It’s about the last mile. That’s why UPS is using what it calls eBikes, or bikes that are powered by electric motors and that can also be peddled in densely populated areas that are friendly to such an infrastructure. First up: Portland, Ore., which the company says has welcomed such bikes and that is committed to reducing its carbon footprint.
“Portland has friendly loading and unloading zones and it is the best place to start” in this country, says Mike Britt, from the UPS automotive department in a telephone interview. “We think there is a lot of delivery opportunity for this platform” such congested urban areas. “There is a lot of potential for this. Many different engineering disciplines are looking at this.”
UPS’ big trucks have 1 thousand cubic of storage and can carry 300 packages on board. The bicycles that UPS uses have one-tenth the space. As a practical matter, the bicycle needs to be able to carry smaller items to a small urban area or be able to make frequent trips back to a nearby distribution center. Envelops, for example, are a typical delivery item that can be stacked onto to a bicycle delivery vehicle.
The success of this pilot program was first demonstrated in 2012 in collaboration with the city of Hamburg, Germany. It focused on developing a new and sustainable method of delivering goods to urban areas. These alternate delivery solutions helped ease traffic congestion and reduce emissions each working day, the company says. Now that model is a guidepost for Portland.
“The bike still has an electric motor on it,” says Britt. “You can still peddle it. You can also lock up the motor and the steering. If the delivery person is out of sight, they can put a cable on it.”
What if it is raining or the weather doesn’t permit?
“You have to have an insurance policy,” answers Britt. “You go back to trucks.”
UPS, he says, is turning back to its past — one that started in 1907 using bicycles as a way to deliver packages. Now, the bikes are modern and use advanced engineering with an electric motor. “It provides better range and volume,” says Britt. “And the emissions profile is the right message to send.”