June 10, 2022

Amazon Electric Cargo Bikes: Mini-trucks for deliveries in the UK 

Amazon has pitched its first “micromobility hub” in the UK, intending to swap “thousands” of contaminating delivery vans with electric cargo bikes — and, in some circumstances, walking.

The project is designed to support Amazon’s climate plans to have 50 percent of its deliveries be carbon neutral by 2030.

Initiating in the London borough of Hackney, the company says it will deliver 1 million packages a year operating walking and electric cargo bikes, in addition to deliveries made with electric vans. Delivery staffers on foot and e-bikes will help substitute “thousands” of traditional van trips, Amazon said.

The carbon-neutral trips will take place within a tenth of London’s ultra-low emissions zone, in which vehicles have levied a fee based on the number of emissions they produce. E-bikes and electric cars are exempt from the charge.

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Amazon said it plans on extending additional hubs in the coming months. The company already employs 1,000 electric delivery vans in the UK and has strategies to introduce a new Rivian-made lineup of the truck in the US later this year.

Electric cargo bikes, especially those scheduled to look like mini-trucks, have been developing increasingly popular among delivery companies looking to smooth their environmental credentials. FedEx also uses e-bikes in London, while Domino’s partnered with Rad Power Bikes to deliver pizza in several cities. UPS has used cargo bikes in Seattle. German delivery firm DPD wants to use these mini-trucks that are e-bikes in camouflage. E-Bikes are almost exclusively employed by food delivery workers in New York City.

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Amazon didn’t release any details about their “e-assisted vehicles,” though they appear to be much more distinct than most traditional cargo bikes. If anything, they skim like the mini-trucks first suggested by DPD, created by a startup called Eav, or the four-wheeled “eQuad” delivery vehicles used by UPS.

But we have yet to catch any delivery company deployment of cargo e-bikes at scale. If Amazon sticks with it and fulfills its promise, then the company’s micromobility efforts in the UK could be the first.

A micromobility hub is a dedicated hub that provides your stakeholders with sustainable mobility solutions, such as e-bikes, e-cargo bikes, and e-scooters onsite.

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Your hub may include any combination of e-bikes, e-cargo bikes, and e-scooters. E-scooters are often used for shorter trips (under 2km), while cargo bikes are ideal if you need to do the shopping. You choose the fleet that suits your needs!

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Micro mobility hubs are gaining popularity in settings such as inner urban apartment complexes striving for green star points, large hospitals, and universities with multiple campuses, hotels, and corporates. Features include:

  • Choice of the e-vehicle mix: e-scooters, e-bikes, e-cargo bikes
  • Regular, onsite servicing
  • Breakdown assistance
  • Repairs
  • A booking service
  • Guidance on the design of hubs

The rate of micromobility diffusion has not come without maturing pains. Some cities were captured off guard by the sudden influx of shared dockless vehicles, especially after companies launched their fleets without municipal approval. In 2018, Seattle became the first US city to establish a permanent regulatory permit requiring shared dockless vehicle operators to meet specific requirements to provide service to the town. Many other cities followed suit, drafting regulatory frameworks that would permit these services and more seamlessly integrate them with existing transportation.

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Operators, users, and municipalities are moving toward an equilibrium where the benefits of micromobility have become apparent. Micro mobility users have reported replacing between one-quarter and one-third of car trips with micromobility, and many users report being able to take trips they otherwise would not or could not have made if micromobility options were not available. The potential for micromobility to replace automobile trips, coupled with financial opportunities presented by the massive injection of venture capital into the industry, has led global automakers such as Ford and General Motors to invest in micromobility services.

However, data shows that micromobility users also replace public transit (notably, bus) and walking trips. Concerns have also been raised about the life-cycle emissions of electric micromobility modes such as e-scooters and the long-term financial viability of micromobility companies, given minimal differences between product offerings and operating costs in the hundreds of millions of US dollars.

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Micro mobility refers to a range of small, lightweight vehicles operating at speeds typically below 25 km/h and driven by users personally. Micro mobility devices include bicycles, e-bikes, electric scooters, skateboards, shared bicycle fleets, and electric pedal-assisted bikes.

Initial definitions set the primary condition for inclusion in the category of micromobility to be a gross vehicle weight of fewer than 500 kilograms. However, the report has evolved to exclude devices with internal combustion engines and those with top speeds above 45 kilometers/hour.

Micro mobility devices can be human-powered or electric (personal transporter). They can be privately owned or available through a shared fleet. Most micromobility devices are low-speed (with a top speed of 25 kilometers (16 mi)/h). However, devices can speed up to 45 kilometers (28 mi)/h and still be considered micromobility devices. Some speed pedelec and electric kick scooter models fall into this moderate speed subcategory.

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Any vehicle with an internal combustion engine cannot be defined as micromobility, nor can devices with top speeds above 45 km/h.

Original forms of micromobility, like bicycles and scooters, have both been around since 1817, and it was not until 1908 that cars came to dominate in modal share in cities such as New York. Since then, the use of bicycles as a practical urban transport mode (as opposed to for recreation or sport) has been relatively low compared to trips made by private vehicles outside a handful of cities in China, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

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