Back to bicycles

May 11, 2015
The future of green delivery may reside on two wheels

It’s more than a little interesting to hear that the trusty bicycle—designs for which may date as far back as 1493—is coming back in vogue as a means of both daily passenger and freight transit.

Jim Sebastian, supervisory transportation planner for the District of Columbia Dept. of Transportation, explained during the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials  annual Washington Briefing that as modern societies begin to “re-urbanize,” he thinks the plain-old bike can play a more practical role in augmenting mass transit and cargo-delivery systems for cities.

One example he cited is the Capital Bikeshare program, which started in Washington, D.C., nearly five years ago and now includes several nearby counties as well. This program already has 30,000 members who have accumulated 9 million passenger trips since 2010 with its nearly 3,000 “tank-tough” bikes and 348 solar-powered “docking stations.” 

Yet the most interesting part of this program is what he said is one of its guiding principles: “To complement other transportation modes.”

As modern societies begin to re-urbanize, Sebastian and other planners think the plain-old bike can play a more practical role in augmenting mass transit systems by providing a lower cost public transport option for city dwellers and one that obviously offers some health benefits. 

This isn’t as far-fetched as you may think. Global logistics provider DHL is hard at work developing such freight-carrying bicycle networks. After conducting several pilot projects in various European countries, DHL began testing the use of bicycles for the express delivery of documents and smaller parcel items in Germany last year. In Berlin and Frankfurt, the company deployed two different bicycle models: the DHL Parcycle and the “more maneuverable” DHL Touring Bike. The company added that its bike delivery tests will soon be expanded to two other major cities in northern and southern Germany.

“Using bicycles to make deliveries has made us significantly more flexible and faster in downtown areas and conurbations,” noted Tobias Wider, member of the divisional board of DHL Express Germany. “Unlike delivery vehicle drivers, bicycle couriers can always drive right up to the recipient’s door, are not affected by downtown traffic volumes or access restrictions, and at times can even use shorter routes.”

In addition, bicycles allow DHL Express to meet customer requests for a “cleaner transport alternative” that is environmentally friendly, he said.

“Our aim is to utilize bicycle couriers in the next few years anywhere they can improve our customer service and effectiveness,” Wider added.

To date, DHL Express is using bicycle couriers in nine European countries that include the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, and Italy and in about 40 cities total. Those two Germany-based pilot projects noted above are part of the company’s ongoing effort to improve the efficiency and cargo-carrying capacity of such “two-wheeled transports.”

Proof that a new chapter regarding the freight-hauling potential of the tried-and-true bicycle may yet be written.

Sean Kilcarr is Fleet Owner’ s senior editor. He can be reached at skilcarr@fleet­own­er.com

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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