The power of the pedal

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Peter Harris, international sustainability director at UPS, discusses the role of e-cycles in the successful implementation of alternative, sustainable logistics in cities…

In 1907, two teenagers with one bicycle between them started a business running errands, shuttling notes and telegrams and making home deliveries by foot and by bike. Eventually, their fledgling messenger service became what is now UPS.

More than a century later, we are back on our bikes. More specifically, electrically-assisted cycles (e-cycles).

Equipped with battery-powered electric motors and customised, modular load containers, UPS e-cycles allow us to service dense city centres more efficiently. Whether with three wheels or four, these e-cycles are a growing part of our fleet of more than 10,300 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles deployed worldwide.

European cities seeking climate-friendly solutions to emissions and congestion are eager to keep commerce flowing sustainably. UPS is now working with city stakeholders on more than 30 such logistics projects in cities around the world.

In a road race, riding in a pack formation allows everyone to progress faster. Likewise, partnering with city stakeholders and other organisations helps propel sustainability.

An evolutionary timeline of the humble bicycle

Shifting gears in European cities
To meet ambitious sustainability goals, address growing emissions concerns and minimise traffic congestion, European cities need innovative infrastructure and transportation solutions.

Some are limiting the number of delivery vehicles in dense areas, restricting delivery times to only an hour or two each morning and even rerouting and closing off roads to add cycle lanes and expand green spaces for pedestrians. In continued efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus, city governments have banned cars and trucks on certain streets to give pedestrians and cyclists more room to stay physically distanced.

The UPS e-cycle is perfect for navigating dense urban areas. Our riders operate from locations called ‘eco hubs’ positioned around the city, which receive package deliveries early in the day.

The riders make multiple stops within a small geographic radius while the e-cycles are narrow enough to travel on cycle lanes and side streets — and don’t block traffic or require large parking spaces. These zero-emission vehicles consume less energy than motorised vehicles, reducing congestion and emissions. Brands and consumers alike whom are committed to reducing their environmental footprint appreciate the environmental benefits and more flexible delivery options.

Piloting e-cycles in Germany
UPS first deployed Cargo Cruiser e-cycles in Hamburg in 2012 to serve pedestrian-only zones. Now our cycles have replaced virtually every UPS diesel vehicle in its downtown area. Today UPS uses dozens of e-cycles across Germany.

In 2019, we replaced four collection and delivery vehicles with e-cycles in the city of Mannheim. The testing site of the world’s first bicycle in 1817, Mannheim has invested in sustainable energy policies encouraging renewables and electrified public transport.

It has created and connected green space that wraps around and crosses the city. The Mannheim Green Logistic Park initiative diverts heavy traffic away from the city. In Mannheim, UPS deploys two types of e-cycles and a cycle trailer with e-support, working in conjunction with leading suppliers such as Rytle and Nuwiel.

Heidelberg, where residents make more than a quarter of their commutes by bike, is becoming even more bicycle friendly. Heidelberg is expanding its extensive network of bike paths and express cycle routes to surrounding municipalities.

Delivery zones in the inner city are open to trucks only between 10am and 11am, so UPS started a cycle delivery model with the support of the local government. UPS has one e-cycle in Heidelberg now, and the hope is to eventually add more to deliver to the entire city on bike.

Research institutions are critical to our success. Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a major research organisation, invited UPS to participate in a study on sustainable logistics and traffic flow that will help us innovate in tandem with the local government.

Peter Harris, international sustainability director, UPS


A unique partnership with Trinity College in Dublin
Campus environments — where thousands of potential customers live and work in a concentrated area — are ideal for e-cycle delivery. The University of Dublin’s Trinity College allotted UPS the space to build an eco hub on campus, from which students and staff can also collect their parcels from storage lockers at any time of day.

Our partnership goes beyond everyday package delivery. UPS is creating research and educational programs for Trinity College’s young environmental leaders and offering students internships across Europe.

These e-cycle delivery jobs attract students who need flexible schedules and can ride in the morning or evening. Unlike collection and delivery vehicle drivers, riders do not require special licenses, which in turn significantly reduces the time spent onboarding new employees.

Another urban eco hub in Dublin enables UPS to use fewer delivery trucks in the city centre. Established with the help of a consortium, including Enterprise Ireland and Dublin City Council, we built a hub that helped us replace a number of conventional diesel vehicles with low-emission, electrically-assisted e-cycles, easing congestion and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 45%.

In particularly dense areas, we use e-walkers, electric motor-powered cargo boxes without pedals, which travel alongside a UPS helper on foot. We developed these in partnership with another of our suppliers, Fernhay.

Cultivating partnerships
UPS knows e-cycles are not the singular solution to the challenges discussed above. However, they are an important spoke in the wheel of innovation.

The successful implementation of alternative, sustainable logistics in cities will depend on collaboration between academia, governments and business.

Albert Einstein put it well: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

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