T he ‘SmartRadL’ project, from the IAT at the University of Stuttgart, closely cooperating with the Fraunhofer IAO, is developing and piloting an intelligent tour and order management system for urban cargo bikes. The institutions are working with FLS GmbH and the start-up company veloCARRIER GmbH. Here, Steffen Bengel, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering describes how the delivery boom is helping cargo bike logistics make their final mile breakthrough.

The delivery industry emerged from the Corona crisis highly strengthened. During the first lockdown the industry proved its ‘systemic relevance’ and certainly gained a popular image, but long-term structural problems remained and, in some cases, became magnified. Large fleets of diesel-powered vehicles continue to invade city centres every day, contributing to air pollution and traffic problems. In addition, there is an increased online demand for business/office products, which results in a significant increase in delivery traffic through densely populated residential areas. If we want to be prepared for the future, we need new logistics concepts.


There is no sign of the logistics boom slowing down after Corona. The processes will only become more entrenched; after all, people have learned to appreciate the advantages of eCommerce during the crisis. More goods to private recipients mean a higher density of recipients for the delivery service providers and in turn, a higher use of road space. Road users, residents and logistics providers find themselves in a competitive situation for routes. One way to defuse this situation is to deliver goods on the so-called ‘last mile’ by cargo bike. With this form of delivery, goods (parcels or pallets) are transferred to electrically powered cargo bikes in an inner-city depot (so-called micro-hubs) and from there, delivered to the end customer. In addition to saved emissions, a significant advantage is that all regulations that apply to cycling also apply to cargo bikes: one-way streets that are open to cycling can be used in both directions and parking on the pavement is also legally permitted. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to new conflicts in the foreseeable future as the number of cargo bikes increases.


Until now, cargo bike logistics has been a niche market, for which there are many reasons. Switching to cargo bikes changes the entire logistics process, since micro-hubs require additional goods handling. More serious, however, is the fact that the models available today often do not yet meet the needs of scheduling teams in terms of volume, drive power, size, or maintenance requirements. Manufacturers have meanwhile reacted and are now offering more robust and flexible models for use in cargo bike logistics, but so far they’ve only been produced in small numbers. This is not expected to stop the growth of the market in the long term. So, is the success of last-mile delivery by cargo bike likely to spread far? Not quite.


The new generation of optimised, practical cargo bike models pushing onto the market is confronted with the dismal reality of existing road infrastructures. Overtaking is usually not possible on narrowed cycle paths. Bollards, informal curbs, and bumpy road surfaces contribute to cancelling-out most cargo bikes advantages. This is reflected in the results from an October 2020 study published by ADAC of Germany (Europe's largest motoring association). They surveyed cycle path widths in 10 German state capitals. 87 out of 120 cycle routes tested received a ‘sufficient’ rating, or below. Only 17.5 percent of all width tested routes received a ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Even though many of the routes considered are still suitable for use with a conventional bicycle, they hardly meet the higher requirements of load logistics.


To make a success in truly supporting the last mile by bike industry, it’s frequently necessary to sacrifice vehicle space. This means taking lanes away from motorised private transport (MIV). In England, Covid saw £250 million invested in pop-up cycle lanes, wider pavements, safer junctions and bus-only areas. For the industry, they proved to be a promising approach, but public pressure, and the ‘trial only’ nature of re-zoning lead to a reopening by winter 2020. Longer-term measures such as continuous 20mph zones, closing of parking spaces, and the rollout of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone have a ‘green’ focus, but are arguably not so delivery-friendly. If cities wish to help, they need to recognise inner-city transhipment depots need a lot of storage space, not just adequate cycle lane widths.


The road to an adequate cycle path infrastructure and thus the widespread use of cargo bike logistics in cities is long and rocky. Our research project "SmartRadL" explores the efficient use of the cargo bikes as a means of transport in German inner cities. This project is about developing a load-bike-specific route planning software in the context of inner-city load bike logistics. The primary goal is to provide cargo bike logisticians with scheduling software that takes urban obstacles (e.g. gradients, curbs) into account when planning routes. This should develop maximum economic efficiencies throughout the last mile. Cycle lanes are not just for leisure purposes or deliberately installed to annoy motorists. On the contrary, with adequate availability and design, cycle paths can develop into a significant economic drivers. They are transport routes for people on their way to work and a flow of goods on their way to the customer.