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The thing about these two books is they represent two pilgrimages. A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance and if you are a fellow cyclist then you may have strong views on both books.
Both books influenced me personally. I pass no moral judgement on the people and the time when the books were written but they do rather illustrate the point in question. The first led to a bespoke Ti bike which had the obligatory sapim spokes and in my case ceramic Chris Kings, the second book got the author to get off his tired middle aged **** and loose 21kg.
For me, Fernhay Partners pilgrimage was to find a way to remove vans from dense urban environments and it has been a long old pilgrimage. Maybe we should not have started it as a small SME, but that is a whole different article and a lot of road behind us.
But what is the relevance to an article about last mile sustainable logistics? Well I would like to suggest it is a fundamental question of what is important. I am ahead of myself and if you get through the article then maybe you will decide for yourself.
The question we asked with Fernhay Partners, was how to replace vans. ‘Van’ is key and it certainly was not about diesel. because the duty cycle of a van on a city ‘milk round’ delivering parcels is quite predictable and doable by Electric drive. The thing about vans is that they cause congestion, they get stuck in congestion and they have nowhere to park in a world where policy makers are removing roadways and replacing them with cycle and walk infrastructure as well as fitting cameras everywhere to ensure compliance.
For us, the key is to consider what a van does well, what is happening within cities, where legislation is going and then how can you compete against the key performance indicators a 3PL measures and that a van does so well. Throughout the process we avoided putting boundary conditions on the analysis, and worked with our partners to tease out what is important. We learnt a lot because a partnership shares expertise in order to solve problems if it works well and ours did and still does.
But why not jump to a conclusion that a bicycle is the right answer? Our observation of the market suggested that if the current bicycles were the answer then there would not be a problem to solve and vans would already be superseded. For sure under specific boundary conditions a van can be beaten, but our challenge was to develop a solution that was scalable and made business sense.
What are the sought of things we found?
· Inclusion rather than exclusivity is what we need; Female or Male; young or old; fit or not; we should design a product that reduces fatigue and was to be used on electric assist when delivering parcels.
· That the delivery agent at scale, mostly does not care what equipment they use to deliver parcels with. What is wanted, is to deliver parcels quickly, safely and in reasonable comfort so they can go home early and do something else.
· That equipment is only paid for through the delivery of parcels – erm – blindingly obvious maybe, but I think we could all look at a Renault Twizzy with a small freight boot bolted on the back and ask why on earth did anyone think that was a good idea…
· That using all underutilised assets of a city is where the opportunity arises, and this means walk ways, legal short cuts, sub 1,0m wide narrow cycle ways and sub 2,0m height down town areas.
· That in the short city cycle of parcel drop – lets consider 3mins as a benchmark and I neither confirm or deny that as our target! – the time spent moving the vehicle is probably 30secs and the average speed is rather less than 10mph.
I could go on, but it would be boring and miss the point. We have just under 20 key performance indicators of which the ones here are 4 of them, and every design decision must be measured against the list.
So is it all about the bike or is it not?
· Maybe it is drones – not in our segment of the market,
· Maybe it is around removing the human element – again a long list of issues suggests the last 100m from the pavement will be by human unless the end customer accepts an inferior offering and we are going the other way towards enhancing the customer offering in what we are doing…
· Maybe it is around changing infrastructure and the way our cities road structure between buildings is influencing congestions,
We came to the conclusion that a pedelec freight bike is only one part of the solution. The system we devised solves last mile by thinking outside of last mile to solve the problem at a national level. It thinks about the pay load box (Fresh) and not the vehicle that carries it. The assets below the box are part of the equipment and multi modal solutions that form a toolkit to be applied to a myriad of cities, parcel drop densities and accessibility requirements in a scalable, financially viable proposition.
So I love my bike collection, I am a cyclist in that when I step off my boat my primary choice of vehicle is a bicycle, but over to you as to what is the answer to the bicycle question – happy to be entertained by the discussions?