Expert interview with Jos Sluijsmans: the green last mile and the role of bicycle couriers in sustainable delivery
In our increasingly crowded cities, sustainable urban logistics is a growing challenge. With air pollution, congestion in the streets due to multiple delivery vans and the increasing demand for fast delivery services, it is clear that traditional modes of transport have reached their limits. Fortunately, there is an innovative and environmentally friendly solution: bicycle couriers.
Making your logistics chain more sustainable is not expensive or complicated if you are aware of the latest developments. That's why we like to let you learn from other experts. We start this expert series with Jos Sluijsmans, expert in the field of bicycle couriers, and asked him about his vision on the green last mile and the role of bicycle couriers. We discussed the benefits, but also the challenges you can encounter when using bicycle couriers.
First of all, would you like to briefly introduce yourself: who are you and what do you do?
My name is Jos Sluijsmans, I am 60 years old, married and living in Nijmegen. In 2004 I started with Fietsdiensten.nl. I actually wanted to show that the bicycle and cycling is a solution for many 'problems' in society. I also really enjoy cycling myself and I wish other people the same.
I wanted to earn my living with 'cycling' in a broad sense and I devised and implemented all kinds of applications: bicycle courier services, cycling with people who could not cycle independently, cycling lessons, organizing discussion evenings and mobility debates, cycling events around design bicycles and from 2012 the International Cargo Bike Festival. I have participated in various studies in collaboration with various knowledge institutions on bicycles and city logistics and I advise governments on the use of cargo and cargo bikes in city logistics. I also give presentations on this subject, nationally and internationally, and guest lectures.
Can you tell us what you think a 'green last mile' means and why it is so important in the context of sustainable logistics?
The 'green last mile' can have several meanings. If you are talking about supplying shops in the inner cities, for example, it is the last part within the built-up area of a city. That's where the 'problems' start for regular carriers: traffic jams, narrow streets, pedestrian areas, pedestrians, cyclists, scooter riders, wheelchair users, etc. Because of the climate challenge, health and air quality, that 'last mile' must become cleaner and greener. So emission-free (zero emission). We have actually known this for about 40 years, but it is now more topical and urgent than ever, because real measures have been pushed forward and postponed.
The 'green last mile' is also the home delivery of products to consumers from the distribution centers to the consumer or from the physical store to the consumer. Incidentally, it is not only about the 'last mile', but also about the 'first mile', a product or package that goes from the city to elsewhere.
What makes bicycle couriers so suitable for a green last mile and what advantages do they offer compared to other means of transport?
Bicycle couriers are so suitable for the green last (and first) mile, because a large part of the goods transported in the city are relatively small and light. There are very few vans that really efficiently transport goods: 80% often drive with only one product or less than 250 kilos in weight. In terms of mass, a van actually mainly transports itself and a lot of air. Bicycle couriers do not cause emissions, make no noise and are approachable as human beings. City delivery by bicycle courier is usually more reliable and faster as they are less dependent on the normal flow of traffic and can take more alternative or shorter routes. On the bike you can make eye contact and talk to each other. That is almost impossible in a truck or van. I think many people underestimate how important this social aspect is in the experience of a city. If you calculate with a social cost and benefit analysis, a bicycle courier is always cheaper.
What are the challenges companies face in implementing a green last mile? How can these challenges be overcome?
Companies are facing change when implementing the green last mile. That's actually the most important thing. If your business or store has always been supplied in a certain way, in a way that seemed the most logical and efficient in the past, it is very difficult to change that. Especially if you yourself may not see the need for it. Despite the fact that this has been going on for decades, many entrepreneurs are still unaware.
What advice would you give to companies just starting to explore sustainable solutions for their last mile?
My advice would be to delve into the possibilities for a sustainable last mile. Look at good examples of entrepreneurs who have already taken measures. I have one myself list made of more than 300 cargo bike initiatives in more than 60 cities in the Netherlands.
You don't have to do it alone either. Perhaps it is much more efficient and cheaper to use local bicycle couriers and their national network or other sustainable carriers than to do your own logistics. On the website SIX25 there are dozens of carriers that have already invested in the sustainable last mile. In addition, many regions also have mobility brokers who provide free advice on making the last mile more sustainable.
We notice that many companies are still reluctant to add green delivery options. Why do you think that is?
I think this is due to unfamiliarity and fear of change. But, as I said before, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are already many examples of entrepreneurs who have already taken the right steps. You just have to follow their good example.
What are some of the challenges bicycle couriers face? Are there any specific solutions or innovations you've seen addressing these challenges?
Bicycle couriers face many challenges. A (cargo) bike naturally has its limitations in terms of volume and mass. But most bicycle couriers are well aware of their own limitations and, if necessary, have partnerships with parties that they can integrate seamlessly into their own logistics process. Of course, there will always be bottlenecks in the (cycling) infrastructure, which, despite the good cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands, is often mainly geared to car traffic. National or local regulations can also sometimes be a challenge.
What interesting developments do you see with the major carriers, such as PostNL, DHL and DPD, in the field of sustainable delivery?
It is interesting to see that regular parcel deliverers are also intensively experimenting with the use of cargo bikes, cargo bikes and other light electric vehicles. That is quite a complicated process, because they have to let their own employees work in a different way, while the intrinsic motivation is already present with bicycle couriers.
It is important for the cargo bike industry that the major carriers also participate, both for the image and for the actual volumes of sales of cargo bikes.
Incidentally, the cooperating bicycle couriers in the Netherlands are actually already a 'major carrier': after PostNL and DHL, they transport a higher percentage of mail and parcels than, for example, DPD, GLS or FedEx.
What do you think will be the impact of the new regulations regarding zero-emission zones from 2025?
The impact can be very big. Cargo bikes are really a very interesting sustainable and efficient alternative to diesel vans and electric vans, both energy efficient and cost efficient. The use of cargo and cargo bikes will (hopefully) make carriers, other entrepreneurs and consumers much more aware of what we really need, and what is actually quite superfluous. The limited volume forces you to think more carefully. It is crazy that we transport four million tons of overproduction of clothing in Europe (250 thousand tons in the Netherlands). We need to think more carefully about how to avoid this, and limited volumes help with this. My expectation is that these new regulations will in any case help to reduce overproduction, overconsumption and the transport of unnecessary products.
It would help if the government stimulated and subsidized the use of cargo bikes (and LEV) as strongly as the use of electric vans.
How do you see the future of bicycle couriers in relation to sustainable logistics? Are there new developments, such as technologies or policy initiatives, that can ensure that bicycle couriers are used even more?
The experience and expertise of bicycle couriers should be used and appreciated much more. By bicycle couriers I mean the real bicycle courier services such as Cyclone, Velocity Bicycle Koeriers, Bicycle Courier Utrecht, Bicycle Courier Deventer, Tour de Ville, Groen Bezorgen, Groene Rijders, etc. and not the meal delivery and shopping delivery services on a bicycle. The former companies often have more than 10 years of experience in city logistics and much more could be done with that.
In addition, other logistics processes or systems will emerge. I still have high expectations of 'containerization' myself, but that is quite a complicated process.
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