By Ben Cornwell

Electric vehicles have become increasingly prominent in recent years, with more people trading in their fuel-guzzling Land Rovers in return for a Tesla or other EV models. There are now more than 420,000 purely electric cars on UK roads. However, since the first lockdown, another form of electric transport has been hitting the streets, E-cargo bikes. Solely relying on electricity and pedal power, the bikes cut around 90% in carbon emissions compared with diesel vans, making them a popular alternative for last-mile deliveries.

Back in June 2020, Mat McDonnell and Tim Godwin launched Hastings Cargo Co, an air pollution-free delivery service. You may have seen their cargo bikes every other Thursday around Hastings and St Leonards dropping off the latest issue of HIP. I recently met up with Hastings Cargo’s newest volunteer, Stuart Balkham, at Bonjour café to discuss the company’s plans for the future and why there is a need for change.

Cleaning the Air

From 1990-2019, the total UK domestic greenhouse gas emissions had fallen by 44%. This was largely due to the major decreases in energy emissions, as the UK switched away from coal power in favour of gas. As a result, in 2016, transport became the largest emitting sector. The sector remained relatively static during the same 30-year period with only a 5% decrease. However, 2020 and national lockdowns did bring a major decrease in greenhouse gas emissions for the sector, but unfortunately it didn’t last long. The eventual easing of restrictions led to people getting back in their cars and, unsurprisingly, rates are now almost back up to pre-covid levels.

CREDIT: Hastings Cargo

The long-term effects of air pollution are often overlooked. In Hastings alone there are around 49 deaths attributed to air pollution every year, something which Stuart believes is “just mad”. 

He added, “If fifty people in Hastings died because of drinking the tap water every year, there would be complete uproar and devastation. Air pollution is a real thing. It is difficult to get our heads around because we are so removed from the consequences of it. The actions of driving cars today will only have an effect on our children in a few decades time.”

E-cargo bikes are not only good for the environment they also have a wealth of advantages over other vehicles: they can move more quickly through the city streets, meaning they can deliver packages faster. A study conducted by the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy found that they are 60% faster than their van equivalents. The bikes also cut congestion, as they use just a fraction of the road space of a typical delivery van.

Changing Gears

Many of Hastings Cargo’s initial clients during the lockdowns were food outlets such as Home Ground Kitchen, Stooge Coffee and Half Man Half Burger. But they soon realised they couldn’t maintain their service of delivering hot food as the independent delivery company struggled to compete with chains like Just Eat and Uber Eats who have a higher quality booking system at their disposal. Stuart wants to move away from that particular market for now until they have a larger operation that could manage the demands of the service. 

In some ways, this is a fresh start for the company. Although the infrastructure and template that Mat and Tim initially created are still in place, the two founders are now less involved in the project.

They only have two riders but Stuart would love the company to eventually has a large fleet of e-bikes. But for now, their goals are obtaining grant funding and bringing on a fresh new client base to help support the development of the business and provide a degree of financial stability. He told HIP that he wants to talk to any businesses needing general goods delivered, whether that be local independent businesses or even smaller scale supermarkets like Co-op or Iceland. As long as the products fit on the bikes, Hastings Cargo is interested. 

Stuart added, “As far as jobs go, I think it’s a dream in many ways. I don’t know about you, but I rarely enjoy the experience of driving my car, whereas I pretty much always have a smile on my face when I’m riding a bike. Well, apart from in the most atrocious weather.”

“I think once we have built up our business, it could become a great opportunity for employment in the town.”

Hastings Cargo are also on the lookout for an affordable base of operations (ideally a yard or warehouse) where they could store the bikes and also potentially use the space as an office. 

If you have a space available or your business is interested in working with Hastings Cargo, you can contact them via their website, www.hastingscargo.co


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