Copyright: Urbike
In European cities, up to 50% of urban trips for professional activities could be made by cargo bike, yet many lack the awareness, infrastructure, and support needed to make this switch. Discover how Brussels is working to unlock their potential.

I'm walking through my neighborhood in Rue du Croissant, Forest - Brussels. I'm not thinking about anything in particular, except that the street's name is making me a little hungry and I'm considering stopping at the corner café for a snack. Lost in these not-so-deep thoughts, I see a courier from an electronics store on the other side of the street. Some time ago, his colleagues delivered a fridge to my house. They told me I was lucky because if they hadn't succeeded in the "mission impossible" of finding parking for the van a few meters from my home, their company policy would have required them to cancel the delivery and reschedule for another day. However, this courier stopped on Rue du Croissant is not in a van, but next to a cargo bike. It's parked on the sidewalk but doesn't obstruct the way; the sidewalk is wide enough.

I hesitate for a moment. I'm tempted by the bar, and I know that couriers have very tight delivery schedules. But, after all, I am the advisor for the cAIRgo Bike project in Brussels... I cross the street. "Bonjour!" I greet the guy. "Bonjour," he replies, looking puzzled. He's waiting for someone to respond to the intercom. Maybe he's hoping I'm the recipient of the package, so he can deliver it quickly and leave. "Nice bike," I tell him. Maybe he's disappointed that I'm not his man, but he doesn't show it. "Do you find it easy to get around and deliver packages with this?" "Yes, for small packages it's ideal, no time wasted looking for parking." "So, do you prefer it to the van?" I ask. "Well, it depends. In Brussels' winter, it's tough, with rain and wind. You must be motivated! But generally, I get along well." I don't want to bother him further. I bid him a good day and head back to the cafe.

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“The cargo bike? For small packages it's ideal, no time wasted looking for parking. In Brussels' winter, it's tough, with rain and wind. You must be motivated! But generally, I get along well”

The untapped potential

Certainly, I'm aware that this conversation might not have been particularly enlightening. But there is an important point in this brief exchange. The problem is that, as of today, many of those using cargo bikes do so out of personal motivation, whereas they should be put in a position to do it because it's the most convenient option.

After all, mobility experts know that cargo bikes offer a very promising alternative for urban logistics: in most European cities, one in four deliveries could be made by bicycle, according to the Cyclelogistics (2017) study. Even more remarkable is the estimate that even 50% of urban trips related to professional activities could be performed by cargo bike (Cyclelogistics Ahead, 2017). However, when walking through the streets of our cities, it's clear that this potential is still largely untapped. Why? The reasons are many: entrenched practices of companies based on vans, lack of adequate cycling infrastructure, outdated regulations, unfavorable weather conditions... sure, all this plays a part. But, even considering the current situation, a greater use of cargo bikes could be expected. The problem is twofold: on one hand, there is a lack of awareness of the benefits and capabilities of cargo bikes; on the other, there is a shortage of training and support for companies and couriers in adopting cargo bikes, making the transition from motorised vehicles to more sustainable solutions complex.

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In most European cities, one in four deliveries could be made by bicycle, while 50% of urban trips related to professional activities could be performed by cargo bike.

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Cargo-tandem: Supporting the 'Pros' with urbike

The cAIRgo Bike project proposes a holistic approach to promote the use of cargo bikes. An innovative element of the project is the support provided to professionals who wish to test and, eventually, adopt the cargo bike as a new means for their activities in Brussels, whether it involves delivering packages or performing different types of services. The cyclo-logistics company urbike plays a key role in promoting the use of cargo bikes among Brussels organisations, assisting a variety of public and private entities through the cAIRgo Bike for Pros programme. This initiative is aimed at organisations of all sizes and sectors, demonstrating that cargo bikes can meet diverse needs. The programme has had a significant impact during its experimental phase between 2020 and 2023, recording extremely positive results. A tailored approach has been developed to specifically meet the needs of each organisation, whether they are independent entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized enterprises, or large companies and municipalities. The focus has been on creating informational materials and organising events to raise awareness and share acquired knowledge. In total, 220 organisations have been assisted so far, including 40 large companies, and more than 330 professionals have been trained in the practical use of cargo bikes for their daily activities. Moreover, more than 150 professionals had the opportunity to directly experience the effectiveness of cargo bikes in their work context, while more than 700 people participated in consultations or trial sessions.

According to programme participants, there are several reasons for choosing cargo bikes: lower costs compared to motorised vehicles, greater agility in traffic, and environmental benefits such as reducing pollution and CO2 emissions.

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Urbike’s cAIRgo Bike for Pros programme has supported 220 organisations, including 40 large companies, trained over 330 professionals in the use of cargo bikes, and provided direct experience to more than 150 professionals, while engaging over 700 individuals in consultations and trial sessions.

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Everyone can ride - get in the saddle!

The potential for adopting cargo bikes is significant. The professions that can benefit from using cargo bikes are numerous: telecommunications and maintenance technicians, photographers, agricultural cooperatives, national broadcasting companies, police canine units, electricians, retail shops, and municipal public cleaning services. The added value of cargo bikes lies not in the profession itself but in the effective organisation of daily professional routes specific to each working reality.

Urbike has supported numerous companies, both large and small, in integrating cargo bikes into their services. Among them are Sibelga, the operator of the electricity and natural gas distribution network in the 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region, which has acquired cargo bikes for its meter-reading technicians and inspections on construction sites (see video here). Also, Vivaqua, the public water management company, is now using cargo bikes and small trailers for technical inspections at construction sites and for fire hydrants (see video here, in French).

The public sector plays a crucial role in this transition toward more sustainable mobility. It is vital that local authorities continue to lead by example, preventing private sector excuses like "you go first." Within the cAIRgo Bike project, urbike has assisted more than half of the municipalities in the Brussels region. Numerous municipal services, including public cleaning, cultural services such as libraries, and building maintenance, have started using cargo bikes. The municipality of Jette stands out as a prime example: its adoption of cargo bikes for cleaning services has been so positive that it has become a model for others. The municipality of Jette has inspired the one of Forest, which is now looking to integrate cargo bikes into its municipal services, appointing a dedicated manager for this purpose.

This peer-to-peer exchange and influence facilitates replication among cities, which are reassured by the fact that these kinds of initiatives have been tested and work in other contexts.

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The added value of cargo bikes lies not in the profession itself but in the effective organisation of daily professional routes specific to each working reality.

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Serious commitment now

However, the road is not all roses: urbike identified obstacles in adopting cargo bikes, including lack of information and training, misperceptions about their applicability for professional use, challenges in interactions with other road users, unfavorable weather conditions and the initial cost of purchase. Nevertheless, despite the challenges and obstacles, the cAIRgo Bike project has proven to be a fundamental initiative in guiding companies and public authorities through the initial steps toward understanding and using cargo bikes. Now, it is essential that the involved organisations do not stop here. They should continue to actively promote and adopt the use of cargo bikes on a large scale, integrating them significantly and not just marginally into their work routines. Moreover, by becoming active ambassadors of this change, they inspire and motivate other entities to follow the path toward more sustainable mobility.

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Involved organisations should not stop here. They should continue to actively promote and adopt the use of cargo bikes on a large scale, integrating them significantly and not just marginally into their work routines.

Money, money, money

Finally, besides good intentions, we can't deny that financial support plays a crucial role in adopting cargo bikes. The cAIRgo Bike project, with its incentives of up to 4,000 € for the purchase of cargo bikes and 2,000€ for the trailers, has significantly supported entrepreneurs and SMEs in the Brussels-Capital Region. Given the success of the trial, it is excellent news that the Brussels Region has decided to integrate this bonus into its economic expansion grants starting in 2024, making it a permanent component of support for the Low Emission Zone.

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The Brussels Region has decided to integrate this bonus into its economic expansion grants starting in 2024, making it a permanent component of support for the Low Emission Zone.

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Advice for the journey ahead

At this point, all that remains is to offer some advice to other public authorities and organisations interested in replicating and, perhaps, improving the experience initiated by the cAIRgo Bike project. Here are the key points to support the pros in transitioning to cargo bikes:

  • Tackle the challenges: Recognise and address barriers such as adverse weather conditions, interactions with other road users, and the cost of purchase.
  • Try before you buy: Offer opportunities to test different cargo bikes to find the vehicle best suited to each specific professional need.
  • Overcome fear: Use testing as a means to eliminate fears related to riding and to discover the practicality of cargo bikes.
  • Real-Life testing: Allow professionals to experience cargo bikes in their daily work environment to build confidence and trust.
  • Training and information: Ensure access to adequate training and informational materials to make informed choices and improve safety and efficiency in riding.

 

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About this resource

Author
Giacomo Lozzi
Project
Location
Brussels Capital Region, Belgium
About UIA
Urban Innovative Actions
Programme/Initiative
2014-2020

The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is a European Union initiative that provided funding to urban areas across Europe to test new and unproven solutions to urban challenges. The initiative had a total ERDF budget of €372 million for 2014-2020.

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