A Last Mile Expert breaks down how Cargo Bikes are changing Urban Logistics forever
28 March 2022

A Last Mile Expert breaks down how Cargo Bikes are changing Urban Logistics forever

As part of a series of interviews focused on the topic of last mile logistics, Ziegler met with Mr. Philippe Lebeau, Professor at the VUB and a member of the MOBI Research Center. His expertise covers, among other things, supply chain management, sustainable logistics, electric vehicles and freight transport in Brussels. In particular, he contributed to the “Cargo Bike” project launched by the Brussels-Capital Region, which aimed to create the ecosystem necessary to stimulate the wider adoption of cargo bikes with the underlying goal of reducing reliance on motor vehicles. Having devoted his PhD to the electrification of urban logistics, Philippe Lebeau has focused his research on last mile logistics and worked for four years on the development of a sustainable distribution network in Brussels that is based on a system of using urban centers of consolidation together with electric vans. His research then led him to study the use of cargo bikes for last mile (the BCklet project). He is also active within the VUB, where he leads the courses  on sustainable mobility and logistics with Professor Cathy Macharis.

So there are many good reasons to ask for his insights into the effectiveness of Ziegler’s latest last mile innovation project: the XXL cargo bike and the urban micro-hub.


The Cargobike: an excellent urban delivery solution with low environmental impact

In Mr. Lebeau’s opinion, initiatives such as the XXL cargo bike developed by Ziegler represent an excellent solution to meet the challenge posed by climate change and poor air quality. Since cargo bike has the advantage of being electrically powered, it doesn’t emit atmospheric pollutants such as CO2, NOx and PM.

But that’s not the only benefit. When we talk about external societal costs associated with transport, we must also consider the noise pollution it causes. Already improvements in this area are being made, for example with the introduction of 30 km/h zones in Brussels and the speed limit of 100 km/h on the Brussels Ring. “Not only are cargo bikes quieter and reduce noise levels, they are also safer because they are slower.”


A solution to urban congestion

What’s more, cargo bikes can also help alleviate congestion problems in city centres. Indeed, they can use the cycle lanes as long as they are wide enough and in good condition.


Massification versus fragmentation

To combat urban congestion, a rule of thumb is to consolidate shipments and make smart decisions based on the volume of goods transported. The principle is that it is better to dispatch a full truck rather than 10 smaller vans to make the same deliveries. The same logic naturally applies to cargo bikes.

In order to optimize environmental performance, it is necessary to couple groupage/consolidation with cargo bikes. There is no point in further fragmenting volumes. The goal is not to put as many delivery vehicles on the road as possible, but to use cargo bikes wisely, where their use has the  most impact.


How urban logistics micro-platforms and cargo bikes complement each other

The combination of micro-hubs and the cargo bike is perfect because it allows goods to be brought closer to consumers. The goods are first pre-routed in bulk to the micro-hub by small groupage vehicles. Last mile delivery can then be provided from the central micro-hub by cargo bikes, which is the ideal solution: not only can it be parked easily, but it is also emission free. In this configuration, last mile delivery can be arranged within a radius of 3 to 5 km from the micro-hub.

By consolidating flows while implementing electric cargo bikes together with urban micro-hubs, it becomes possible to reduce the distance travelled for each delivery, which translates into fewer emissions and a reduction in external societal costs.

“Your cargo bike has the advantage of being very large, which allows you to transport many parcels at the same time, and your micro-hub in Place Albertine is perfectly located for deliveries in the centre of Brussels”.


The latest thinking on micro-hubs

Currently, one idea that is being researched in Brussels is that of a shared repository. It would be a deposit open to carriers with the aim of consolidating the goods as much as possible.

Tests were also carried out in Brussels on mobile hubs. A semi-trailer, for example, could act as a hub. However, for a city like Brussels, this solution isn’t quite the ideal solution. A lean approach would be micro-hubs in the form of vans or smaller trucks that would be parked at the start of the day and act as hubs to supply cargo bikes.


Other solution in addition to cargo bikes and micro-hubs?

Future opportunities will depend on  the continuing electrification of delivery vehicles as well as the reduction of diesel-powered vans. By 2030, the use of diesel vans under 3.5 tonnes will be banned in the Brussels LEZ (Low Emission Zone). However, a recent survey showed that of all delivery vehicles in Brussels, 94% still used diesel, compared to only 5% petrol and 1% CNG.

And even today, a majority of companies surveyed still rank diesel as the top fuel for their future van purchases, although electric is gaining popularity and is currently in second place.

Professor Philippe Lebeau concluded with this: “We are very happy to explore all these new and innovative options for last mile delivery and hope that in the future we can work together on even more exciting projects! We are fully prepared to help and support Ziegler in your research! It would be great if we could share best practices in urban logistics with each other. Ziegler is a big name in transport and a major player in the logistics field. It is encouraging to see you participating in cyclo-logistics. Indeed, this should not only be reserved for small niche operators, it is really something that is gaining momentum and which makes sense for large operators. So together we can increase the impact of sustainable and innovative last mile logistics.”