Could UPS deliver packages by bike around Seattle?

Dec 14, 2016, 6:09 AM | Updated: 8:54 am

UPS is among the largest modern carrier services in the world. But for its latest development, the company is going old school.

That is, UPS started delivering packages in Portland via bicycles this November. Interesting, because the company used bikes to deliver messages around Seattle when it began 109 years ago.

“While we have evolved and developed a vast network of ground and air vehicles, the bicycle may be making a comeback as we navigate through crowded urban areas and continue our focus on environmental sustainability,” said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability.

Will Seattle become more bike friendly after the “Big One” hits?

While Portland is the first American city to try the UPS bike delivery system, the company initially, and successfully, tried it overseas — in Hamburg, Germany in 2012 to test better ways of delivering packages in urban settings. The company says that Portland was an ideal city to try the bike system in the United States because UPS already uses bikes to deliver items there. After this initial pilot, UPS expects to put more bike-based deliveries on the road in 2017.

“Portland, like all cities, is looking for ways to fight urban congestion and pollution,” said Portland Mayor, Charlie Hales. “It’s great when a company like UPS brings us a unique solution that will help us combat climate change and protect the environment.”

The UPS bike is more than a bike

The new UPS delivery system in Portland is not based solely on a typical bicycle. Rather, it’s an eBike. More specifically, it’s an electric trike with a mini package carrier on it, akin to the big, brown box vans the company is known for.

The eBike has a battery and electric motors to provide some thrust in addition to the human-generated power. The electric power helps the riders go longer distances and climb steep hills.

In a press release, UPS announced its aims to use and expand the eBike delivery system in cities across the country:

UPS today announced its first eBike in the U.S. This new electrically-assisted tricycle began delivering packages in Portland, Ore., on November 21. UPS anticipates this eBike prototype could become a component of its delivery capabilities in some other cities across the country. The deployment of the eBike is part of UPS’s ongoing commitment to reduce carbon emissions as city populations and e-commerce grow, and traffic, noise and air quality challenges continue to rise.

Could UPS bring this to Seattle?

News of the UPS eBike in Portland quickly spread to Seattle. And the company’s plans to spread the use of the eBikes had some wondering if such a system would work well in the Emerald City. After all, despite currently being headquartered in Georgia, UPS was started in 1907 by two Seattle teenagers who delivered messages and packages on their bikes.

Seattle businesses have already put eBike delivery to the test and are currently using them to deliver packages. Freewheel, for example, uses their own eBikes to deliver around Seattle. The city has also pledged $285,000 to UW’s Urban Freight Lab, The Seattle Times reports. The money will be used to test out new methods of delivery, such as eBike systems. Costco, UPS and Nordstrom are contributing to the lab as well.

The concept brings to mind previous discussions about the viability of bike systems in Seattle. The Pronto bike share received mixed results. The city bailed Pronto out in 2016 after it fell into dire straits. The city has since decided to unload the bike share. Pronto will end in Seattle sometime during the first half of 2017.

But Seattle didn’t entirely ditch its bike share system. It is expected to iron out a deal with a new provider — a Canadian bike-share company. Why the new provider? Because it would replace Pronto’s manual bikes with eBikes. The electric bicycles are more apt to take on the steep hills throughout downtown where the system is primarily based. It seems UPS already embraced that logic from the start with its delivery eBike.

In contrast, Portland also started its own bike-share system over the past year. The initial results far exceeded the reception of Seattle’s bike share. Part of that was due to financial help from Portland-based Nike, which made the system twice as big as Seattle’s.

Seattle has another issue to deal with that is a bit steeper than Portland’s conditions. While Portland certainly has hills, Seattle has a lot of them, and they extend steeper and higher in many more places. It’s notable as data showed bike-share users were primarily using bikes to go downhill. And further, they were more often using them in fair weather.

That’s something that won’t likely be an issue for UPS. The eBikes are powered to take on hills. They also are partially covered to protect riders from the elements.

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Could UPS deliver packages by bike around Seattle?