UPS Inc. is testing bike-based parcel delivery in Portland, Ore., returning to its roots more than a century after the logistics giant was founded as a bicycle messenger service in a Seattle basement.
UPS rolled out its eBike service on Nov. 21, using the electrically assisted tricycle to help meet the rising load of e-commerce delivery volumes in crowded, urban environments, the company said Wednesday. The Atlanta-based company already delivers parcels via bicycle in Europe, and even uses standard cargo bicycles during seasonal peaks in Portland, but this is the first time it has brought electric-powered bikes to the U.S.
The program is modeled on the success of the company's 2012 bicycle-delivery pilot program in Hamburg, Germany. In that application, UPS placed four containers at central locations throughout the city for interim storage of packages, then made last-mile deliveries either on foot or with specialized bicycles called "Cargo Cruisers." Citing the program's success at easing traffic congestion and reducing emissions, UPS has extended the Hamburg pilot another two years, and is now bringing the same strategy to the Pacific Northwest.
The U.S. eBike uses battery-powered electric motors that allow riders to cover greater distances, carry heavy loads, and navigate hills and other terrain, UPS said. Riders can operate the eBike on either battery power or pedal power alone, but they reach maximum energy efficiency when using both at once. In the program's initial phase, UPS will evaluate the vehicle's reliability, design, acceptance, and integration into the city's infrastructure. If these pass muster, the company plans to deploy eBikes to additional U.S. locations in 2017.
"Early in our 109-year history, UPS operated as a bike messenger company," Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president global engineering and sustainability, said in a release. "While we have evolved and developed a vast network of ground and air vehicles, the bicycle may be making a comeback as we navigate through crowded urban areas and continue our focus on environmental sustainability."