With several months of successful deliveries under its belt in the Big Apple, electric cargo bike company Urb-E is expanding to California. And if all goes according to plan, that will be just the first of several expansions announced this year.
In an interview with Modern Shipper, Urb-E CEO Charles Jolley said the experience in New York has taught the company some lessons, but more importantly, it has shown the Urb-E solution works. Urb-E offers an electric bike and collapsible trailer combination. It will expand its delivery concept to Long Beach, California.
“Long Beach is a great place to start because it is relatively suburban in nature. … It’s very much testing out what this would look like in a [typical] American city,” Jolley said.
Urb-E launched in New York, but with its congested streets and 10 million people, the city in many ways represents a more difficult terrain than Long Beach, which is a more sprawling location that more closely represents the bulk of U.S. cities.
“I think what we’ve found is that when you are in a lower-density neighborhood … we have longer trips and we are able to go faster,” Jolley said. “It’s actually a lot easier to get a lot of the benefits of our platform because … New York City is probably one of the most hostile operating environments you can operate in. There are lots of people, lots of potholes.”
Urb-E launched in New York with the help of delivery service AxleHire. In New York, AxleHire and Urb-E launched a micro-container delivery system to deliver goods from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The Urb-E vehicles can haul more than 800 pounds and still travel in bike lanes. This model case study proved that the delivery network saved on drive time and avoided parking tickets, resulting in a 6x reduction in traffic and a model that is 3x cheaper than electric vehicle delivery vans, the companies said.
In September, the companies announced an expansion of their New York pilot. Long Beach is next and Jolley said he hopes Urb-E will be operating in five cities by the end of this year. In Manhattan, Urb-E is delivering 300,000 packages a month with about 70 units on the road.
“AxleHire was one of our best partners in getting New York City up and running so we wanted to work with them to launch LA because it’s a great way to prove what we were [doing in Manhattan] works elsewhere,” Jolley said.
Jolley said Long Beach represents an opportunity to test the ability to have larger trucks bring goods to a local sorting center, where Urb-E cargo bikes can then make the final-mile deliveries. In Manhattan, Urb-E distributes out of a single hub, but in Long Beach, there will likely be several smaller hubs that are located closer to the neighborhoods in which the bikes will deliver.
“It really works well with existing delivery networks because most of the large delivery carriers out there already have trucks going from distribution centers to neighborhoods, and one of the biggest challenges they are facing is [how to make last mile work],” he said. “A truck that might go out one time and spend the whole day delivering its contents now might be able to make three or four [runs per day].”
One of the big takeaways from the pilot in New York has been the need for a professional driver force and professional fleet. Urb-E works with local delivery service providers for the drivers, but it is building its own equipment, which includes the e-bikes that feature swappable batteries to keep the bikes moving up to 16 hours a day. Each battery can power the bike for 10 to 14 miles. The foldable roll-on, roll-off containers feature a braking system for safety, and when folded, 20 of them take up only a single parking space to make storage easy.
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“I think one thing that is a major highlight for us is how this is really a professional fleet of commercial vehicles and the difference in how you have to maintain them and run them and run the fleet as a serious commercial operation,” Jolley said. “It’s not just pulling bikes off the shelves.”
Jolley also noted the importance of the delivery driver.
“One thing we’ve really learned is that the delivery driver is a really important stakeholder that we have to think about empowering them because they are skilled labor,” he said. “I think with Doordash (NYSE: DASH) and Uber (NYSE: UBER), people have come to this idea that delivery is something you can do at night, but when it comes to this high level of delivery, [it’s the people that matter].”
That means giving the drivers the ability to plan routes when needed, allowing for local knowledge to prevail. For instance, a planned route may take the driver past a school, but the driver may know that going that way at 3 p.m. means they will be delayed due to bus and pedestrian traffic.
“We spend a lot more time with our delivery drivers now because this is really about empowering them,” Jolley said. “It always comes down to people.”