Tom de Wilton and Ben Towler of OxWash. Pic: Karen David

Electric cargo bikes: Last and first mile trailblazers

 4 mins | By Karen David
 | Infrastructure | Aug 23rd 2019

As congestion adds to the cost of urban goods deliveries, firms are taking to cargo bikes for last mile deliveries. Two firms are leading the way with delivery services that will ease traffic and reduce carbon emissions.

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Pedal & Post 

Oxford’s largest cycle courier Pedal & Post has almost doubled in growth year-on-year, since it was formed in 2013.

“If it fits on a cargo bike we’ll deliver it,” says founder and managing director Chris Benton.

And with most parcels, it will. Pedal & Post delivers just about anything from veg boxes, to T-shirt consignments, student newspapers and even blood supplies for the NHS.

“Cargo bikes can do 51 per cent of goods deliveries in an urban centre like Oxford,” says Benton.

Pedal & Post delivering for Yodel in Oxford. Pic: Pedal & Post

Online shopping is one of the firm’s key growth drivers. For the past two years, the firm has handled last mile deliveries for national online service Yodel. “Our business with Yodel grew 23 per cent in the first year, and this was purely down to people ordering online. Now we’re delivering around 400 to 500 parcels a day for them,” says Benton.

“We’re trialling with the e-cargo trike to take everything and have a 100 per cent zero emission service for Yodel in Oxford,” he adds.

The Iceni three-wheeler has about the same load volume as a Citroen Nemo van, is less than a fifth of the on-the-road price (see comparison chart) and carries a fraction of the running costs.

How running costs compare. Graphic: Supplied by Pedal & Post

Benton says the firm has big plans for expansion.

“We’ve got lots of depot improvements going on. We’re looking to get more of the e-cargo trikes in, then hoping to expand what we do with the parcel carrier and launching new services in the next month or two.”

Benton is running trials for handling first mile deliveries, where Pedal & Post collects from the sender and delivers to the carrier for onward delivery. He is one of the first in the UK to trial the use of GPS units on the bikes to gather data sets for speed, distance and how many times the box is opened.

Asked whether the firm’s growth raises its influence with planning authorities, Benton is upbeat: “We definitely get a seat at the table. There are some great things we’ve been involved with. We know the city and county councils very well and they’re very supportive – as much as they can be.

“But we tend to find they’re still prioritising the motor vehicle over other forms of transport, which is a shame but breaking that status quo will be difficult.

“A tipping point will come but I don’t know what’s going to cause it.”

OxWash laundry service

Founded in 2017 by Oxford University DPhil student Kyle Grant when he sought a low-carbon way to wash rugby kits, OxWash is providing a sizeable chunk of the city’s laundry services. Scaling up fast, it is opening a funding seed round for £1.5m this autumn, to take the OxWash model to more UK cities.

The firm’s seven-strong team ride a fleet of six cargo bikes (with five more coming) from an industrial unit in Osney Mead. The bright-blue OxWash boxes are a familiar sight on the roads, as they cycle around laundry for restaurants, hotels, Airbnb’s and individual homes.

According to lead engineer Tom de Wilton, using bikes builds in efficiency and predictability on journey times.

He explains: “With the bikes, we are 15 minutes away from most places. We don’t intend to hold high levels of stock, so our plan is to get it out of the door as soon as it’s ready. When we deliver, our customer gets a text to select a delivery slot and that can be within 15 minutes.”

Airbnb and the short-letting and home-sharing market are big growth drivers (estimates are 1,500 properties for short term let in Oxford – source Oxford Mail). Those owners need hotel quality linen in smaller quantities than traditional commercial laundries cater for.

De Wilton adds: “We’re smaller and can go in and out quickly. Vans normally give a two-hour delivery window but we give 10 minutes and this works well with cleaners, as we can be there when needed to swap linen over when they’re ready for us.”

OxWash uses Urban Arrow electric cargo bikes, which are built to the customer’s specification, so they can choose the chassis, size of box and so on.

The firm plans to trial Oxford’s first electric quadricycle, designed and built by Bicester firm EAV. This joint project with EAV and Deliveroo will trial the collection, washing and resale of takeaway food containers.

“This will be a high-visibility transport system…to close the loop on single-use packing,” says de Wilton. The firm is seeking grants to expand the scheme with dedicated food washing premises.

“The aim of Oxwash isn’t just laundry – it’s washing anything with net-zero emissions,” he adds.



About the Author

Karen David

Karen has a long career in writing and communications in technology, finance and creative sectors in Oxfordshire, the UK and internationally.

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