Before 2019, courier service Dutch-X used 60 cargo vans and 10 bikes to get their customers' products around town. Today, it has a fleet of less than 10 larger vehicles — and over 100 e-bikes in New York alone.
With people ordering more items and expecting them quickly, Dutch-X is moving faster than ever, even on two wheels. The company increased its deliveries during rush hour from 1.7 per hour to 2.6 per hour, thanks to pedal power. The increase in efficiency has led to lower costs per delivery for customers.
"One of the main reasons [for the switch] is, of course, the environment," said Dutch-X co-founder Marcus Hoed. "[The] second reason is that a bike, especially with heavy traffic here in New York, can be faster, and is faster, than a van."
When coupled with a Carla Cargo trailer (which allows bike riders to cart around a pallet of goods), the Tern Bicycles cargo electric bikes that Dutch-X uses can pull 330 pounds worth of items. As an added bonus, the bikes don't create any emissions when they are on the road.
"We have found that by pairing these systems together, you can get faster deliveries, get through your town faster with your kids on the back, and not be stuck in that city traffic and sprawl that all of our cities are experiencing right now," said Tern Bicycles product marketing manager Arleigh Greenwald.
The World Economic Forum expects a 36 percent increase in last-mile delivery vehicles due to higher demand for online shopping by 2030, leading to 21 percent more congestion on roads. On average, it would mean 11 more minutes in traffic a day. Emissions would go up one-third as well. Tern believes its bikes can help solve some of that problem.
"As we're reimagining our cities and land use, we're reimagining how we can move people and products around," Greenwald said. "We have found that pairing an electric bike, specifically an electric cargo bike, which is designed to carry more heavy weight and people, and you can replace your car for your family or your business fleet vehicle."
It takes three to five hours to fully charge a Tern's battery, which can power the bike for 30 to 80 miles, depending on usage. Dutch-X's Hoed said a carrier can do two full routes on one charge. Also, while the Tern eBike his company uses starts at $3,200, a cargo van can start at $30,000.
"It's easily competitive with the vehicle, and it's just faster and better," he said.
There are some challenges, including safety concerns over the batteries. In December, nine e-bike batteries caught fire and caused an explosion in a New York City apartment. One person died, and seven others were injured. Tern uses UL-certified Bosch batteries, meaning they have been tested by a third party to confirm they can handle the charge they are supposed to and they are constructed correctly.
Autocentric cities like New York also aren't as prepared for cyclists. Cars aren't as used to sharing the road, and there aren't as many bike lanes as in other cities.
Hoed, who grew up in the Netherlands, also pointed out that people aren't as prepared for life on bicycles in the Big Apple. In his home country, children get their first bikes at 2 to 3 years old and start commuting to school at an early age. It's also normal to bring family members along on your bike on special seats in lieu of a car. Dutch-X administers a road test to all of its potential employees, similar to how the Netherlands tests children before they're allowed to ride alone on the road.
"You're out on the field six to eight hours a day, going through crazy traffic with a trailer behind you, while a commuter is going maybe from A to B, has his lunch, and goes back to the office, and a couple of hours later, he takes his bike back and goes back home," he explained. "You see that a lot of people are saying, 'I have the experience,' but it's a very different way of using the bike."
As people become more environmentally conscious, he believes more will take up cycling and the city will adapt.
"Using more bikes will make it better for all of us," he said.