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When is a bike a van? Why micro-mobility matters.

Cast your mind back just five years ago when e-bikes barely existed, supermarket home deliveries weren't a thing and My Food Bag was still a start up. Five years ago courier volumes were about 50% lower than today.

With cities around the world putting emissions bans in place for diesel and internal combustion engine vehicles it makes sense for businesses to look at cleaner efficient alternative methods of delivery.

Traffic congestion is a big issue for city centres. The average speed in Manhattan is under 5 mph (8 Kph), London, Paris and Shanghai are around 7 Mph (10 Kph). This means for central cities at least, vans and light trucks are not a fast delivery method, especially when parking or available loading zones are taken into account.

In a recent (pre-COVID) trip to New York I was bowled over by the amount of courier van traffic in Manhattan. I was also surprised by the amount of cargo cycle e-bike deliveries on the roads. The former clogged up the side streets with their bulk and double parking, the latter used cycle-lanes and often operated in a not seen before 'e-bike tows an e-trailer' combinations, for supermarkets, upmarket delis, Uber eats, UPS, Amazon and Fed-Ex. Notably Manhattan doesn't use cargo e-bikes because of legislation; they are used because they are quicker, cheaper and cleaner to operate (although their is legislation to assist with the adoption of cargo bikes).

Around the world large cities are trying to make their cities a nicer place for business and the people that work there. Typically this means more pedestrianisation, and more restrictions on vehicles, private and commercial, plus measures to combat air pollution. What large overseas cities do today, New Zealand cities will do tomorrow.

Enter the role of micro-mobility. This catch all phrase for anything from a e-scooter to an e-bike to an electric or pedelec cargo van will transform inner city deliveries. There are a lot of new players piling in to disrupt the market. Interestingly in New Zealand, NZ Post went from a fleet of postie powered vehicles, the humble bicycle, to fully electric Paxsters, and in the process managed to get legislation amended to allow them to use Quadricycles here (which are outlawed for everyone else in New Zealand). But internationally businesses are migrating into a new classification of delivery vehicle, which are already legal. Small cargo vans, that are a cross between an e-bike and a small delivery van.

These vehicles make perfect sense. They are clean and green. They are hyper efficient because part of the motive power is the driver, and the main mover is an electric motor. They are small, don't need a WOF or registration (in most markets), or a licence. They have few moving parts, so maintenance is low and are small enough that they can use cycle lanes, which are an integral part of most major cities.

Cargo bikes or pedelecs won't suit all applications. A recent study in the Netherlands showed that eCargo vans could be used for around 20% of deliveries, lowering delivery costs, speeding delivery times, helping clean city air and therefore transforming the cities they operate in. But change won't be easy or overnight. As a Geoff Gilbert, Senior Manager Operations at FedEx Canada said, "We've been delivering by truck and van for 40 years....So this is a very big shift for us".

Here is Boost Auto's top 5 enablers for the adoption of cargo bikes in New Zealand:

  1. CEO and board level consensus (we have the need, do companies have the will power to change?)

  2. Increased adoption of bike lanes. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are being transformed by bike lanes. Cargo bikes can utilise them further, and take traffic off the roads.

  3. Consumer pressure. Is it really suitable that your parcels are delivered by a Euro 4 or Euro 5 diesel powered van?

  4. Foodstuffs show the way; Foodstuffs North Island and South Island (surprisingly two separate entities) are huge operations in New Zealand. Leadership here would pave the way for many other businesses.

  5. Tax breaks for e-Cargo bikes. As we have seen with electrification, there is a cost of adoption. The economic case for delivery is clear, but infrastructure changes, and training and mind-set change all take time.

Further reading:

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