Colchester Borough Council has developed an ambitious scheme that pioneers the use of convenient, green electric cargo bikes in the town. Emily Harrup, Transport and Sustainability Joint Lead, provides an overview.
Often called eCargo bikes, these electric delivery bikes have purpose-built storage. They come in different sizes to suit whatever you’re transporting- from food to heavy goods.
The Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019, recognising that tackling the climate challenge and leading on sustainability was a key strategic priority. This, coupled with the need to address several Air Quality Monitoring Areas in the town centre, was the perfect opportunity and catalyst for our eCargo bike revolution!
In spring 2020, Colchester Borough Council were successful with an ambitious bid to the Energy Saving Trust to trial 25 eCargo bikes and 5 electric trailers in Colchester. Our team and organisation are passionate about cycling, so using eCargo bikes had always been an aspiration.
Prior to our bid’s success, we were only aware of one eCargo bike in Colchester belonging to a local doctor using it for work commutes and carrying his aging dog, so we knew our project had to start from the basics.
We therefore chose to focus on two key objectives, to:
Using strong relationships with local businesses, we found 10 local enterprises who were interested in using an eCargo bike. We worked with them to identify which eCargo bike was most suitable for their purposes and built this into our bid. We also bid for suitable eCargo bikes for three of our own internal teams and a pool to offer for short-term loans.
Our initial trial comprised of 6 different brands and 11 different types of eCargo bikes and etrailers to cover the diverse range of uses our partners required, ranging from small bikes like the Riese and Muller Packster 40, to the enormous Urban Arrow Tender 2500.
Our champions received their bikes on free long-term loan in exchange for monthly feedback, help with publicity and generally promoting eCargo bikes to help break down barriers to take up by others.
We encountered several challenges in setting our project up, not least the timing – we were finalising our bid just as the UK went into its first nationwide lockdown! Another challenge was that all riders of the eCargo bikes had to have Level 3 Bikeability, which our local provider was unable to offer for much of the pandemic. Finding an insurance solution for short-term loans was also challenging, whilst when we tendered for a suitably qualified maintenance contractor, we found at that time there were only two providers in Colchester with the necessary Bosch certification to work on ebikes (as a warranty requirement).
By Christmas 2020 all of our eCargo bikes had been delivered and our internal and external Champions began using them. In early 2021 we began letting out the pool eCargo bikes on short term loan.
The project has developed and evolved from there. In February 2021 a local partner set up Colchester’s first eCargo Bike delivery service and is mixing commercial deliveries, with community work and a contract with Spin eScooters swapping batteries and repositioning scooters.
There is a lot to think about and set up - ensure you have staff resource to run your project.
Our project was initially focused on businesses, but residents (including some from neighbouring districts) started asking us if they could rent bikes too. Based on this feedback we submitted a successful bid to Defra to set up two shared eBike/eCargo bike hire schemes. We are now working towards implementing pay-as-you-go eCargo bike hire for Colchester residents and businesses and are working with several community groups to extend this beyond the town centre.
Further building on this success we have now secured another Defra grant to expand the eCargo bike delivery service to offer a new service to town centre shoppers to support them to walk or cycle in or park in an outlying car park. We will provide a facility to have their shopping delivered home or to a locker in a car park by eCargo bike, allowing them to stay in town for longer enjoying the leisure facilities the town offers. This will help economic growth as well as improve air quality.
The innovative nature of this venture means it has been a steep, but exciting, learning curve and eCargo bikes are a growing visible presence in Colchester. Over 16,000 miles have been ridden on our eCargo bike fleet so far, saving 4.4 tonnes of carbon. We will continue to build on this until eCargo bikes are a normal part of everyday life in our town for both businesses and residents.
Top tips for setting up an eCargo bike project:
For more information about local authority cycling schemes, contact APSE Principal Advisor Rob Bailey at email@example.com.