URB-E wants to replace cargo vans with electric bikes pulling collapsible cargo trailers where it makes the most sense: in high-density urban environments.
Already proving the concept can work since its launch in New York City earlier this year, the company on Thursday announced a nationwide pilot with AxleHire.
“We’ve deployed with AxleHire and shown we can do it at scale, and it’s cheaper than gas,” URB-E co-founder and CEO Charles Jolley told Modern Shipper at this week’s Home Delivery World 2021 conference in Philadelphia.
Jolley said the trials in New York have gone “really well” and by the end of this year, about 1,000 containers a week will be pulled by URB-E electric bikes.
The partnership with AxleHire gives URB-E a major partner with a reputation for excelling at last-mile delivery backing the system. AxleHire also said it would run a zero-emission pilot program with Tortoise. The pilot with Tortoise will take place in Los Angeles and URB-E will work with AxleHire in New York City. Both programs will expand to additional cities later this year and in 2022, AxleHire said.
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.
Tortoise offers electric remote-piloted carts that can carry up to 120 pounds. The vehicles have been making 15 deliveries a day within a three-mile radius in Los Angeles.
“Tortoise is thrilled to be expanding our relationship with AxleHire to scale up zero-emissions remote-controlled last-mile package delivery nationwide. Tortoise’s flexible & friendly delivery robots are a perfect fit for making AxleHire’s last-mile delivery of meal kits, parcels, groceries affordable, delightful, and sustainable.” said Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder of Tortoise.
On Wednesday, AxleHire announced it was adding facilities in Newark, New Jersey, and Philadelphia to join its New York City center in the tri-state region. The news comes on the heels of the company’s Midwest expansion and the opening of its new Chicago facility in June. It now has 12 centers that cover the East Coast, the Midwest, the Southwest and up and down the West Coast.
Test-driving the URB-E system
URB-E’s system includes an electric-assisted cargo bike and trailer that holds a removable cargo box. Originally designed for groceries, the standard cargo box can hold up to 60 grocery bags, giving providers plenty of room for goods. A larger XL cargo box offers 2 cubic feet of storage space.
The total system weighs approximately 200 pounds and includes a swappable battery that offers a 10-mile delivery range. The trailer features shock absorbers that allow the URB-E system to handle with care anything inside, with Jolley saying that the damage rate is 1% or less for eggs and equal to or better than a standard cargo van overall.
Currently, a crank lowers the trailer to allow the cargo box to simply be rolled off or on after unlocking the safety switches.
This reporter had a chance to drive the system on the streets of Philadelphia, and after some initial issues managing control of the bike as the electric-assist propulsion system kicked in, the bike proved easy to use with only minimal pedaling required to keep it moving.
Lior Adorian, head of operations for URB-E, said training on the system typically takes about four hours and even though it is a commercial vehicle, it does not require any special licenses and not even a driver’s license is required.
“Most of the bike rides do two hours a day and they are spent. We have drivers doing six or eight hours a day and it’s no problem,” Jolley said.
The system features a full telematics solution including tracking performance of drivers, giving companies the opportunity to reward high performing drivers if they so choose.
URB-E is building all its own equipment, including the battery-powered. Each battery can power the bike for 10 to 14 miles. The foldable roll-on, roll-off containers can hold up to 800 pounds of cargo, feature a braking system for safety, and when folded, 20 of them take up only a single parking space to make storage easy.
Jolley noted that the ease of the system and the utility it provides in lieu of gas-guzzling delivery vans, especially in areas popping up around the country that specify alternative powered delivery vehicles only, will make driving an URB-E a career option for some.