London flower couriers favor electric cargo bikes over vans for deliveries

The main distribution center for Freddie’s Flowers — a floral delivery business focused on London — looks, in most respects, exactly as might be expected. Big stacks of long cardboard delivery boxes stand in one corner of the unit in a high-ceilinged former factory by the River Wandle in Earlsfield, in the south-west of the city, but in place of delivery vans, this center has a fleet of long, electric-assisted bicycles, equipped with wide carrying platforms.

Freddie’s is one of a growing number of businesses seeking to combat urban congestion, parking restrictions, and the shortage of commercial drivers by making most of its deliveries by bicycle. Couriers stack up to about 45 boxes on the Dutch-built Urban Arrow bicycles before pedaling off towards destinations across central and southwest London.

Such operations represent a fast-growing niche in many companies’ logistics operations. Express parcel operators such as DHL, specialist low-carbon delivery companies, and some other mainstream logistics companies are all exploiting the flexibility and speed of cargo bikes for some of their operations in many parts of the industrialized world. Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital uses Pedal & Post, a local cycle courier company, to rush samples to the railway station, ready to be taken to London for processing. Mark Philpotts, a cycling design specialist in the UK for Sweco, a Swedish-based consultancy, says this mode of transport has particular strengths in handling last-mile deliveries of perishable goods, just-in-time items, and high-value goods.

“It’s a direct competitor to electric vans,” Philpotts says. “You can stop where you like. You can service buildings more easily. You can take the bike into awkward locations — and you’ve not got the parking issues or the loading issues.” Alice Scobie, head of UK deliveries, says Freddie’s Flowers happened upon the bike as a delivery method almost by accident after starting deliveries with vans when the business began in 2014.

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