Amazon Is Using E-Cargo Bikes in London to Solve the Last Mile Problem

They are also using another innovative tech: feet

Amazon doing a delivery by e-cargo bike
Amazon doing a delivery by e-cargo bike.


Amazon has built a "micromobility hub" in the London borough of Hackney to attack the "last mile problem" with electric vans, e-bikes, and feet.

The last mile problem was originally about telephone wires–every home had its own wire strung the last mile from the exchange, and it cost a lot of money to string and maintain. In public transportation, it addresses the question of how people get home from the bus stop and how far they are willing to go. In logistics, it is the expense of getting a single package to the final destination. According to Investopedia: "The operations of the last mile can be a huge percentage of the total delivery costs. As a share of the total cost of shipping, last mile delivery costs are substantial, often reaching or even exceeding 50%."

The new Amazon micromobility hub will make over 1 million deliveries yearly, with a new fleet of quadricycle e-cargo bikes and walkers replacing thousands of van trips. "Our new e-cargo bikes, walkers, and growing electric vehicle delivery fleet will help us make more zero-emission customer deliveries than ever before across London and the UK," said Amazon manager John Boumphrey in a statement.

We recently wrote e-cargo bikes would eat F-150s, but perhaps should have written they would eat delivery vans. As Treehugger's Sami Grover noted earlier, e-cargo bikes were 1.61 times faster than an equivalent journey by van and were able to deliver more packages at the same time. It also saves a huge cloud of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In the study Grover quoted, they determined "replacing just 10% of van freight with bikes would save as much as 133,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 190.4 thousand kilograms of nitrogen oxide per year."

Amazon EAV bike
An Amazon EAV delivery.


The e-cargo bikes shown in the Amazon release are built by EAV in Oxfordshire; the 2cubed standard model is a quadricycle with a Heinzmann Cargopower 250 watt motor and a 60 amp-hour battery, and yes, that teensy motor can move the driver and 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of payload 40 miles at 15.5 mph. While 250 watts probably doesn't sound like much to American readers, Heintzmann says it has 230 newton-meters of torque and that "torque and power are the crucial factors that distinguish exceptional cargo bikes from conventional cargo bikes, especially when starting up and on inclines." We covered EAV earlier and quoted their managing director, who explained how they would eat cargo vans: "Loading a generic van up with batteries isn't really the answer as it's just more weight to carry. We need to think more about how we travel, why we're traveling, when we travel, and what we travel in."

However, while most stories focus on the e-cargo bikes, the more important story is the concept of the micromobility hub that makes it all possible. We all have the solution to the last-mile problem— they are called feet. The e-bikes get all the attention, but Amazon is also using "walkers" to make deliveries. This only works because Hackney has the population density to support it. The other technologies work at greater ranges; as I noted earlier:

"Ultimately, good sidewalks and safe pedestrian infrastructure are the best solutions to the last-mile problem. Bikes can solve the last three-mile problem, e-bikes perhaps the last ten-mile problem, and they need their own safe and separate infrastructure. Get your urban design right, and you don't actually have a last-mile problem."

In a city with modern bike infrastructure, traditional delivery vans are a disaster—that's why we have FedEx lanes, not bike lanes. This is why the micromobility hub is so important: It enables the delivery in a manner suitable for the infrastructure, whether it is the sidewalk or the bike lane. And this is why the e-bike revolution plays such a big part in this story; they dramatically extend the range that the micromobility hub can serve, solving the 3-mile problem. 

Jarrett Walker Tweet

But this is also why transportation consultant Jarrett Walker's tweet is so important; none of this works if you do not have the kind of land use, the density that puts enough customers in those ranges that can be served by feet and e-bikes. Get the density right, and all good things follow.