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The Cargo Bike Charter

Councils turning white vans into green bikes could save taxpayers £660 million
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A cargo bike used for street cleaning in Westminster

Main image: A cargo bike used for street cleaning in Westminster

£660 million could be saved by councils and thousands of diesel vans could be taken off the roads by switching to using electric cargo bikes, according to figures published today (16 June).

The campaign group Cargo Revolution is calling on local authorities to switch to cargo bikes for services such as litter cleaning, keeping parks tidy and doing maintenance to council estates.

Already businesses such as electricians and drain cleaning companies have made the switch to cargo bikes. 

Cutting costs and pollution

Over 8,500 diesel vans could be taken off Britain’s roads if councils switched to using cargo bikes, which would help the UK to meet its obligations to reduce air pollution.

Transport is one of the biggest contributors to deadly pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM 2.5).

These are associated with diseases and conditions including lung cancer, heart disease, dementia and asthma.

The change could reduce costs to council taxpayers by £660 million, with a reduction in costs of replacing vans with cargo bikes and lower fuel and maintenance costs.

On average, vans are replaced every four years in larger fleets. The figures may be underestimated as many councils have outsourced their fleets to private contractors.

Supporting the switch to bikes

Four councils in London have signed up to the ‘Cargo Bike Charter’, which pledges to switch council vans to cargo bikes, where possible, while enabling residents and businesses to use pedal power to make deliveries and provide key services.

Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Lambeth and Westminster have signed the charter which includes a five-point plan to improve the infrastructure for cargo bikes and support individuals and businesses to switch away from polluting vehicles.

‘Cargo bikes are no longer a niche concept, and they can be real game changers for councils when it comes to delivering freight and servicing trips, estate maintenance and cleaning. Not only do they provide environmental benefits by not contributing to air pollution, they also make journeys more efficient, and present a much lower risk of danger to people walking and cycling than vans and HGVs. 
‘The Mayor and I welcome this new charter – it supports the aims of our own recently launched Cargo Bike Action Plan to grow the use of cargo bikes, help both the environment and the health of Londoners, and build a better, safer, greener London for everyone.’

London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner

Showcasing cargo bikes

The charter will be launched today (Friday 16 June) with a mini tour of London, starting at an event at the Federation of Small Businesses at 11.00 before moving on to Westminster City Hall, then setting off to reach Windrush Square, by Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton for 13:30.

The events will include a custom-made ice cream cargo bike which will be causing ripples across the capital, showcasing the potential for retail businesses to make the switch.

‘We are delighted to be an early signatory of Cargo Revolution’s Cargo Bike Charter. For many journeys, the bike is best. And for many journeys with cargo, the cargo bike is king. Faster, cleaner, quieter. Enabling businesses and residents to move cargo by bike wherever possible, rather than by van, is an essential part of cleaning up the air we breathe, reducing motor congestion to improve the reliability of public transport, and making our streets safer. 

‘In the first year of the new administration Westminster City Council has launched a cargo bike logistics hub in Pimlico, a public e-cargo hire scheme with Beryl, and consultations on new high-quality cycleways. The Charter highlights five important areas where we must continue to make progress as a local authority to unlock the power of cargo bikes.’

Deputy Cabinet Member for Air Quality in Westminster

A cargo revolution

Recent research showed that over 90% of vehicles operated by local authorities run on diesel despite council efforts to tackle air pollution.

The hidden social and environmental costs associated with diesel vans in London currently amount to a staggering £2.46 billion annually.

The news comes ahead of an event for Better Transport Week on 16 June, being organised by the Federation of Small Businesses to demonstrate the potential for small and medium-sized enterprises to make the switch to using cargo bikes. 

On 29 June, a group of cargo bikes will travel through central London to highlight the campaign and to celebrate the charter.

‘Cargo bikes are a zippy, clean, quiet and efficient solution for cities grappling with toxic air, traffic congestion and the climate crisis. We’ve seen an unprecedented rise in miles being driven by polluting vans so the alternatives must be supported as much as possible. I hope the charter and the commitments laid out today will inspire other authorities across Europe to join the cargo revolution.’

Clean Cities Campaign

Camden’s OurBike scheme

Camden is piloting a new app-based scheme that aims to make cargo bikes cheaper to hire.

The OurBike scheme is designed to help businesses and residents choose a less polluting form of transport when carrying out deliveries and transporting large items.

For the first year of the scheme, which is being delivered in partnership with Peddle My Wheels, the cargo bike cost is free for the first two hours and then £3 per hour thereafter.

‘As a council, we want to reduce emissions and improve air quality in our borough, ultimately to achieve World Health Organization standards across Camden. We are already beginning the switch to using electric cargo bikes for council services, contributing to a cleaner environment but also generating savings for local taxpayers. I strongly encourage other organisations and businesses to reap the benefits of the more agile, cleaner, healthier form of transport that e-cargo bikes offer.’

Cabinet Member for a Sustainable Camden

’A win-win’

Many local authorities and the wider public sector are also taking action to decarbonise their own fleets.

For example, NHS England, as part of its ‘Net Zero National Health Service’ plan, has set a long-term commitment that 90% of the NHS fleet must use low, ultra-low and zero-emission vehicles by 2028, and pledged to go beyond this with the entire owned fleet of the NHS eventually reaching net zero emissions.

‘By switching to electric cargo bikes, councils can reduce the financial burden on taxpayers while positively impacting the health and wellbeing of our communities. It’s a win-win for local people.’

Spokesperson from Cargo Revolution

The Mayor of London’s Environment Strategy commits that all new cars and vans, including response vehicles, in the GLA group (encompassing Transport for London, the London Fire Brigade and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, among others) must be zero emission capable from 2025.

Fleets (both private and public sector) can play a hugely important role in this as they account for over 50% of new vehicles on the road and ultimately help drive the secondhand car market.

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