The city centre cycle delivery firm that’s taking over from ‘white van man’

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Breaking the cycle: a bicycle courier service in Leeds is changing the way some companies deliver our packages. Clementine Binks talks to the man behind the two-wheeled business venture

We all know how our deliveries get to our door, it’s a man with a van. But what if there was a faster, greener and cheaper way to get your packages delivered?

Well, there is and one Leeds company is showing how bicycle couriers could change the face of inner-city parcel delivery.

Last Mile Leeds was set up two years ago by Ian Brocklebank, a 46-year-old father-of-two who previously worked for an NGO in West Java, Indonesia and is also a part time cycle instructor with Cycle Leeds.

His idea was to use specially adapted bicycles known as cargo bikes to ferry everything from magazines to large parcels around the city centre. And he’s not short of work.

“Having been out of work for a while a friend of mine pointed out that there had been growth in the area of cyclelogistics ascycle delivery services began operating around the country. .”

Ian noticed that the big international couriers were already using cargobikes in Holland and so sent a photo of a cargo bike used there to delivery companies in the UK.

One company - DHL - took up his offer and now work with Ian delivering packages on their behalf around Leeds.

“The reason I got the job with DHL here is I sent the Leeds depot a picture of an identical bike to those I was using which was already being used by DHL in Holland and was painted up in DHL livery.

DHL Express have deployed bicycle couriers in nine European countries so far, including the Netherlands, France, Great Britain and Italy.

“Prior to us taking on the DHL work, they were sending two vans into Leeds city centre, but now they only send one.”

‘Last Mile Leeds’ business model allowslarge couriers to drop off their parcels at a central depot with cycle couriers taking them from there. Cycles complete the ‘last mile’ in the delivery chain.

Ian is enthusiastic about the potential of the service.

“It’s a paradigm shift and while I’m all for using bicycles and presenting a greener alternative, that’s not the main reason companies are buying into it - they’re buying into it because it’s cost effective.”

Cargo bikes are capable of carrying a pretty big payload - up to 100kg of parcels on the Danishbuilt‘Bullitts’ and up to 250kg if special larger trikes are used.

“The bikes are easy to control once you get them going and in Leeds we have had no problems with negotiating traffic.”

By using larger bikes they are able to carry more and so can do more deliveries in one ride - their largest trikes arecapable of taking a Euro pallet.

Over the Christmas period, Last Mile Leeds was delivering up to 140 packages a day.

Delivering post and packages in this way is obviously a lot more cost effective and environmentally friendly but won’t they always be competing with a man with a van?

Ian said: “We’ve got at least the productivity of a van, and we can do it cheaper and in the congestion of the city centre we are certainly quicker.

“A cargo bike can go places a van can’t. Virtually all of the roads around Leeds are accessible to us, even the pedestrianised areas. Plus, a van, will have to find a safe place to park for each delivery whereas the bike stops at the door and is straight in and out.”

However, the service is relatively new and will mark its second anniversary on January 30 but Ian says it’s an idea which is already catching on.

“We’re working in Manchester now and I would hope to see the service expand over time. This model is already in use in other large cities around the world, so we know it works.”

Large companies such as Amazon have recently started to test out bike couriering in New York to create an instant delivery service. Also the company Uber started up their own courier business in Manhattan which is working well.

Last Mile Leeds have begun discussing a ‘delivery consolidation’ service.

Ian explained: “The consolidation service works in two ways - first a number of different delivery firms would drop parcels off at our depot and they would then be happy for them all to be delivered on the same bike. This happens in Europe already and in some cases it’s funded by the local authority because it dramatically cuts heavy traffic in the city centre.

“This would be a change of mind-set for delivery firms because they are used to their guy being at the end but allows for efficiency savings and significant reduction in traffic.

“The other aspect of a consolidation service would be for retailers in Trinity or the Victoria Quarter to receive and store all their deliveries offsite, allowing greater square footage to be devoted to retail space rather than stockrooms. They then call down their stock on a ‘just in time’ basis. “Last Mile Leeds can already receive goods on behalf of retailers at their depot, which can then be delivered at any time. As more people and retailers in Leedsuse this service the number of vans and lorrieson our roads will be reduced.”

Recently Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced plans for a £214m funding package to improve and promote cycling for eight cities including Leeds. Around £114m of this will go towards accelerating the development of local cycling networks, increasing protection for cyclists at dangerous junctions and helping prevent accidents. Every year in the UK around 19,000 cyclists are killed or injured in reported accidents.

Ian, who also trains people to cycle on roads, said new ways of thinking were emerging on how to keep cyclists safe.

“Whenever I go into a school now as a Bikeability instructor, one of the first things I do is to teach kids to ‘own the lane’. If you are cycling on a road and passing a junction, the last thing you want is for drivers to ignore you, which they will often do if you are right at the edge of the road. So, we are teaching different techniques encouraging a shift in perception which recognises cyclists as road users in their own right.”

He added: “Using bikes doesn’t make the business, what it does is it gets you a little bit of interest and extra credibility. No-one is going to use bikes if they aren’t able to offer as good a service at a price that is the same or cheaper than vans. I’ve never pitched it on the fact its green. Everyone sees bikes and thinks that it must be a good idea , but it’s not really the thing that’s pushing the growth of the business.

“People are very positive, there isn’t a need to chase more business, it’s only been more recently that I’ve started working less on the bikes, giving more shifts to my staff, so I can develop the business, but in a sense the bikes advertise themselves.”