Truckers: Make Room for Bike Freight

Bike Freight Delivery i i

In Boston, New Amsterdam Project bike freight driver Wenzday Jane pedals her 200-pound vehicle along the city streets, going a hair slower than the busy city traffic. Shannon Mullen/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Shannon Mullen/NPR
Bike Freight Delivery

In Boston, New Amsterdam Project bike freight driver Wenzday Jane pedals her 200-pound vehicle along the city streets, going a hair slower than the busy city traffic.

Shannon Mullen/NPR

In a handful of major cities, some companies are turning to bike freight as a cheaper, greener way of delivering their products without using fossil fuels.

In Boston, for example, a driver named Wenzday Jane pedals her way across town to deliver a 300-pound load of locally made chocolate and cheese. She navigates her 200-pound vehicle along the city streets, going a hair slower than traffic.

Jane is a driver and general manager for The New Amsterdam Project — a 6-month-old company based in Cambridge, Mass., that uses human power to deliver serious freight. Some deliveries weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

There are similar start-ups in Berkeley, Calif., and New York City. Their three-wheeled vehicles look like a cross between a bike and a box truck.

New Amsterdam's British-made model has a shiny, bright-red fiberglass cargo hold in the back that's about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. The front looks like a bicycle — seat, pedals, handlebar and a wheel.

"There's also an electric assist to help out with inertia and inclines with a heavy load," Jane says.

A Greener Way?

Even a full load doesn't rival the capacity of a conventional delivery truck.

But New Amsterdam CEO Andrew Brown says his custom, compact vehicles would better suit many small- to medium-sized businesses.

"It makes no sense to transport goods through urban areas with big trucks. Our business operationalizes that idea," Brown says. "It's faster, more efficient, healthier, and a more constructive way to distribute goods."

But at $11,000, the custom vehicles are expensive.

And with fewer than a dozen clients currently signed up, his business has yet to turn a profit — or cut much carbon. New Amsterdam has saved an estimated 3,600 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year — only about 180 gallons of gas.

But once all five of New Amsterdam's vehicles are logging 600 miles a week, the company expects to save more than 1,000 gallons per year. That equals eco-peace of mind for carbon conscious companies such as Taza Chocolate, one of New Amsterdam's clients.

Taza co-founder Larry Slotnick says human power also saves his business and his customers money.

"We just knew that with New Amsterdam, our delivery price would actually stay pretty constant because they're not relying on fossil fuels," Slotnick says.

Most New Amsterdam clients pay $10 per delivery, while other Boston-area trucking firms charge $50 to $80 plus a fuel surcharge. Another advantage to bike freight delivery: State traffic laws let New Amsterdam drivers use bike lanes to get around traffic jams.

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