Freight bicycle of the courier express parcel service (KEP)

From the micro-depot to the front door

Imagine your postman delivering your mail with a 7.5 tonne truck and your pizza reached you in the same way. That does not make sense, you would probably say, and rightly so. Yet not only letters and pizzas, even the bulk of the inner-city privately delivered goods would be better on a bike or other clean means of transport. The courier express parcel services (CEP) industry is therefore relying more and more on cargo bikes that deliver shipments to households or to retail stores in a fast, reliable and, above all, environmentally friendly manner. In order to accomplish this, special depots are required, also called hubs, where the couriers receive their shipments before delivering over the last few metres.

Promising beginnings

Pilot projects in several major German cities demonstrate how such a micro-depot or city hub works and what it can do. Take Berlin, for example. In the test area, about 85 percent of the motor vehicle courier runs could be saved using a micro-depot and cargo bike runs. There were no complaints concerning reliability and punctuality. In addition, the number of individual runs declined, as the depot enabled many orders to be bundled for the first time. The “Bento Box” system consists of lockable lockers of different sizes, in which a courier service temporarily stores shipments until they can be delivered to the customer. In Hamburg, UPS, one of the major players in the CEP market, has also been operating a micro-depot since 2012. On traffic area of about 25 by 2.5 metres a container which receives up to 400 shipments is replaced daily. The delivery area, which is delivered with two cargo bicycles and hand trucks, has a maximum radius of 500 to 1000 metres. Based on the positive experience, the company is testing further micro-depots in Hamburg, as well as in other cities.

Prerequisites and acceptance

Such depots are economically viable wherever “a sufficiently high density of settlement and parcel orders exists in the potential delivery area”, according to the result of the Investigation of the Employment of Bicycles in Commercial Traffic (WIV-RAD) by the Federal Ministry of Transport (BMVI) of May 2016. That may be city neighborhoods and other compact residential areas or high-traffic downtown locations, because retailers are also among the classic CEP customers. According to the BMVI, depending on the underlying scenario, between 8 and more than 22 percent of all “commercial traffic activities” could be switched to bicycles. Bicycle-friendly traffic experts probably expect a significantly higher share.
Ideally, micro-depots and city hubs are shared by several freight forwarding services. After all, inner-city parking spaces are scarce and correspondingly expensive. However, a recent scientific study on sustainable urban logistics which was commissioned by the Federal Association for Parcel and Express Logistics (BIEK) notes: “cooperatively used micro-depots are currently unknown in Germany”.
Since the use of inner-city areas is subject to constant change, researchers also believe that it is important to make the depot locations flexible. If all these conditions are met, a high level of acceptance in the municipalities, which can count on a reduction of air pollutants with the shift from the motor vehicle to the bicycle, is to be expected….and with the approval of customers like you probably as well.

According to the Deutscher Verkehrszeitung (DVZ), about 2.3 billion shipments were carried by courier, express and parcel services (CEP) in Germany last year. In ten years, the number is expected to have doubled. This year, the Federal Association of Parcel and Express Logistics (BIEK) has currently counted 2.94 billion carried shipments.

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