E-cargo bikes for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Paul Sullivan, Senior Transport Planner at Sheffield City Council, describes how e-cargo bikes were introduced to help SMEs transition to reducing their carbon footprint. 

What prompted you to make changes? 

We envisaged there would be a number of organisations in the city who were looking to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce costs by using alternatives to using motorised vehicles. However, if you already own a vehicle it can be difficult to justify further investment, especially into something relatively new and untried. The Energy Saving Trust fund gave us that opportunity to take away the need to justify that expense and at the same time kickstart the e cargo bike boom in Sheffield.  We achieved this by offering very attractive grant terms on condition the beneficiaries receiving e-cargo bikes/the grant replaced motorised vehicle miles for the majority of trips. 

What changes have you made? 

The grant enabled Sheffield City Council to offer 90% funding towards e-cargo bikes and accessories. 26 organisations were successful with their applications securing 32 bikes in total. E-cargo bikes are very versatile, as well as deliveries of food and other products this scheme has seen bikes being used by to GPs, photographers, accountants 

We worked with all the applicants, helping them identify the most appropriate bike for their needs (and those that could tackle the city’s topography), helped by offering trials with existing bikes based in Sheffield. 

Did external funding support your work? 

Yes.  After a successful bid to the Energy Saving Trust we were awarded just under £160k. Each recipient was required to invest in helmets and locks (which were not included in the grant funding). 

For those that don’t want to invest in a bike there are 2 further options: a hire service, or they can take advantage of a local bike shop running a delivery service. 

How easy or difficult has it been? 

Identifying bikes wasn’t an issue. However, procuring them has proved a challenge. The pandemic, huge demand for e bikes over the summer across Europe, and the more recent port congestion means that close to 9 months on we are still awaiting some bikes, with 4 due in March. 

If you are aiming to do more, what are your future plans? 

We now have a waiting list of around 10 who missed out on the grant, and we expect more to come forward as we move towards a level of normality through the summer and autumn.  

One of the things we have learnt from this project is that the bikes businesses initially think they want aren’t always the most suitable when it comes to practicalities - especially around storage and manoeuvrability.  

For that reason, Sheffield City Council has purchased 5 bikes (3 models) that will be available free of charge for one month loans. So, in essence, one business will be able to borrow a different model each month that will enable them to compare and contrast. In addition, they can try different models through a local e-cargo bike hire provider.  

It is very early days and while this is relatively small scale we hope that the 30+ bikes out on the streets of the city (that will rise to around 50 bikes come summer 21) will act as a marketing tool and inspire others to invest in e cargo bikes. To that end we are investigating opportunities to run a further grant scheme. 

What benefits have you seen from your work? 

The scheme aims to reduce motorised vehicle miles by around 34,000 pa it’s early days but after 4 months (2 of those in lockdown) users have already clocked up 1200 miles that would otherwise have been driven. 

Moving to e-bike use over motorised vehicle means the business can employ from a larger pool as applicants for jobs no longer require a driving licence - though we do ask they undertake Bikeability training.  

There should also a health benefit for users.  In one case a GP surgery has benefited from a bike and it is to be used for the administration of the Covid vaccine to housebound patients. This is already happening in other areas of the city via hybrid e-bikes. 

This will benefit the participating business but also help with Sheffield City Council (SCC) carbon targets, and help to reduce congestion and pressure on parking. 

How much has this case study reduced carbon emissions? 

Thus far, based on mileage, carbon emissions have been reduced by the equivalent of 60 tons. However, we expect this to be around 1700 tons pa once all bikes are operational 

What can be done differently in future? 

There are grants for EVs and chargers going in left right and centre, the goverbment really needs to extend that level of support to e-cargo bikes. 

Do you have a tip to share? 

Don’t overstretch yourself. Within local authorities we are determined with being all things to all people, but sometimes you need to start small and work up from there. We were helped by the funding, some early adopters and having a local e-cargo bike hire scheme.