Cycling Visionaries Awards – Project Details

Cargo Bicycle Counts

Cargo Bicycle Counts

Every day, thousands of cargo bicycles circulate in the city of Rio de Janeiro. A survey was made to classify types of establishment, number of bicycle workers, amount of bicycles, deliveries per day and area covered. We quantified the benefits to the city in terms of emissions and outlined other benefits with recommendations for increasing cycling in general, and cargo bikes in particular.

One of the most important and expensive urban freight stages is the last-mile, when the goods are delivered from shops to consumers. Cargo vehicles powered by human propulsion have been used worldwide to reduce cost and air pollution related to the last-mile. Cargo bicycles are the best option for transporting goods over short distances and can easily be integrated into city’s busy streets. Its use lightens the burden of motorized transportation, such as congestion, parking issues, air pollution and its impacts on climate change.

With the purpose of collecting data and information about bicycle deliveries in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Associação Transporte Ativo (Active Transport Association) carried out a survey, from December 2010 to January 2011, in order to plot all businesses that make bicycle deliveries in that famous Rio’s district. The collected data provide enough information to confirm the bicycle deliveries benefits to the city, traffic and environment.

Copacabana was divided into four regions and all the shops were visited to confirm the use of bike for delivery. If the bike service existed, the researcher interviewed the manager or another employee or even the cyclists, to collect the following data: type of establishment, type of vehicle (regular bicycle, cargo bicycle and / or tricycle), amount of cargo bike, cyclists and deliveries per day, range of delivery and owner of the cargo bike.

372 Establishments uses bicycles as cargo vehicles. A sum of 11,541 deliveries is done per day. Lot of business uses tricycles and some of these vehicles come to move more than 300 kg of cargo. We estimate that 11,085,415 km are covered by cargo bicycles per year in Copacabana.

The survey concluded that, only in Copacabana, delivery bicycles and tricycles generate annual savings of 286.5 tons of CO2, 4.3 tons of CO, 630 kilos of hydrocarbons, and 358 kilos in mono-nitrogen oxides. Also due to the smaller size of bicycles and tricycles, 9,600 m2 of urban space was saved.

Cargo bicycles confirm to be the solution to problems like congestion, pollution and cost of business. Moreover, the cargo bikes provide economic opportunities and make important contributions to promoting social equity in the city. Considering that 42% of the survey respondents said that their businesses would not be economically viable without cargo bikes, we can clearly appreciate the enormous importance of these vehicles to the economy of the city of Rio de Janeiro. In many cases these are small businesses, and are often run by lower-class entrepreneurs. The profit margin for these businesses is likely quite low. In this way, the cargo bikes are an important factor for the survival of the businesses and the livelihood of the cyclists. Although the cost advantages of cargo cycles versus motorized vehicles are important to the operators encountered in the developed country cities, in Rio de Janeiro they appear to be crucial to the existence of the businesses themselves. This suggests that the cargo bikes play a fundamental role in the local economy.

Nations around the world are discussing how cargo bicycles could be used, particularly for the final stages of delivery inside crowded cities. Our survey show that this is already occurring in Copacabana, the most densely populated neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro city. The high number of trips made by bicycles and cargo tricycles in Rio de Janeiro provide significant benefits in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases, urban space, economic activity and urban space efficiency.

Due to the multiple benefits, we suggest that the participation of bicycles in the modal matrix should be increased. The road-using public generally perceives cargo bikes to be a nuisance and does not appreciate the benefits that they bring to the city. Our study outlines possible measures to remedy this situation.

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