By Dr. Tom Assmann, Research Group Lead at Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg

Cargo bikes and cycle logistics arrived in European cities to make streets a safer and more liveable urban space. In contrast to e-vehicles like cars and delivery vans they are really zero-emission. In most countries, electricity is by far not carbon-free at all. The European Commission aims for 40% renewable energy by 2030. That actually means that more than half of the energy consumed by any electric vehicle still harms society or causes greenhouse gas emissions. Facing many cities with ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2030 or 2035 this basically means: just changing last mile fleets to electric delivery vans won`t help. This is essential if you additionally consider that cargo and parcel volumes are steadily growing. A trend which won`t change due to e-commerce.

Cargo bike and cycle logistics did therefore not just come to create better streets, but even more, they did come to grow and reshape urban logistics. Each year, 1.7 Mio. light duty vehicles are newly registered in Europe. When talking about cargo bikes, we can likely assume sales of 300.000 bikes a year, but more than half of them are bought by private users. That basically means, there is a large gap to close in order to make urban logistics carbon neutral. The annual sales growth rate of 66% for cargo bikes in 2021 therefore is not just high, it is essentially necessary. In order to fix the climate and to make cities achieve their goals, cargo bikes and cycle logistics need to pertain steady and strong growth. 

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Reshaping urban logistics is a complex task. To foster cycle logistics however there are five efficient points for success:

  • Cargo bike funding schemes. The economies of scales for cargo bikes are still minor compared to the automotive sector. This will decrease over time and well-made subsidies will help the industry to reach similar levels. Funding schemes should include the purchase of a bike and also leasing schemes of bikes. The latter is common practice with businesses.
  • Public procurement policies for sustainable vehicles and logistics. Most often public administration replaces an old car through a new (and maybe) electric one. If a city wants to make a difference, start to be the driver of change. Firstly, set up regulations which require the public sector to scrutinize whether a cargo bike (or just bike) can also do the job of a car. Secondly, hire local cycle logistics companies to transport your documents, goods and mail within a city and look for interurban cycle logistic networks for long distance transports. 
  • Regulate for people. Most cities are still in the legacy of car-centric planning paradigms and corresponding urban traffic regulation. This needs to change by putting people first and making streets usable and secure for everyone. Ways to go are ultra-low-emission zones, circulation plans, general reductions of the speed limit (to 30km/h for instance) or the implementation of Superblocks. Cycle logistics then comes as a free rider. 
  • Make space for cycle logistics: Cycle logistics needs micro hubs and similar facilities all over the city and close to the service area in order to provide effective and good services. Currently, this is blocked by a scarcity of affordable spaces for those premises. Cities need to get the means to plan urban logistics spaces as part of urban planning and transport planning. This means to hire people to plan urban logistics. Urban logistics needs to be integrated with urban and transportation planning. Most importantly, it needs to be possible to consider logistics requirements and spaces in zoning and housing regulations. 
  • Develop proper infrastructure. Secure, wide and well connected cycling paths are vital for everyone. It is very difficult to make anything wrong by building two meter wide cycling paths or to dedicate a car lane to a cycling path.

Cycle logistics has developed the cargo bikes and business models to take over major parts of urban goods movements. What the sector now needs is a level playing field. This is where politics and public administration comes into place. Those five points are essential to reach it. Considering the fact that fighting climate change is a race against time, politics better start getting their hands on them now.