As we emerge from lockdown it seems consumer buying habits are irrevocably altered, in particular an increased demand for home deliveries. 

Typically these involve a van bringing shopping and takeaway food to our doorsteps, adding to urban engine emissions and consuming fossil fuels. And while electric-powered vehicles are beginning to appear, as yet they’re simply too expensive for most operators.

PICTURE: Dave Young

Local initiative

Hastings Cargo is a local delivery start-up business taking a transformative approach to lowering pollution levels by using ebikes: “We want to help local businesses reach their customers and deliver their goods in a way that helps us all breathe better air. Electric cargo bikes have been proven to be an excellent solution for last mile (most polluting) deliveries in towns and cities around the world.” As they say on their website.

‘The Hastings Cargo Co air pollution-free delivery service’ is the brainchild of Mat McDonnell and Tim Godwin, long-term volunteers at community bike workshop, Bike Lab Hastings. Covid-19 has meant the workshop can’t run public access sessions so – aware of the the impact air pollution has on local health and mortality figures – low emission, low carbon deliveries seemed to them a logical way to do something positive for the town.

Professional approach

“Many local businesses of all types have been hit really hard by the impact of lockdown, we want to help them get trading again, and avoid more car and van traffic as a result,” explains Tim. “Hastings Cargo has full public liability and employers’ insurance. We are a social enterprise and aim to pay our riders the living wage or more as soon as we can. We are not part of the gig/zero hours economy and our hygiene and social distancing protocols are following best practice guidelines. Based in St Leonards, our delivery area covers pretty much the whole of the town.”

The start-up has four riders and eventually hopes to formalise the project into a workers’ co-operative. Their delivery fleet currently operates three electric assist e-cargo bikes, two Reise & Muller German-made machines, (costing up to £6,000) each, and a locally-built prototype. Hastings Cargo is looking to raise money to get more bikes on the road and intends to obtain grant funding to support the early stages of business development. “We’d like to get between 5-10 bikes and do supermarket deliveries for smaller branches such as Iceland and Coop, whose vans often sit idling for much of the day,” says Tim. Local clients already include Trinity Health Food, Homeground Kitchen and Stooge Coffee.

PICTURE: Dave Young

Wider context

Delivery by e-cargo-bike is already commonplace throughout Europe and becoming established in London where an inspirational company, Pedal Me, has been especially innovative. 

A recent European research project dubbed ‘Pro E-bike’ has concluded that global logistics businesses could achieve huge cost and Co2 savings “in almost every case” if they switched to e-cargo bikes for deliveries in urban areas.

Established under the Intelligent Energy Europe programme, the project tested users such as postal companies, international delivery services, professional carriers, food delivery and retailers supplying a variety of goods.

Bigger UK businesses experimenting with e-cargo bikes already include Sainsburys and Co-op supermarkets, while Royal Mail has started trials with electric delivery trikes. 

Working in nine European countries, logistics giant DHL’s European fleet now includes over 26,000 bikes, of which 9,000 are electric bikes or trikes. The French La Post fleet already has 20,000 ebikes, so the UK has some way to go. 

In September 2018, the UK government announced £2m to support the uptake of e-cargo bikes, to help pave the way for them to replace older, polluting vans. “Encouraging electric delivery bikes onto our city streets will cut traffic and improve air quality,” said Jesse Norman, minister for low emission vehicles.

However it’s not just about getting more e-cargo bikes on the streets; integration into supply chains requires coordinated local infrastructure including in some cases the incentive of avoiding congestion charging – something Hastings Borough Council might wish to consider?

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On The Road

HIP spent an hour shadowing Hasting Cargo Co riders on their rounds, delivering from business premises to customers’ homes where it soon became apparent ebikes are both quiet and quick. A 250 watt electric motor (supported by two Bosch batteries) ensures the 100kg load capacity ebikes make good progress – up to 25kph even when tackling Hastings and St Leonards’ many hills. In fact the main thing slowing the bikes down is cars.

On the narrow streets of Old Town the advantage of two wheelers is demonstrably clear, they can stop without blocking streets or damaging pavements and don’t get stuck in traffic.

In London ebikes such as these often pull trailers, effectively doubling their payload and allowing bulky items like furniture to be delivered. With its wealth of small shops for whom running a van is scarcely economic, the possibilities for expanding the service seem very promising.

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