Call for more cargo bikes as report reveals benefits of businesses embracing pedal power

Cargo bikes said to help businesses save money and make faster deliveries, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Cargo bike lover Oliver Lord (credit Noah Vickers-LDRS)
Cargo bike lover Oliver Lord (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS)

Sadiq Khan has been urged to take steps to help businesses swap their vans for cargo bikes, as City Hall politicians hailed the vehicles’ “revolutionary” possibilities.

In a new report, the London Assembly’s economy committee said the mayor should provide more money for borough councils to arrange cargo bike sharing and training schemes.

The committee’s investigation explored how businesses in the capital can be incentivised to make a shift away from diesel vans and towards using cargo bikes for their deliveries and other jobs.

Cargo bikes can range from two- or three-wheeled bikes with trailers or storage boxes on the front or back, to four-wheeled, covered vehicles, and can cost up to £12,500 – while the cheapest electric vans cost around £24,000.

The committee found that cargo bikes allow businesses to travel within the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) for a relatively low upfront cost, as well as reducing congestion and pollution.

Their report calls on Transport for London (TfL) to share with the committee any analysis it has done on ensuring that there is uptake for purchasing cargo bikes as part of the Ulez scrappage scheme – and that it should also consider increasing the funding for cargo bikes to encourage more businesses to switch to them when the current scrappage funding runs out.

Committee chair Hina Bokhari said: “The whole point of this is about incentivising – it’s making sure that businesses can see the options.

“We’ve got big businesses like Amazon who are taking them up and now we want to make sure that those smaller businesses, that want to do the same, feel like they can make that transition – and that can happen with the support of the mayor [and] the support of the government.”

Hina added: “We’ve talked to plumbers, we’ve talked to electricians, who are making that transition, and they’ve said that it [using a cargo bike] saves them time, because they can get to their appointments on time and fit in more appointments.

“It’s great for their business, it’s great for their mental health as well […] it’s a win-win for so many businesses.”

Brian Whiting, operations manager at the homeless outreach charity Under One Sky, has trialed one of the bikes and ordered one to help with its deliveries across London.

“It’s quicker than the van, I don’t have to worry about parking. I can get anything I want into it, [and] if there’s busy traffic I can take an alternative route,” said Brian.

“It’s clean, it’s non-polluting – that’s the main thing. And it’s good exercise, I felt good when I was on the bike.”

Oliver Lord, who leads the UK branch of the Europe-wide Clean Cities Campaign, said: “We’re concerned about the levels of air pollution in London, especially in central London.

“We see this as a really positive solution for businesses. It’s obviously not going to be a solution for every business, [but] if you look at the number of vans that are being driven in London, it’s gone up about 30% in the past decade – it’s something we can’t sustain, so this is a space-saver.

“It’s an excellent initiative to try and reduce costs to businesses in a cost-of-living crisis and quite frankly as an environmental campaign, it’s going to help us save the planet, but also more importantly, save our health as well, because of the air pollution problem.”

TfL’s recently-published action plan on cargo bikes suggests that the vehicles could replace up to 17% of van-driven kilometres in central London by the end of the decade.

Responding to the committee’s report, Will Norman, the mayor’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “Cargo bikes can be real game changers when it comes to delivering freight and servicing trips.

“Not only do they provide environmental benefits by not contributing to air pollution, they also make journeys more efficient, and present a much lower risk of danger to people walking and cycling than vans and HGVs.

“TfL recently published their cargo bike action plan and we will continue to explore how we can grow the use of cargo bikes on our road, to help both the environment and the health of Londoners, and build a better, safer, greener London for everyone.”