News Article

UK’s Pioneering Last Mile Delivery


LONDON, UK – Whilst major UK logistics companies such as Royal Mail and DPD have launched their own e-cargobike trials, another UK company is showing e-cargobike last mile delivery can go beyond the trial stage to challenge the diesel van delivery culture. The company is called and started life in 2017 after receiving an Innovation Award from the Department for Transport.

UK’s Pioneering Last Mile Delivery
UK supermarket chain Sainsbury is one of the clients of – Photo offer a zero-emission last-mile all-in delivery service for national retailers and grocers providing both bike and rider, and offer a real and viable alternative to the domination of van delivery. The company began with three staff and a small team of riders undertaking trials, but they now have two Hubs, 25 staff and new rider teams added regularly. Further Hubs look to be on the cards in London over the next few months, followed by other urban centres.

Flexibility Key’s Notting Hill centre is their administrative HQ, main workshop and training base. They also work from an Islington Hub serving stores in north and central London and have plans to open their third Hub in east London in the early summer.
Flexibility has been key to their success; “we work with all our clients to design bespoke solutions that dovetail with existing delivery and distribution infrastructure, and because clients’ home delivery systems vary considerably – from picking in store to the use of fulfilment centres or dark stores – we have to be flexible in our approach,” say co-founders Clare Elwes and James FitzGerald.

“Electric cargo bikes are efficient, diesel and electric vans are not."

E-cargobikes becoming embedded in commercial systems gives one example of how e-cargobike delivery really is gaining commercial traction; “Unlike other grocers, who have enormous sunk costs in diesel van-based delivery platforms, the Co-op are unique in having launched their home delivery offer straight to e-cargobikes. Because they are also picking instore, they can offer customers delivery in under two hours from order. We will see many more customers choosing to shop with retailers that offer sustainable delivery.”

They also say the tools are beginning to appear that will allow consumers to choose sustainable last mile delivery. ‘Recently Cross River Partnership, working with local authorities across London, has published a directory, the Ultra-low Emission Supplier Directory.

E-bike background vital

Elwes and FitzGerald come from an e-bike not a logistics background and believe this has been vital to their success; “We understand the product well – its capabilities and its quirks. We can approach the problem of the last mile unencumbered by industry norms.”

They chose narrower width two-wheel ZEG e-cargo bikes, heavily modified by themselves, as they can more effectively utilise cycle lanes, filter safely through standing traffic and park right outside customers’ homes and offices to make deliveries. Three wheeled cargo bikes don’t fit their business model – they are less agile and still hampered by congestion.

Expansion on the cards

The company seem poised to expand outside the grocery sector, ‘The grocery e-commerce sector is projected to reach £170 billion (192 billion euro) by 2020 and our focus has been there, with its stringent cold-chain requirements. However we will soon be expanding into other sectors including apparel and pharmaceutical’.

Meet the Cargonauts

Elwes and FitzGerald say their riders, or Cargonauts, are at the heart of what they do as ‘we work hard to maintain a family ethos. We pay well above the London living wage and there are no hidden costs – no renting equipment, uniforms etc. We are not part of the gig economy. Our riders are fully PAYE employed with guaranteed hours and all the benefits of proper employment. They are fully insured and trained by us.’

The Theory Works in Practice

The stats also backup the mission to be sustainable which can be a struggle in a harsh commercial world. Elwes and FitzGerald again: ‘Our work with Sainsburys exceeded all client KPIs, reducing delivery times, delivery costs, air pollution, Co2 emissions and congestion. It gave us the opportunity to prove that one e-cargobike can deliver the same volume and weight of groceries as a 3.5 tonne van in an urban area.’

Their approach is both energy and money efficient: “Electric cargo bikes are efficient, diesel and electric vans are not – a diesel van requires 3,400 megajoules of energy to deliver a tonne of groceries, an equivalent electric van 2,300, an e-cargobike only 13 megajoules. E-cargobikes generate considerable time efficiencies. They also offer lower running costs and increased productivity due to faster road speeds in urban areas. Costs are further reduced with the avoidance of congestion and emission charges and parking fines; Transport for London data says by replacing a small van with an e-cargobike, clients can save GBP 2,530 (2,863 euro) in congestion charges and GBP 1,500 (1,697 euro) in parking fines.”

Brakes on progress?

What steps do think would help in future? Beyond the obvious – that e-cargobikes should remain classified as bicycles – they would welcome a requirement that all fleet operators over a certain size must legally report their transport emissions, to encourage a transition away from vans. Though much remains to be done in the areas of clean air and cycle infrastructure policies, the company is pleased with growing political awareness too – evidence the UK Department for Transport’s acknowledgement that e-cargobikes are a transformative solution. It showcased their work with Sainsbury’s and announced the UK government’s fund for example.

Elwes and FitzGerald are clear about the ultimate target for their industry. “The European Cycle Logistics Federation reported that 50 percent of all light goods and 25 percent of all goods could be moved by cycle. So, we think the future is good for our industry – it just needs some forward thinking and creative decision-making.”

Comment on this article