Smart Transport

Inner city transport: The value of cargo bikes

There are few endeavours which exude such a feel good factor as the City Changer Cargo Bike (CCCB) project. The culmination of the collaboration came at Eurobike in July 2022 as representatives from participating cities across Europe lined up to describe the positive impact CCCB has had since its 2018 launch.

CCCB’s role has been to highlight ways of increasing cargo bike take-up – and the benefits this can bring.

Experiences vary considerably. In the Dutch city of Utrecht, for example, where cargo bikes were already in limited use, public cargo bike-sharing was introduced at citywide scale to enable bigger take-up. Whereas in Bulgaria’s third-largest city, Varna, cargo bikes were virtually unknown and the team there had to introduce the concept and then manufacture its own fleet to meet demand.

CCCB co-ordinator Susanne Wrighton says of the huge and diverse project: “We had really great partners. They were all so enthusiastic. It was amazing to see. All had such different starting points.

"Everyone on the WhatsApp group was always sharing news, always cheering each other on.

“It’s good to have new EU member states like Bulgaria and then at the other end of the spectrum there’s Denmark and the Netherlands. It’s important to have them all because the cities look to each other and, if there’s one on the middle ground, they can see it (what they are doing) and say ‘that we can achieve’.”

The key elements of CCCB were to showcase cargo bikes to people who hadn’t used them before, fund their use by families and businesses to broaden take-up and to develop supportive regulations and infrastructure around them.

For some cities, it was the start of cargo bike adoption, for others it moved them on to greater use and integration.

CCCB was the third wave of European Commission funding for cargo bike schemes. It showed that there is no ‘instant recipe’ when it comes to behaviour change and adoption.

The initial three-year project on cycle logistics began in 2011 and can now be viewed as ahead of its time. It focused on private sector ‘shop-by-bike’ schemes and involved partners like the UK cycle logistics company Outspoken (now Zedify). It brought together scientists and logistics people and it became clear that there was a need for a cycle logistics body – the European Cycle Logistics Federation (ECLF).

A second project – Cycle Logistics Ahead – concentrated on commercial deliveries

Austrian capital, Vienna, was particularly engaged and interested in developing a campaign to promote cargo bikes. Cycle Logistics Ahead helped the city’s authorities to define a cargo bike subsidy scheme. It was also the springboard for the CCCB project.

CCCB, financed by the European Commission Horizon 2020 fund, was launched in 2014. In contrast to earlier projects, it took a very broad approach to cargo bike usage. It aimed at changing behaviour and encouraging cargo bike adoption across many layers of society – individuals and families, businesses (small and large), as well as social and city authorities.

Cargo bike try-outs

One of the most popular elements of CCCB was cargo bike try-outs. On stage at the Eurobike conference in Frankfurt, project co-ordinator Tiziano Felletti described the scheme in Rimini, Italy, where cargo bike trials targeted families. The programme was promoted in schools and childcare centres where the bikes were used for transporting children. The description of the sense of community and conversation enabled by cargo bikes at the school gate was heartwarming.

Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, invested in a diverse fleet of cargo bikes for families to trial for one month at a time. An enthusiastic outreach programme to schools enabling ‘kids, parents and teachers to foresee a better future’ supported the try-outs. This led to families buying their own bikes and the mayor establishing a funding scheme to help grow cargo bike take-up.

Describing the success of the schemes, project co-ordinator Gonçalo Pais says: “Make sure you have people that ‘walk the talk’ in the project, and if possible, also (engage with) politicians who have that profile.

"Those that will ride a cargo bike to and forth on a daily basis – and believe in the real transformative power of cargo bikes ­– will sell it to others.

"They’ll easily find like-minded people to make sure the project has followers.”

In contrast, cities where cycling was more established looked for ways to enable much wider take-up of cargo bikes. Home of the European Parliament, Strasbourg in France, and Utrecht increased access through public e-cargo bike-share schemes. In Utrecht, 100 e-cargo bikes were sited in on-street bays for hire. This is integrated into the plans for shared mobility in the city.

Businesses, too, were targeted for try-outs. In Cambridge (UK), businesses were offered a ‘try before you buy’ scheme to loan a cargo bike for one or two months.

In Varna, the city ran cargo bike try-out days for local businesses who appreciated the boost the ‘made in Varna’ bikes could make to the local economy.

There were many such demonstration projects showing just how versatile cargo bikes can be. 

The team in Gratz, Austria, developed a media bike to do interviews – effectively a mini-studio on a bike. Another demonstration created bikes with fold-out platforms to fill a parking space like a bench. These cargo bike-propelled ‘parklets’ can be used to take over a parking space with seating and mobile gardens. This approach was aimed at fun ways to show how cargo bikes can have roles everywhere in cities – and the positive impacts of reclaiming space from cars.

Subsidies and funding

Subsidies to encourage and accelerate positive behaviours formed an important part of CCCB.

In 2020, the Baltic city of Gdynia, Poland, introduced Eastern Europe’s first financing scheme to support the uptake of cargo bikes. The scheme provides a direct subsidy for up to 50% of a bike’s price tag, capped at 5,000 zloty (approx. £935). The initial subsidy funded 10 e-cargo bikes, most of which are used to transport children to and from school.

The rapid uptake was on the back of prior work establishing a rental scheme which had raised awareness of the practicalities of cargo bikes.

Following a successful initial round of funding, the city council furthered its initiative, committing multiple rounds of funding of at least 80,000 zloty (approx. £15,000). Based on the success of the cargo bike funding scheme, the city is now considering expanding the scope to include electric bicycles.

In Czech Republic capital Prague, the CCCB project supported the establishment of a sustainable logistics hub in its historical centre. The first cargo bike depot was so successful that it has become permanent with a second facility in the city centre.

Similarly, in Spain’s Vitoria-Gasteiz, the project enabled a viability study for a micrologistics hub within the low emissions zone which will be launched next year.

In Mechelen, Belgium, subsidies were targeted at local businesses. From 2018, Mechelen rolled out a €100,000 (£89,000) subsidy scheme that has successfully supported more than 50 local entrepreneurs in their decision to buy a cargo bike. Successful applicants can receive up to €3,000 (£2,675) from the city to use towards buying a bike.

Veerle De Meyer, from Mechelen, speaking at Eurobike, highlighted that there is no silver bullet: “It’s not which measure is successful – it’s ‘and, and, and’ – success is from the cumulative measures cities have taken.”

Supporting interventions

The hands-on schemes were not the only element. Wrighton spoke about the other interventions saying: “You have to understand we had coronavirus. So, we thought everything had stopped, but the project teams all went back to their desks and tried to implement regulatory measures that promote cargo bikes rather than dropping their projects.

“We know sharing schemes and try-outs, infrastructure and measures work. But so do restrictions on cars, for instance low emission zones.” 

Besides funding and getting more people to try out cargo bikes, several cities concentrated on traffic rules and the supporting infrastructure.

Parking is a key issue for cargo bikes. They often do not fit into conventional cycle parking spaces. In addition, e-cargo bikes are more difficult to store at homes because of their size and weight.

This barrier to the deployment of cargo bikes was recognised in Vitoria-Gasteiz where many citizens live in apartment buildings. In the CCCB try-out campaigns, it was made a requirement to have a safe place to park the cargo bike.

While the first six safe collective bicycle parking facilities were established in Vitoria-Gasteiz in 2017, none were adapted for cargo bikes.

As part of CCCB, the entrances to the facilities were adapted to a minimum width of 90cm. Two conventional bike racks were removed from each facility to ensure enough space to park a cargo bike, the space was also marked with a pictogram and a floor anchor placed so the cargo bike could be easily locked. There are also several charging points available for e-cargo bikes and e-bikes.

There are now nine facilities (each 50-100 bikes) with parking spaces suitable for cargo bikes with two other locations having space for two cargo bikes.

Strasbourg ran a cargo bike parking trial, installing various different solutions and inviting people to test them and report the results. It worked as both a practical means of finding a dedicated parking solution for cargo bikes and as a way of engaging the public.

The Basque city of Donostia San Sebastian in Spain has long been a leader in sustainable mobility in the region.

Looking to improve urban logistics and air quality in the dense neighbourhoods of the historic city centre, it embarked on a programme to limit conventional delivery truck traffic. This was achieved through limiting delivery times, the creation of a freight consolidation centre, encouraging clean vehicles (including cargo bikes), and new communication technologies between stakeholders.

In parallel, a growing list of pedestrianisation projects along previously car-dominated streets have also facilitated bicycle trips and cycle-logistics work. Further legislation to limit the number of entrance points into the city centre for cars and trucks are under discussion. These initiatives will indirectly give bicycles and cargo bikes further priority within the city centre.

The Danish capital of Copenhagen, where 25% of families own a cargo bike, also demonstrates the impact of infrastructure.

The city arrived in this admirable position not by offering subsidies or try-out schemes, but by developing a connected network of safe cycling infrastructure.

The standard width of bicycle lanes in Copenhagen is at least 2.2 metres (7.2 feet) with wider lanes along arterial routes, a width that serves both cargo bike and conventional bike riders.

At these widths, a parent can ride comfortably and safely along with their children in a cargo bike while a commuter on a conventional bike can pass with no inconvenience to either rider.

The future

Having built up an impressive set of case studies and a bank of enthusiasm and know-how, the uptake of cargo bikes is being carried forward by this wave of optimism and expertise.

Wrighton says: “Projects are always dependent on the people. Most went well beyond what you would expect to have to do for EU funding.

“Cities that have been participating are now expert in implementation.”

She can point to on-going activities as a result of the project through peer-to-peer communication and national and local support.

Mayors of participating cities produced ‘A mayor’s guide to cargo bikes’ and have been promoting it to other mayors in their countries. Roadshows in German, Austrian, Spanish and Portuguese cities are under way and there is no lack of momentum.

No more EU funding for cargo bikes is anticipated. There are now formal structures to promote their use and individual countries and cities are funding their own schemes. The ECLF has grown into a strong organisation and is integrated into Cycle Industries Europe. 

The programme also leaves a legacy of good references for cities interested in cargo bikes on the CCCB website.

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