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Urban logistics redefined – with e-cargo bikes over the last mile

The road is nearly always clear: e-cargo bikes facilitate efficient, climate-friendly transport runs in the city.  DB Schenker is promoting these projects in a growing number of cities – for example in cooperation with the service provider CargoCycle in Hamburg

Video: DB Schenker

The truck driver is forced to crawl along at walking pace, constantly having to navigate between parked cars, not to mention the endless line of traffic still ahead of him. Just the everyday chaos encountered on the streets of Hamburg! But this is of no concern to Christian Rusche – he just keeps pushing his pedals. The cycle path ahead of him is clear, and the electric motor gives his cargo bike that extra push.


Rusche’s cargo: general cargo for a stationery shop in a nearby shopping center. The courier parks his bike in front of the entrance, quickly uncouples the trailer, and a few minutes later the delivery is completed. “The potential for electrically powered cargo bikes for urban logistics is enormous: our aim is to redefine how deliveries are made over the last mile,” says Jan Kruska, who is watching the scene together with the “logistics Newsfeed” reporter.

Jan Kruska (left) from weColli and Franz Deutz, Head of System and Direct Freight at DB Schenker’s Hamburg branch, keep witnessing that cargo bikes are very popular with customers and pedestrians alike. Photo: Florian Oertel
Jan Kruska (left) from weColli and Franz Deutz, Head of System and Direct Freight at DB Schenker’s Hamburg branch, keep witnessing that cargo bikes are very popular with customers and pedestrians alike. Photo: Florian Oertel

Kruska is the man in charge of weColli, a product from Deutsche Bahn’s Business Unit “DB Smart City,” which makes this kind of delivery to DB Schenker customers possible. So far, the product has been available in Germany’s two largest cities, namely Berlin and Hamburg.


The weColli team created a digital platform which they now continue to develop: the platform connects the dispatchers at DB Schenker with the local bicycle couriers who carry out the deliveries. In Hamburg, the partner is Christian Rusche’s company CargoCycle.


Second, weColli keeps pushing the ongoing development of the bicycles. “We are just starting to use the latest version of the bikes, and with these we can move an entire pallet, as well as parcels,” says Kruska. “This means we can handle much bigger freight volumes than before.” The cargo bikes, of which up to six are currently utilized on a daily basis to carry DB Schenker shipments in Hamburg, are not only sleek and agile; they are also permitted to use cycle paths. Therefore they can always swiftly get to where they need to go, even when traffic is congested, which is a permanent state in many cities these days.

The latest generation e-bikes used in Hamburg can carry a payload of 250 kilograms. When traffic is flowing smoothly, they can travel up to 25 kilometers per hour, and with swappable batteries they also have an adequate reach. The hunt for parking space and time restrictions on deliveries are no longer a factor, as parking the bikes on the sidewalk is permitted around the clock. And since a driver’s license is not required for the most common variants of these vehicles, the pool of potential couriers is also increased. “That makes them an effective remedy against the shortage of riders, which also affects city logistics,” says Jan Kruska.

“The potential of electrically-assisted cargo bikes

for urban logistics is enormous, and we are now

setting out to redefine the last mile”

Jan Kruska, Head of weColli, DB Smart City

What is just as important is that e-cargo bikes do not emit any pollutants. “We, along with increasing numbers of our customers, are convinced that logistics needs to become more climate-friendly, especially in cities, where people suffer the immediate impact of pollution,” says Franz Deutz, Head of System and Direct Freight at DB Schenker’s Hamburg branch. “Here cargo bikes, in concert with other light vehicles using alternative fuels, constitute an important building block.”


Next to Germany, France, Norway and Finland are the other European countries where DB Schenker is working toward replacing horsepower with electrically-assisted muscle power over the last mile. “We are engaged in talks with the people in charge there,” says Kruska. The trailer now in use in Hamburg is manufactured in France, for example, and it has already proven itself there. Moreover, the experiences his colleagues made in recruiting new riders confirm Kruska’s view: “We received an overwhelmingly high response on the job vacancies,” says Peter Stangeland, Chief Commercial Office for DB Schenker in Norway (see box below for an overview of the projects).

A lot of the customers that receive deliveries by bike are retailers, and the cargo ranges from tools all the way through to clothing. Photo: DB AG / Björn Lexius
A lot of the customers that receive deliveries by bike are retailers, and the cargo ranges from tools all the way through to clothing. Photo: DB AG / Björn Lexius

In Hamburg, the freight that is destined to be distributed by bike is transported from a DB Schenker terminal on the city’s outskirts to a depot in the inner city by van every morning. “It goes without saying that sooner rather than later we’d like to see this conventional van replaced by an alternatively propeled model,” says Franz Deutz.


From the depot the bike couriers make their deliveries using routes that mostly only cover two to three kilometers. According to Jan Kruska, this results in a further advantage: “If a customer prefers to receive a delivery in the afternoon, we can do that, too, because  the goods can be held in intermediate storage at the depot. On a traditional milk run using a truck, this could not be so easily accommodated.”


Be it in Germany or elsewhere, DB Schenker’s ambitions to further advance these projects are considerable: in addition to brand-new bikes, weColli now also uses an app for the riders that stores tours and shipment data and lets customers acknowledge receipt of their goods. “In Berlin we are already working with reusable containers, and we are also able to deliver foodstuffs carried inside cool boxes,” says Jan Kruska. Back in Hamburg, two more cargo distribution depots will be added at the beginning of 2019. And that will still only be an intermediate step – a step on the road to even more deliveries by cargo bike, in even more cities, in Europe and beyond.

Cycling Europe: in addition to metropolitan Berlin and Hamburg in Germany, DB Schenker has also deployed cargo bikes equipped with electric motors in major cities in France, Norway and Finland

Photos: DB Schenker / Velove


In a nutshell: e-cargo bikes all over Europe

– In France DB Schenker has made particularly good progress, with cargo bikes already in use in no fewer than eight cities. Next to Strasbourg, which has just been added, these are Angers, Bordeaux, Lille, Lorient, Nantes, Rennes and St. Malo. Different versions are being utilized in various locations. In Bordeaux, for example, there is a cooperative venture with the courier service “Les Triporteurs De L’Ouest,” and they use, among other models, tricycles with a large cargo box mounted in front of the rider.


– In Norway, DB Schenker discovered the “Armadillo,” made by the Swedish manufacturer Velove: it is a four-wheel, fully suspended semi-trailer. It was first deployed in Bergen, a city with narrow streets in the center – the e-bike with a total width of only 86 centimeters was the perfect fit. Meanwhile, the “Armadillo” also roams the streets of Oslo. Deployment is to follow in three more cities. To make the job more pleasant for the riders in bad weather, work is underway on developing a roof for the vehicle.


– In Finland, DB Schenker also uses the “Armadillo.” The cargo being distributed in Helsinki mostly consists of parcels that were ordered via e-commerce, and these are delivered from a terminal located within the Finnish capital’s port. Commercial deliveries go straight to the recipients, whereas parcels for private customers are brought to collection points, of which DB Schenker maintains a number throughout Finland, for example at kiosks.

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