Parcel delivery companies trade trucks for bicycles in some Canadian cities. here’s why

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Black Friday, Cyber ​​Monday, the pre-Christmas online shopping frenzy, calls for huge fleets of trucks and vans to deliver these gadgets and gifts. But those polluting vehicles clogging the roads are starting to give way to a greener, more efficient option in many Canadian cities: electric bicycles and tricycles.FedEx began delivering packages to downtown Toronto using e-bikes over the summer and is now looking to expand the program to other cities across Canada.

Purolator and two small courier companies are part of a similar pilot project called Project Colibri which was launched in Montreal last year. Since then, Purolator has expanded its fleet of bikes from one to six or seven e-bikes, and Project Colibri has increased to 5,000 e-bike deliveries per week – almost as many as it has in the last four months of 2019.

These are some of the larger companies trying out technology that smaller companies, like Shift Delivery in Vancouver, have already developed in Canada. It’s a trend that already well under way in Europe and a also started in the United States.

The problems that e-bikes solve

Why move towards the delivery of electric bikes? Because as online shopping grows, the impact of truck and van deliveries becomes more and more problematic. Transport is already the second source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, after oil and gas, they represent 25%.

And it’s the largest source in Ontario, where fossil fuel production does not represent a significant portion of the economy. There, the freight sector already accounted for 10% of emissions in 2019 and is expected to exceed passenger emissions by 2030, according to the Builder Institute, a Canadian think tank focused on clean energy.

A courier service for Shift Delivery in Vancouver prepares to leave for deliveries on an e-cargo trike. (Sam Starr)

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has businesses and forced buyers online, may have sped up this. Statistics Canada reported in September that e-commerce sales increased 74% over the previous year.

But online deliveries also have other negative impacts, including:

  • Traffic jam.
  • Air pollution.
  • Parking problems.
  • Threats to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

“We are really tackling all of these issues at once,” said Mickael Brard, project manager at Jalon Montreal, the city-funded nonprofit behind Project Colibri.

These impacts do not only affect the people who live in cities, but the delivery companies themselves.

“Parking tickets are very important to us,” said Jeff Gilbert, senior manager of downtown Toronto operations for FedEx. “And then the greenhouse gases. So we’re really looking for an innovative new way to deliver the last mile. “

More efficient than trucks

“Last mile” means the last step in delivery from a sorting center to the customer’s home or office. It’s a logistically difficult step can represent 30 to 60% of the cost of delivery.

But electric cargo bikes can overcome some of the challenges posed by narrow, congested city streets and the scarcity of parking lots for trucks.

Jeff Gilbert, senior director of operations for FedEx in downtown Toronto, says the company is looking for innovative ways to make the “last mile” of deliveries, to minimize problems like parking tickets and gas emissions. Greenhouse effect. (Oliver Walters / CBC)

“The bikes are very nimble, very nimble, so we can get around town really quickly,” Gilbert said. “The bike allows us to jump directly and park right in front of the house.”

This leads to faster deliveries and increased productivity, he added.

Now that Project Colibri has been running for more than a year in Montreal, Brard said analysis shows that an electric bike is 30 to 40 percent more efficient than a truck in terms of on-hour deliveries.

“This is one of the rarest areas where we can [be] both more efficient and more sustainable, ”he said. We want to prove it to other companies, and we want to prove it to governments as well. ”

Staff say it’s more fun too.

Yuri Mitroff, a FedEx courier in Toronto, remembers the first time he picked up one of the company’s three e-bikes. The Danish-made Bullets force the rider to pedal to engage the motor, allowing heavy loads to be carried up the hills.

“It was a really, really great experience,” said Mitroff. “It didn’t seem like work to me, which was most important. And I did a lot of exercise and a lot of vitamin D, a lot of sun. “

Great expansion plans

Their success so far has prompted FedEx and Project Colibri to plan for expansions.

FedEx has already ordered 40 additional e-cargo bikes for the spring and is looking to deploy them not only in Toronto, but in Montreal, Vancouver and possibly Ottawa, Gilbert said.

The Colibri Project, which uses a former bus depot as a loading and distribution hub in Montreal, hopes to add two or three more mini-hubs and invite more businesses to get involved. Brard estimates that five to ten mini-hubs could cover deliveries for the whole city.

But both projects say they face challenges. On the one hand, the pandemic has caused a global shortage of bicycles.

“One of the issues for us was actually getting the bikes for the expansion,” Gilbert said.

FedEx courier Yuri Mitroff rides a bike path in Toronto as he delivers packages on an electric bike. FedEx began delivering packages to downtown Toronto using e-bikes over the summer and is now looking to expand the program. (Oliver Walters / CBC)

Vancouver-based cycling logistics consultant Sam Starr said most e-cargo bikes are made in Europe.

“They are expensive not only to import, but also to maintain and maintain now,” he said.

He suggested a number of ways governments could encourage the use of electric cargo bikes:

  • Discounts to offset the costs of electric bikes for businesses. (Some were recently launched in British Columbia)
  • Incentives to encourage the manufacture of electric bikes in Canada.
  • Regulations to allow their use; for example, speed and weight limits for electric cargo bikes vary by province and can be a barrier.
  • Regulations such as congestion tolls and low-emission zones that prioritize transit, walking and cycling, such as mobility tariff offered in Vancouver.
  • Infrastructure such as cycle paths and curbside loading areas.

Hubs, such as the one used in the Colibri Project, are also “critical” infrastructure, Starr said, and require partnerships between governments and businesses.

“It cannot be done by the private sector alone,” he said. “He really needs public collaboration. “

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