A new report Sharing the load: the potential of e-cargo bikes by think tank Green Alliance finds that while van drivers mostly see electric vans as the “logical next step”, the UK government needs to do more to tear down barriers to them switching to electric cargo bikes for shorter journeys. 
New analysis finds that if the UK is able to switch just 7.5 per cent of urban motor traffic from diesel vans to e-cargo bikes, the annual carbon savings would be greater than the impact of eliminating all UK domestic aviation emissions. 
Despite the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vans by 2030, replacing polluting vans with electric counterparts quick enough to keep pace with climate targets will be difficult, with e-vans making up less than one per cent of the 4.6 million vans on UK roads. Alternative modes of transport will have to play a role in reducing congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions in coming years.
Partly due to soaring demand for home deliveries from online shopping, the number of vans on the road has doubled over the past two decades with emissions increasing by 60 per cent since 1990.
Focus group research by BritainThinks included in the report found that tradespeople and fleet operators recognise the environmental benefits of e-cargo bikes, as well as their potential cost and time savings, especially around busy urban areas.
While there are concerns around security risks and the challenges of carrying large and heavy cargo on bikes, poor cycling infrastructure is highlighted as a major barrier to adopting e-cargo bikes.
One rural tradesperson said, “the infrastructure in other European countries is better suited… even though it’s a great idea, it’s not safe in the UK”. An urban participant agreed, saying that it would be “all well and good down in London”, but that in his area “it’s more difficult…to get around” by bike. “I can see it working for different types of businesses”, another rural tradesperson told the researchers, “But I think it all comes down to infrastructure”.
According to Green Alliance, the UK government can better support businesses to switch to e-cargo bikes by supporting local authorities with improvements to cycling infrastructure, providing grants for businesses, as well as introducing “try before you buy” opportunities to raise awareness.
Johann Beckford, policy adviser at Green Alliance, said:
“E-cargo bikes are not only an exciting solution to reducing carbon emissions, they can also help tackle air pollution, improve productivity and cut journey times in urban areas. For many businesses, swapping a diesel van for an e-van makes the most sense, but there is also significant potential for more journeys to be made using e-cargo bikes. We need to see the government do more to raise awareness and help businesses to make the switch.”
Shane Topley, plumber in West London and e-cargo bike user, said:
“I’m no eco-warrior but I really have become a convert. I enjoy cycling past motionless traffic and adopting the bikes mean I can get to a range of jobs more quickly than I used to. People are always surprised by how much I can carry on the bike. I can attach a ladder to the outside and carry all the tools I need with me.”
Simon Backler, founder of Mid-Sussex Electrical and e-cargo bike user, said:
“Our customers love the fact that we turn up on a cargo bike and are always surprised how much we can fit on it. The novelty factor gains our business a lot of free publicity. The cargo bike saves our Electrical Contracting business £100 a day when we use it in central London as we avoid the costs of fuel, congestion charging, parking charges and emission zones.”
Alasdair Pearce, associate director at BritainThinks, said:
“It was fascinating to speak with e-cargo bike users and hear how passionate they are about the benefits they have seen switching to an e-cargo bike. At the same time, with small businesses across the country feeling pressure from increasing fuel costs and rising inflation, as well as increasing customer awareness around sustainability, it was clear there is a real potential for e-cargo bike use to expand in the future. Improving cycling infrastructure in our cities can be something that empowers small businesses as well as contributes to carbon savings”.
Notes for editors
 Green Alliance, Sharing the load: the potential of e-cargo bikes, December 2022
 According to a 2019 study by the Bicycle Association, examining evidence from the European CycleLogistics study, up to 7.5 per cent of urban motor traffic could be shifted to e-cargo bikes.
Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank, focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. With a track record of 40 years, Green Alliance has worked with the most influential leaders from the NGO, business, academic and political communities. Our work generates new thinking and dialogue, and has increased political action and support for environmental solutions in the UK. www.green-alliance.org.uk