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June 20, 2017
Johan Erlandsson

Why containerisation can replace even more vans with cargo bikes

Most of you probably already know that the cargobike is a productive, low-cost, sustainable and city-friendly solution for all of that small goods that is such a big part of city logistics. So no need to repeat all of those arguments again!

But we also know that we are nowhere near the theoretical potential. How can we increase the share? Promotion is one important part, technological development and professional service of cargo bikes another, better cycling infrastructure a third. What I am suggesting here is yet another way to increase the attractiveness of using cargo bikes -containerisation.

Goods, lots of it, is transported into the city center. There is no argument that if you need to bring in a lot of goods, a big vehicle is best fit for the job. It can be a train, a barge or a truck. If you are delivering big and heavy goods to customers, like 1000 kg EU pallets or roller cages with milk cartons, a vehicle that can carry many of those in a distribution round is the natural choice -like a truck or at least a medium sized city distribution vehicle. But if you want to distribute small goods, then a small vehicle is, as you already know, the logical choice. However, this also introduces a new step in the supply chain, you need to somehow shift the goods from the big vehicle to the small. This can be both costly and risky, and I believe this is one of the reasons why we still see a lot of vans in city centers, delivering goods that could have been delivered with cargo bikes.

So what can a container for cargo bikes, an easily detachable box, bring here? I think the best way to imagine it is to compare with the sea container. When it was introduced it gave crazy efficiency gains. Ships and trucks could now be loaded and unloaded at a fraction of the time, and damages and theft also dropped significantly. It is generally agreed that the sea container is the most important factor to why international shipping is now so dirt cheap (for good and for worse). Some even argue it is the driving force behind globalisation… That is the power of a simple metal box!

The comparison with the sea container is not perfect, but the basic idea is the same -to easily shift goods from one vehicle to another, fast and secure. When the cargo bike container enters the city, it is already prepared for last mile delivery. The container is loaded with goods for a certain route, and the only thing you need to do now is to get the container to the right area and move the container from the big vehicle to the small. There is no extra handling of goods, and also limited or eliminated risk of damaging the goods or having it stolen. You can even shift the goods outside, without a terminal, as the container is weatherproof.

Efficient handling is one advantage, the feeling of control another. The container is loaded in the carrier’s terminal under full control, and the next time it is opened is when it is on its last mile delivery route. Of course the container is trackable as well. Efficiency and control, this is why I believe the container will turn more vans into cargo bikes in dense areas!

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