Businesses big and small switch to cargo bikes

By Emily Kerr

Emily Kerr is a city councillor for St Mary’s Ward, Oxford

Last month, Amazon announced a £300 m investment in the UK: electrifying its vans and shifting more cities to cargo-bike deliveries. Oxford now has three medium-sized businesses using cargo bikes for delivery: Pedal & Post, Velocity and Oxwash. And we have a sole-trader: a cargo-bike gardening business launched last year. 

Gardening by bike

I spoke to Vaska Raine, who set up Park Town Gardener, about why he uses a cargo bike.

It just seemed better than sitting in a traffic jam burning fossil fuels – it’s quicker, it’s more efficient, it’s cheaper, and it’s greener. I work with nature all day long and I wanted to do my bit to help cut emissions where I could. We are trying to be greener in other ways too, composting and recycling in a responsible way.

Park Town Gardener operates within the ring-road, and Vaska says cycling is much better than he thought it would be: riding a bike is fun, quicker and much less stressful than sitting in traffic. Parking is also much easier. Vaska still uses a van occasionally – maybe once a month – but says more than 95% of his operations are done by cargo bike. And business is booming. He’s already hired one employee and bought a second bike, and he’s looking for more staff to help out: over the summer he had more work than he could manage and had to stop taking clients for a period, which is pretty impressive for a small business in its first year of trading.

Eco-couriers

It’s a theme I heard reflected by Chris Benton, Pedal & Post’s founder. His company is a cargo-bike logistics firm. It works with individuals, independents, and on behalf of large courier companies, including DPD. Pedal & Post employs 22 people, impressively all at the London living wage (£11.95 an hour) and are constantly adding more routes and contracts.

Business is really strong. We’re super busy, and have just added three new routes. Logistics is a low-margin business but our people are important to us and paying them properly is part of our ethos. We want to make deliveries greener, and by getting vans off the streets, we make roads safer for people walking and cycling – and we cut emissions and improve air quality.

Jake Swinhoe, who runs Velocity, a new cargo-bike delivery company, agrees. “We launched earlier this year and we’re already helping 30 local businesses with their deliveries. And people seem to really love bikes showing up with their items – we get a lot of smiles.”

Cargo bikes can save a lot of money. There’s a plumber in Derby who estimated using an e-cargo bike has more than halved his travel costs, and Vaska says he’s spent just £70 on his bike in the last 12 months – which is less than a tank of fuel (although Vaska’s bike isn’t electric, and pedalling a full cargo bike up Morrell Avenue isn’t for everyone).

A cargo-bike community

The final thing I’ve noticed about cargo-bike users is a great sense of community. When I take my children on my bike they wave and get waved at, and I’ve noticed them high-fiving other cargo-bike kids as they pass on our streets. Vaska, Chris and Jake are all supportive of the idea of other people launching cargo-bike businesses and happy to give advice to anyone serious about doing it.

I can also recommend Park Town’s services – Vaska helped me choose a suitable tree to plant for National Tree Planting Week (end November). Cargo-bike businesses are growing rapidly, and I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to see more and more in Oxford – delivering cleaner air, less congested streets, and helping the city do its bit towards reducing transport emissions.

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