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NYC Considers Giving Pedal-Assisted Delivery Vans the Green Light

NYC Considers Giving Pedal-Assisted Delivery Vans the Green Light
NYC Considers Giving Pedal-Assisted Delivery Vans the Green Light
September 8, 2023   //   

New York City will consider a move to allow commercial delivery fleets to include electric-powered cargo bikes.

Cargo bikes, and similar vehicles, are often seen as a viable delivery vehicle for small packages, groceries and other items in dense urban landscapes where parking is in short supply and communities are working to reduce traffic and emissions.

Neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) “can certainly have a place in the logistics network,” said Kelly Rula, director of policy and partnerships at the Urban Freight Lab at the University of Washington, “especially if they can offer a slightly larger carrying capacity than cargo bikes, trailers and quads but still provide carbon and safety improvements.”

NEVs are often seen as fitting nicely in the space between a cargo bike and full-size delivery van. New York City launched its Commercial Cargo Bike pilot program in 2019. By 2022, the cargo bikes delivered more than 5 million packages, making more than 130,000 trips, according to city statistics. It’s estimated the bikes reduced CO2 emissions by more than 650,000 metric tons.

Now, the New York City Department of Transportation is considering a rule change to allow for cargo bikes wider than 36 inches, enabling NEV-type delivery fleets.

Putting more nimble vehicles on the streets could improve delivery efficiencies say researchers. A study conducted by the Urban Freight Lab concluded delivery personnel spend 80 percent of their time walking, given the distance between where the van is parked and where the package needs to be placed.

“Some routes could be replaced by walking routes, perhaps supported by electric carts,” said Giacomo Dalla Chiara, a post-doctoral research associate at the Urban Freight Lab, offering other delivery innovations.

That said, not all settings can be served by NEVs, due to their more car-focused planning and development.

“Geographically speaking, I believe cities with large urban sprawl might not work the best, especially if they rely on highways or multi-lane high-speed travel lanes,” said Chiara, adding the item being delivered matters as well.

“There are industry sectors where cargo e-bikes don’t make sense,” said Chiara, calling attention to the delivery of a large bulky item ill-suited to a cargo-bike type of vehicle.

New York City officials say, given the growth of e-commerce, and the reliance on delivery services, it’s imperative that the city consider new innovations — even if the humble bicycle is hardly new — to both get goods where they need be, and reduce emissions.

“We must do all we can to ensure deliveries are made safely and in a manner that minimizes the emission of greenhouses gasses that contribute to global warming,” said Queens Borough President Donavan Richards, in a statement. “The proposed rule would help us achieve these goals, while also making it easier for bike-riding delivery workers to make a living. I support this proposed rule and look forward to it ultimately being adopted.”

Seeing the interest by companies like Uber and DoorDash to push deliveries toward cargo bikes, electric bike companies like eBliss are developing electric cargo-bike vehicles.

“As cargo-bike technology advances and becomes the norm, we will see widespread adoption,” said Bill Klehm, chairman and CEO of eBliss. “These vehicles are ideal for navigating busy streets and saving on fuel.”