A new UPS delivery trike in Portland, Oregon, pedaled by a driver with help from an electric motor, can only hold a tenth of the packages as a standard-size truck. But because the tiny trike doesn’t get stuck in traffic, it (alongside a standard fleet of trucks) can help the company become more efficient in a crowded urban neighborhood.
“With a full-size delivery vehicle, you can’t get it into places that you would with an e-bike,” says Scott Phillippi, an automotive engineer at UPS. “It’s part of an overall strategy to make an impact on the environment as well as become more efficient in doing so.”
UPS–which originally began as a bike messenger company over a century ago–launched a similar delivery e-trike program in Hamburg, Germany in 2012. In Hamburg, four containers throughout the city serve as hubs, and the delivery trikes come and go during the day to fill up with more packages.
In a new pilot in Portland, the first in the U.S., a regular delivery truck brings a load of packages to the trike, then continues on its route. The Hamburg model may eventually come to the U.S. as pilots move forward.
UPS already has some electric and hybrid-electric full-size delivery trucks on roads. It’s also experimenting with hydrogen fuel-cell projects. But because the new trikes can fight congestion along with pollution, they have additional advantages in crowded cities.
The company estimates that a five-minute daily delay for each UPS vehicle costs $105 million in operating costs; an average delivery driver in New York City is delayed 16 minutes a day because of gridlock.
The delivery trikes are also likely safer than trucks for pedestrians and other cyclists, as Streetsblog points out. The Portland-based company that manufactured the trike for the pilot says that its vehicles have never caused an injury.
They’re also good exercise for delivery drivers. “The optimal use of the bike is a combination of pedal power and electric power,” says Phillippi. “While it can be used off of electric power, we definitely want our ‘industrial athlete’ driving it, contributing to the energy.”
If the pilot in Portland is successful, UPS will scale up the program, and may also bring it to other U.S. cities.
“Other cities are proactively approaching us,” he says.