Pedal Me x Lambeth Council during the Covid-19 lockdown: The logistics of delivering 10,000 care packages using e-cargo bikes
Through a collaboration with Lambeth Council, Pedal Me demonstrated that e-cargo bikes offer a clear alternative to vans for large scale logistics operations.
In late March 2020, as the U.K. entered lockdown to urgently flatten the exponential rise in Covid-19 cases, Lambeth Council decided to partner with Pedal Me to assist with the delivery of thousands of care packages, consisting of essential home products and food, to the individuals and families most in need.
This was the largest operation conducted in Pedal Me’s history, and perhaps the single largest e-cargo bike logistics operation in the U.K. In total, the Pedal Me fleet covered over 20,000km to distribute nearly 10,000 packages, moving around about 150,000 kg across the borough of Lambeth.
The logistics and effort put into moving such a sheer volume of goods was truly impressive.
The operation lasted for a month and a half, with up to 16 riders out delivering parcels on a given day. On several days close to 400 packages were delivered. Each bike can carry up to 6 crates, corresponding to a total of 480L of volume per trip. Toward the end of April, volunteers started helping with deliveries. The efficiency of cargo bikes at carrying high volumes was highlighted as most struggled to get any more than 3 boxes in their personal cars.
The organisation at the Recreation Centre in Brixton was optimised day by day and allowed riders to re-load their bikes quickly while ensuring the packages matched various dietary requirements. It felt at points like the Brixton centre could have catered for the whole of London.
To improve the efficiency of deliveries, two sub-hubs were opened, one in south Lambeth and one in north Lambeth. Trailers were also on occasions used as mobile sub-hubs to support the riders and circumvent the need for long journeys back to the main hub.
Overall, for a day with 400 deliveries, we estimate up to 10 vans were removed from the roads of Lambeth. A rough estimate (assuming the same number of km for a diesel van) points to 5,000kg of CO2 saved, or about 100 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.
It’s difficult to emphasise enough the impact of removing vans from the roads. Vans and trucks pose a disproportionate risk for pedestrians and cyclists, exacerbate traffic congestion, and are responsible for up to half of traffic emissions within cities. They also add to the problem of noise pollution. In contrast, e-cargo bikes benefit from shorter routes, faster parking and unloading times and can move past stationary traffic. They are considerably more efficient in urban areas.
Through this collaboration with Lambeth council, Pedal Me demonstrated that e-cargo bikes offer a clear alternative to vans for large scale logistics operations.
From a more personal perspective, the days as a Pedal Me rider were hard but rewarding. It wasn’t uncommon to wait for more than 10 minutes at a door to make sure the food packages would arrive in the right hands. Especially early on, some riders had 10-12 hour days and had to be back on the bikes the next morning. There was a great team spirit going on, and the dispatchers helped with the coordination and lifting the mood of riders with their humour, support and good spirits. A special mention should be made to the trailer riders who battled the hills of Lambeth day after day without respite and would have put most Tour de France cyclists to shame.
It was at times difficult to catch glimpses of the hardship people were going through during the lockdown. Coming into someone’s life for such a short amount of time and witnessing their struggles left a bittersweet aftertaste when back on the bike. This was especially true for the vulnerable people who needed help bringing the food inside their houses, either because of old age or disability. Some shared they hadn’t been able to eat much. They talked about their loneliness and the difficulty of not being able to go outside. The people of Lambeth were remarkable in expressing their gratitude with signs on their windows, notes at the door and kind words of encouragement.