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When Caryna Camerino heard about a year ago that the council was running a pilot programme letting businesses try out e-cargobikes, she applied.
With her own shops on Capel Street and Merrion Square, as well as her production kitchen in Terenure and dozens of other shops buying her baked goods, she had plenty of deliveries to make around the city. Cakes, cookies, and more.
Her bakery had a delivery van and also used a taxi service when the van was busy. But she thought a bike might work instead – and knew it would be better for the environment.
Electric cargo bikes can be expensive, though, with models going for more than €5,000. Through the pilot, the council, partnering with the company Bleeper, was offering the chance to try one out for six months for €100 a month.
Camerino decided to give it a try, and it was a great experience overall, she says. Though all did not go as planned.
“It turned out not everything was appropriate to be transported by cargobike,” Camerino says. “Definitely no birthday cakes.”
Dublin’s streets are just too bumpy. Cakes – and even brownies – were too delicate. “There’s potholes everywhere,” Camerino said.
On one occasion she had to deliver a wedding cake from her shop on Capel Street to City Hall and the van wasn’t available, and so two people walked it over in the bike: one wheeling, the other fending off all the people asking for a bite.
However, there were plenty of other things, she found, which her business could use the bike for very practically.
The council extended the pilot from six months to 12 months. In the end, she bought a cargobike for use by her business and her family.
“I would never have considered getting a cargobike if I hadn’t seen this scheme,” she said. “I feel proud. I felt like instead of just doing more, I was doing better.”
Declaring the pilot a success, the council is looking to expand on it, a council spokesperson said. “On foot of this project, three e-cargobike projects have been proposed; E-cargobikes for Business; E-cargobikes for Charities; E-cargobikes for Communities.”
Giving It a Try
The pilot project, which the council launched with Bleeper in September 2021, started out with a plan to let 10 businesses try out e-cargobikes for six months, the council spokesperson said.
The goals included introducing more businesses to the bikes as an alternative, more climate-friendly way to do deliveries in the city, rather than cars or vans. And also to enable research into the use of e-cargobikes, to look at their future potential.
The council has made other efforts to support a shift of “last-mile” deliveries in the city from vans and trucks to cargo bikes.
For example, in 2017, it gave space to UPS to put a large container on Wolfe Tone Square. The parcel-delivery company then used cargobikes to get packages that last kilometre or whatever to people’s doors.
“For urban and suburban deliveries, e-cargo bikes offer significant emissions savings potential and efficiencies over vans, particularly in congested areas,” according to the 2021 “Dublin Region Energy Master Plan”, from Codema, Dublin’s energy agency.
It pointed to an Austrian study which found that, “In urban areas on average 51% of all motorised trips – associated with the transport of goods – could be shifted from car to the bicycle or cargo bicycle.”
The recent Dublin City Council e-cargobikes pilot project was funded by the National Transport Authority (NTA), and the council subsidised the cost for the businesses of renting the bikes, bringing it down from €180 a month to €100.
The pedal-assist electric cargobikes have a cargo carrying capacity of 60kg, with a battery which can last for up to 160km and can be fully recharged in six hours, according to a report from the council’s Traffic Department.
“The pilot project was so successful that an extension of the project was agreed,” said the report on the department’s activities in the first quarter of this year. The council expanded the programme to 12 months and the number of participants to 20.
The project ended on 14 April, said Kieran Ryan, communications and marketing manager for Bleeper.
They surveyed participants and aren’t ready to release the full results of their research on the pilot, he said. But he did offer a few insights.
“I think it was close to 40 percent of participants who bought a cargobike at the end,” Ryan said. But 90 percent said they’d like to purchase a cargobike in future. Cost was probably the biggest barrier for those who didn’t buy.
That’s actually a good problem to have because it’s relatively straightforward to solve with subsidies, Ryan said.
Aside from the cost, some companies identified “staff issues” – basically, staff were not confident about cycling around Dublin.
It’s unclear what form the three new e-cargobike projects that are being proposed would take. “Currently these projects are in proposal phase,” the council spokesperson said.
Will it allow people a limited amount of time to try e-cargobikes to decide if they want to buy one, or will it be a subsdised way for people to rent them indefinitely, or a subsidised way for people to buy them? Or some combination?
That’s going to be up to the council, Ryan said. For participants in the first pilot, when their trial came to an end, Bleeper gave them the option to turn the bike in, keep renting it, or buy it.
Paddy Byrne, owner and pharmacist at Life Pharmacy Ballsbridge, says when his trial period ended in November, he decided to keep renting. That suited him better than buying because Bleeper still handles maintenance.
Last Tuesday, 18 April at about 4pm, Byrne said he’d gone 38km so far on it that day. “I’ll probaby finish today on over 50km,” he said. “I did 5,000km on it in a year.”
Byrne says his pharmacy supplies a hospital, and he also does deliveries. Although he prefers to get around the city by bicycle, he just couldn’t carry enough to do all that – so before the pilot he was doing it by car.
Like Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council ran a pilot offering small businesses the chance to try out e-cargobikes. Theirs ran from July to November 2021.
Last month, a group of academics published the results of their analysis of that pilot on RTÉ Brainstorm. They looked at how weather, traffic and time and date might influence whether people used the bikes.
If it was colder or rainier, the trips the participants took on their e-cargobikes were shorter, their analysis found.
It offered suggestions on how to tackle these barriers, including: improve access to waterproofing and insulation for riders and goods, and work to “change dominant cultural beliefs around cycling as a predominantly ‘fair weather’ activity that is impractical in wet and cold conditions”.
Did the rain put Byrne off from making his deliveries on his e-cargobike? “I would use it a lot in the rain,” he says. “The only time I don’t use it is when it’s icy.”