Information in English
Electric cargo bikes for courier logistics services (Summary)
Information in English
Ambitious goals for climate protection on the one hand and ever-growing demand for urban freight transport on the other are increasing the need for new logistics structures which help to improve distribution efficiency, especially for the “last mile” of urban deliveries. One approach to achieving a reduction in emissions is the introduction of electric cargo bikes.
The project “Ich ersetze ein Auto” (“I substitute a car”) had the objective of establishing electric cargo bikes as a climate-friendly mode of transport for courier logistics. An accompanying study investigated the substitution potential of electric cargo bikes as well as user acceptance of them in courier logistics. Furthermore, this project was designed to achieve high public visibility and demonstrate urban freight delivery “best practice” to other companies and disseminators.
The accompanying research conducted by the DLR Institute of Transport Research was based on extensive data collection, including 2.7 million trip data records of the participating project partners, two surveys among (largely) independent messengers, and expert interviews with CEOs and dispatchers of the courier companies.
40 electric cargo bikes were successfully deployed in the daily routines of courier and express logistics providers in eight major German cities. The vehicles were used continuously and with increasing success. During the 21 months of observation, around 127,000 shipments were carried out by messengers using the project vehicles, accounting for 8% of all shipments of the participating companies. The vehicles were used for approximately half a million kilometers in operational business.
Bike messengers and car messengers shared a similarly positive assessment of electric cargo bikes’ potential. However, it was primarily bike messengers who were willing to change to this type of vehicle. The results of a binary logit regression showed various factors influencing whether messengers would accept electric cargo bikes. These factors include socio-demographic attributes such as age, gender, income, and education, as well as individual perception of the technological innovation, and job-related characteristics. The strongest positive influence regarding cargo-bike acceptance was found among respondents with experience of using a cargo bike.
Due to the small shipment sizes and distances in courier logistics, electric cargo bikes have a large potential to substitute courier deliveries by car. About 42% of the shipments currently carried out by cars and 19% of the resulting mileage could be covered by electric cargo bikes. Already during the course of the project it was possible to increase the mileage share of climate-friendly vehicles by approximately 2%, resulting in direct CO2 reductions of 53-56 tons.
This project achieved high public visibility. The positive effects of successfully demonstrating electric cargo bikes therefore go beyond the limited amount of direct CO2 reduction. Many companies within courier logistics and other business sectors stated interest in using cargo bikes. The project’s results were used by public authorities to legitimize subsidizing commercial cargo-bike procurement or further investigation of this topic.
All project-related vehicles are still in use after the end of the project. Some courier companies plan to extend their cargo bike fleet.
The project “Ich ersetze ein Auto” was an important step in establishing a new mode of transport for courier logistics. Currently, electric cargo bikes are of particular interest to bike messengers. It was hard to motivate car users to participate in the project. Socio-demographics, work organization and individual attitudes of the (individual) messengers influenced their acceptance of this vehicle concept. The positive effect of experiencing cargo bikes for oneself underlines the importance of large-scale fleet trials.
In order to exploit the full technical potential of electric cargo bikes, the whole organizational process of courier logistics services needs to be taken into account. This might make it necessary to restructure the company’s pricing and remuneration model, and to do some marketing. Self-employed messengers are decision-makers concerning vehicle and shipment choice and are therefore an important group of actors in courier logistics. Although structures are gradually shifting towards a climate-friendly use of electric cargo bikes for the “last mile” of urban deliveries, this transition is not yet complete. Due to the large amount of public interest this project created, many multipliers were reached. A consolidation and expansion of commercial cargo-bike use inside and outside courier logistics can therefore be expected.
The project “Ich ersetze ein Auto” (i.e. “I substitute a car”) was funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment as part of the National Climate Initiative. It ran from April 2012 to June 2014. Coordination and scientific research of the project "Ich ersetze ein Auto" was being carried out by the Institute of Transport Research, located at German Aerospace Center (DLR).
If you are interested in more details of this project, feel free to contact project manager Johannes Gruber.