Bikes Get Official Backing in UK; Start of True Electric ‘Last Mile’ Delivery?

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LONDON, UK – The UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT) has made GBP 2 million (2.3m euro) funding available for the acquisition of e-cargo bikes, to support last mile deliveries by England’s business and corporate sector.

E-cargo Bikes Get Official Backing in UK; Start of True Electric ‘Last Mile’ Delivery?
Current UK’s Royal Mail e-cargo bike. – Photo Royal Mail

According to the DfT, the funding is available to limited companies, sole traders, partnerships, charities and not-for-profit organisations. Public and community organisations are also eligible providing they meet the eligibility criteria.

20 percent of total costs covered

The e-cargo bike grant funding covers up to 20 percent of the total cost of an e-cargo bike, up to a maximum of GBP 1,000 (1,170 euro) per bike. To be eligible for funding, an e-cargo bike must have minimum 125 litre cargo volume capacity and minimum 130 kg weight capacity (combined rider and cargo weight). Applications will be capped at 50 e-cargo bikes, or GBP 50,000 (58,000 euro), per organisation.

Energy Saving Trust

The eCargo Bike Grant Fund Information Packincludes an initial, but not comprehensive, list of suppliers and retailers whose e-cargo bikes are eligible for the funding. Potential suppliers are required to email ecargobikegrant@est.org.ukif they wish to be featured in the information pack. The Energy Saving Trust who administers the scheme on behalf of the government, records these requests, and regularly submits a list to their project partners, UK Cycling Logistics Federation (UKCLF) and Bicycle Association (BA). The requests are then reviewed, ensuring that the organisations are eligible suppliers or retailers. UKCLF / BA then feedback their response to Energy Saving Trust who update the information pack accordingly.

Energy Savings Trust say that since the scheme opened to applications on 01 April 2019, 19 applications have been submitted with a further 23 in the process of applying. So far funding worth a total of GBP 16,896 (19,750 euro) has been offered to agreed applicants. The scheme is due to run until 31 March 2020 or until all funds are fully allocated.

Growing Awareness

Certainly there seems to be a growing realisation of the increased role e-cargo bikes can play in cleaner urban transport by reducing reliance on petrol and diesel powered vans and lorries. A recently published two-year study into the use of “Light Electric Freight Vehicles” (LEFVs) coordinated by the Amsterdam and Rotterdam Universities of Applied Sciences concluded “E-Cargo Bikes are a great alternative for some 20 percent of all delivery vans currently operating in large cities.” For this complete study click here

Local infrastructure needed

However, the same study noted barriers to large organisations that rely on fleets of larger delivery vehicles. Consequently they have not taken up the opportunities afforded by smaller electric delivery vehicles on any great scale. It’s clear it’s not just about getting more e-cargo bikes and LEFVs on the streets to ensure their popularity; there needs to be the right coordinated local infrastructure to support such deliveries.

As the above study also stated “Use of LEFVs/e-Cargo Bikes requires a good location of hubs, next to robust processes, supporting information and communications technology, collaborating employees and a good organization. LEFVs are for this type of activity, delivering in a city environment, cheaper and more reliable than, for example, the delivery van”.

Signs of Change?

The UK transport sector, like elsewhere in Europe, has been slow in the uptake of e-cargo bikes and LEFVs. But there are a few signs things might just be beginning to change, especially in and around London.

There have been some headline catching pilot schemes. For example, Drings Butchers in London’s Royal Borough of Greenwich took part in a six-month trial delivered by cycle charity Sustrans. Monitoring revealed that during the trial 95% of local deliveries under 5 kilometers were made by the e-cargo bike as opposed to the old method of company van.

Much bigger UK businesses relying on local delivery have also dipped a foot in the e-cargo bike world, those tempted including Sainsburys and Co-op supermarkets, two of the country’s largest. Royal Mail have also started trials with electric delivery trikes and would represent a huge prize if they decided to go mainstream with e-cargo bikes. But are these just part of the latest corporate marketing fashions or part of a longer term trend?

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone

There are a couple of hopeful signs that they may be the latter and a ‘carrot and stick’ approach seems to be emerging. One ‘stick’ just introduced is London’s world-firstULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone), that seeks to exclude polluting vehicles from the capital’s centre by imposing financial penalties, in effect promoting cleaner, electric vehicles. But that’s not necessarily an inducement to replace large, congestion-inducing vans with sleeker, more energy eficient e-cargo bikes, just a motive to switch from hydrocarbon to electric without necessarily reducing the size of your delivery vehicle. Still, it is welcome start.

Engineering down versus up

More of a ‘carrot’ are developments to show how e-cargo bikes can increase payload whilst retaining all the advantages of e-cargo bikes. A good example is the announcement by the UK’s Electric Assisted Vehicles Ltd (EAV), made up of a team of engineers from the automotive, motorsports and aerospace industries, with the aim of engineering down from current light commercial vehicles rather than engineering up from the bicycle (as current e-cargo bikes tend to do).

P1 quadracycle

The resulting vehicle, the P1 retains many of the elements of using a van “but with the immense efficiencies and zero emissions of the e-cargo bike” say EAV. The P1 is a quadracycle that is pedalled and steered like a traditional bike and narrow enough to fit down a cycle path and has a 150kg payload on an extremely stable platform. The idea is clear; a tiny van that can take advantage of the low running costs of a typical pedelec and avoid traffic jams by using London’s burgeoning segregated cycle infrastructure. EAV already appears to have major commercial interest from logistics firm DPD who are onboard with the project.

Of course, all eyes will also be on the emergence of any European standards for cargo and e-cargo bikes which are just beginning to emerge, and which have been covered already on Bike Europe’s website.

Local E-cargo Hubs?

Another ‘carrot’ is also on the horizon. The Mayor of London and Transport for London (TfL) have unveiled a plan to work with boroughs, businesses and the freight and servicing industry to transform how deliveries are made in the capital, with one of the key proposals being land made available for micro-distribution centres in key locations to support sustainable last mile deliveries by e-cargo bike and LEFV style vehicles.

No doubt the task ahead is huge. In London alone half of the value of household expenditure relies on road freight say TfL, adding that movements of goods vehicles in the capital have increased by around 20 percent since 2010, contributing to poor air quality, congestion and road danger.

In summary, current steps to promote LEFVs and e-cargobikes are a drop in the ocean, but at least there are clear ideas forming about what really needs to be done to really promote light electric cargo delivery.

Limits of the Scheme

There are critics of the GBP 2 million e-cargo bike grant scheme, who question why it should be restricted to commercial entities; after all aren’t such tasks as the ‘school run’ and the big shop at the supermarket actually more suited to the typical design of e-cargo bike out there right now? There are carrots to induce non-commercial car drivers to get rid of polluting technology in the form of diesel scrappage schemes, but none that push them in the direction of one of the most efficient forms of people and goods movement available – the humble e-cargo bike.

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