Truckers: Make Room for Bike Freight Bike freight is springing up in some cities as a cheaper, greener way for some companies to ship products. In Boston, a start-up called The New Amsterdam Project uses human power to transport some serious freight: Some deliveries weigh up to 1,000 lbs.
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Truckers: Make Room for Bike Freight

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Truckers: Make Room for Bike Freight

Truckers: Make Room for Bike Freight

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This is Day to Day, I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand. We just heard how high oil prices are affecting companies that make plastic products. Well, companies that rely on trucking those products are also paying a lot more, and that spurred some of them to look for alternatives to trucking. Shannon Mullen has the story from Boston.

SHANNON MULLEN: It's about 75 degrees outside as Wednesday Jane makes her way across Boston to deliver a 300-pound load of locally-made chocolate and cheese.

(Soundbite of bell)

MULLEN: She's pedaling at 200-pound vehicle along the city streets, going a hair slower than traffic, and a few cars try to pass around her. She pulls up to her last delivery stop, without breaking a sweat.

Ms. WEDNESDAY JANE (General Manager, Driver, New Amsterdam Project): It's definitely a workout. I stay in shaped. I eat a lot.

MULLEN: Jane is a driver and general manager for The New Amsterdam Project. A six-month-old company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that uses human power to deliver serious freight, up to 1,000 pounds.

There are similar startups in Berkeley, California, 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, that's about four feet high and three feet wide.

Ms. JANE: So, in the front it looks just like a regular bicycle. There's a seat, pedals, handlebars, a wheel, but there's also an electric assist to help out with inclines, with a heavy load, and that sort of thing.

MULLEN: 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.

Mr. ANDREW BROWN (Founder, CEO, New Amsterdam Projects): It makes no sense to transport goods through urban areas with big trucks. Our business operationalizes that idea. That's faster, more efficient, healthier, and a more constructive way to distribute goods.

MULLEN: But the vehicles are expensive, about $11,000 a piece. Brown says potential clients call almost every day. But with under a dozen signed up now, he's business has yet to turn a profit, or cut much carbon.

It saves an estimated 3,600 pounds of CO2 emissions per year, only about 180 gallons of gas. But boost that to more than a 1,000 gallons per year, once all five of its vehicles are logging 600 miles a week. That equals eco peace of mind for carbon-conscious companies, such as Taza Chocolates, one of New Amsterdam's clients. Taza co-founder, Larry Slotnick, says human power also saves his business and his customers' money.

Mr. LARRY SLOTNICK (Co-founder, Taza Chocolate): We just knew that with New Amsterdam, our delivery cost would actually stay pretty constant, because they're not relying on fossil fuels.

MULLEN: Most New Amsterdam clients pay 10 dollars per delivery site, while other Boston-area trucking firms charge 50 to 80 dollars, plus a fuel surcharge. Another advantage, state traffic laws let New Amsterdam drivers use bike lanes to get around traffic jams. And driver Wednesday Jane says, they maneuver better in bad weather. Though, she is not looking forward to breathing smog on hot summer days.

Ms. JANE: And hopefully that would become less and less, as we take the cars off the road. I could see the streets filled with these vehicles, the little dinging bells, up and down the street.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MULLEN: For now, Jane and her carbon-neutral colleagues have to share the road with Boston's notoriously testy drivers. Most of whom, she says, are too curious about what she's driving, to notice if she's in their way. For NPR News, I'm Shannon Mullen in Boston.

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