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Trade as a helper in the transformation of transport

16 May 2023

While private households are discovering cargo bikes for everyday use, their commercial use is still in its infancy. Cargobikes offer many advantages for craft businesses, retailers, delivery services and small businesses. Trying them out is the keyword here, e.g. at the "Flottes Gewebe" campaign or the Cargo Area during EUROBIKE in Frankfurt.

Cargo bikes are seen as an essential part of the transport revolution. Politicians are also becoming aware of this. The Hessian Ministry of the Environment, for example, regularly supports the purchase of cargo bikes and trailers. 1,900 funding applications with a funding volume of 1.5 million euros were approved in 2022, and the successful funding programme was relaunched for 2023. Between 100 and 1,000 euros in grants are possible, depending on the model. However, as in many other municipalities and federal states, this funding is aimed only at private households. But transporting children or driving to the grocery store are just some of the needs that a cargobike can cover. In contrast to the private sector, commercial cargo bikes and their potential uses are less well known. Yet, commercial businesses are a key factor in driving the transformation of transportation.

Test campaigns in several cities

This is precisely where the campaign "flottes Gewerbe" comes in. During a test phase, companies in selected municipalities from a variety of application areas can eyperience the potential of cargobikes and try out different vehicles free of charge. In 2022, in pilot projects in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe, a total of 18 commercial enterprises took advantage of the opportunity to integrate cargobikes into their daily routine for one month. Behind the project is the platform cargobike.jetzt, which has already been campaigning for several years for more cargo bikes in Germany. "Many tradespeople lack knowledge about the performance of the vehicles because they are preoccupied with other issues. They have the association that cargo bikes are still hobbyist solutions. With our projects we help that the bikes arrive more in the mainstream", Alexander Lutz of cargobike.jetzt explains the approach. This year, the project "flottes Gewerbe" will be extended to Düsseldorf, test period in May, and Frankfurt, test period in June. Further partner cities are in planning. Because one thing in particular is important when it comes to commercial cargo bikes: to try it out! "It takes a lot of individual consultation as to which type of cargo bike suits the company, and then test rides are in order, preferably over a longer period of time," says Lutz.

For short distances, the cargo bike is worthwhile - even with heavy loads

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It is obvious why small and medium-sized enterprises in particular can be a driving force behind the transformation of transport: short-distance journeys by car are part of the daily routine for many companies. Be it the craftsman, the delivery service, local trade or even the architect's office. In order to counteract the increasing car traffic and to reduce noise pollution as well as air pollution, trips with cargo bikes are more than just an alternative. This is because business trips in urban environments often move within a radius of about 20 kilometers, and most even less than seven kilometers. This is where specially electrified bike models play to their strenghts. "Thanks to e-support, the distances are hardly a burden. However, that has to be experienced first," says Lutz. With payload options of up to 350 kilograms, heavy tools or materials can be transported as relaxed as possible thanks to e-assistance - if that should still be necessary at all. Because at many construction sites it is now common to deliver most materials directly by truck, while the fitters only have their tools with them, as Joachim Walter from the Karlsruhe Chamber of Skilled Crafts explained in an interview with the Deutsche Handwerks Zeitung. Which potential cargobikes have on the skilled trades and crafts can be seen in various studies. The Zentrumsverband des Deutschen Handwerks speaks of at least 23% of commercial trips being transferable to cargo bikes. A study by the European Cyclelogistics-project shows that as much as 51 percent of all motorized transport could be shifted to bicycles.

From costs to health - many benefits for companies

Switching to a cargo bike has many advantages for companies:

  • Employees without a driver's license are independently mobile. Until now, a valid driver's license was an important prerequisite for employment, especially in the skilled trades. More and more young people, trainees and people with a migration background do not have a driver's license. With cargobikes, they are mobile and can work more independently: a driver's license no longer has to be a hiring criterion.
  • Purchase and maintenance are cheaper compared to a van, even if cargobikes for commercial use can cost over 10,000 euros. According to a calculation by Jobrad from 2015, the maintenance costs per kilometer for an e-cargobike are 0.08 cents, while for a small car they are already 0.35 cents. Subsidies and purchase premiums can make the purchase even cheaper. The German Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) offers subsidies of up to 25 percent of the purchase price.
  • The journey time can be faster, especially in metropolitan areas, as traffic jams are avoided.
  • The tiresome search for a parking space at the appointment is no longer necessary. Especially in metropolitan areas, this can take many minutes or, in the worst case, end up far away or in a no-parking zone. A cargobike, on the other hand, can be parked directly in front of the door, provided that the sidewalk is wide enough. This saves time and energy when carrying the material.
  • Cargobikes are a real eye-catcher when visiting customers. While a delivery van parked in a no-parking zone makes people shake their heads, a properly parked cargobike is a real eye-catcher for customers and passers-by. Well branded, it is a practical advertising tool for the acquisition of new customers.
  • For employees, cargo bikes can be a good way to strengthen the cardiovascular system and "cycle off" stress through exercise in the fresh air. The whole-body workout can reduce stress caused by one-sided work.

From ergonomics to light - bikes are tied to requirements

When purchasing cargobikes for commercial use, however, companies must also take special requirements into account. They should take the needs of the riders into account not only in the choice of vehicle, but also in the ergonomic adjustment. After all, employees are often in the saddle for long periods of time, and an incorrectly adjusted bike can quickly lead to damage, for example to the knee. It is also important to consider whether several employees share a bike. In this case, quickly adaptable solutions are needed, e.g. for adjusting the saddle height. The acquisition or redesign of changing rooms and shower facilities is also an issue. Just like appropriately wide, covered parking spaces on the company premises.

A study by the Institute of Transport Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) also shows that entrepreneurs should make sure that the chosen cargo bike also complies with the Road Traffic Licensing Regulations (StVZO). Lights, reflectors and a bell are standard, as is a regular check of the vehicle's condition. The study's authors also recommend that employees be trained in the use of bicycle infrastructure and that a safety training course be held at the beginning, during which they are also trained in riding techniques. For example, riding over a curb with a fully loaded cargobike is somewhat more difficult than with a conventional bicycle. Another important question for day-to-day operations is how to use the bikes in winter, e.g. in icy or snowy conditions, and who is responsible for purchasing rain and winter clothing.

In the event of a defect: service network is extremely important

A special feature of the professional use of cargobikes is the high demands placed on service. In the event of a defect, the wheels must be quickly ready for use again. A topic that cargobike.now deals with intensively. "Before we start a project in a city, we first look for local maintenance partners who take care of the service and maintenance. These can be bicycle dealers, cargo bike specialists or even car repair shops. The goal is to have the bike ready for use again within 48 hours in the event of a defect - this is an important requirement for commercial providers," explains Alexander Lutz, emphasizing that "flottes Gewerbe" is also about creating a sustainable solution for municipalities so that the topic of commercial cargobikes becomes even more of a focus.

But one issue remains: Convincing business leaders to rely more on cargo bikes is one thing; finding employees who can cycle is another. "Nothing works with pressure. The only way is through voluntary action and, most importantly, by setting a good example," advises Lutz. He also sees the possibility of creating incentives to pass on the savings in the vehicle fleet directly to the employees who cycle.