Following my recent wee issue with getting the biggest pumpkin home from the allotment and trying to find a cargo bike to transport it, has made me wonder if there are other people in a similar situation? I think I might have a solution: the Cargo Bike Club®. But, before I get into the details, maybe I should just give a wee bit of background.
First off, what is a Cargo Bike? Well, they come in all shapes and sizes, they are general purpose load carrying bikes, basically they are the SUV of the cycling world, only a lot more environmentally and people friendly. This concept is well understood in Europe, but some in North America struggle with it.
For my purposes, the sort of cargo bike I have in mind is either a Dutch Bakfiets or a Danish Larry Vs. Harry BULLITT, although other bikes would probably work just as well [UPDATE: the Urban Arrow is now the front-runner].
Why would you want a Cargo Bike? In places that have a cycling culture, cargo bikes are used in the same way as a second car, for taking the kids to school, doing the weekly shop, moving flat, and all that sort of thing. Indeed, some people use them instead of a family car. The important thing to remember is, we are not talking about poor countries here, but the likes of Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Also, cargo bikes are cool! They are increasing in popularity all over the place, even yummy mummies and (I hate to use this word but, here goes) Celebrities are using cargo bikes.
If cargo bikes are such a good idea, why aren’t we seeing more of them on our streets? Here is the rub, there are several good reasons:
Cost: a basic cargo bike will set you back between £1,100 – £1,600, and then there are the accessories: child seats, rain covers, etc. So, for a kitted out cargo bike you are looking at somewhere around £2,000 – £2,500. [Update: prices have increased a lot since this was written in 2010]
Availability: there are very few dealers in the UK who sell these bikes, I am not sure if there are any in Scotland. [Update: there are a lot more now than there were in 2010, including several in Edinburgh, check out Laid Back Bikes, Harts Cyclery, Electric Cycle Company, Soul Cycles and possibly others]
Secure storage: yes, they can be stored outside, but, having spent £2,000 – £2,500, you are going to want to keep it safe and secure. As we all know, this can be a problem in our cities.
So, this brings us back to my idea of starting a Cargo Bike Club! This would work in a similar way to the City Car Club, with a number of cargo bikes available for hire 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, across the city, for a modest fee to members of the club. The cargo bikes would be stored in lockers around the city, not sure if I like the term locker, so let’s call them kennels, I like the idea of a cargo bike kennels. The kennels would be opened by a digital key, with each member having a personalised key. Members will only be able to open the kennels when a (club owned) cargo bike is in the kennel or nearby. This will mean that members will be able to store their own bike securely in the kennel while they are using the cargo bike.
So how would it work? Well, you would book the cargo bike on-line (or maybe even by SMS text or phone, but I would have to work out the cost of that) > go along to the cargo bike kennel > unlock it with your personalised digital key > take out the cargo bike (and put in yours, if you have ridden there) > close the door and ride away.
When would you have to make the bookings? The bookings could be made in advance or right at the last minute, 24/7.
Where would these “cargo bike kennels” be? The aim would be to have them in residential areas throughout the city, ideally at roadside or on road in existing parking bays. There would need to be round the clock access. If provision can be made for City Car Club cars, then why not for the even greener alternative? Yes, there maybe some local resistance in some residential areas, people might say silly things like roads are for cars or cyclist don’t pay tax, but this can be overcome in time. Because there may not be a cargo bike kennel inwith walking distance of every member, it is important that members can leave their own bikes in the kennel when they take out the cargo bike.
If there were “cargo bike kennels” at various locations, would you have to return the cargo bike to the same one? Yes, unlike other bike hire schemes, the Cargo Bike Club would not be about point-to-point travel. Although it could be possible to expand the facilities to include Vélib’ style bicycle hire scheme as well, at a later date.
What would these “cargo bike kennels” look like? Well, there are two approaches that could be taken, either the bicycle locker disguised as a rubbish skip approach or Copenhagen urban camouflage (although I am not suggesting using these colour schemes). Both these approaches could easily fit into our urban landscapes.
What would it cost to hire a cargo bike? Well, that is a detail which I would have to work out, but I would envisage having an annual membership fee and then an hourly hire fee for the actual usage. So, something along the lines of £50 per annum membership, then the first 30 minutes of use free, followed by a sliding scale of hourly fees. Say £1 for up to an hour, £2 for an hour and a half, £5 for two hours and so on. These are just suggestions, I have yet to work out the details.
So who would the Cargo Bike Club be aimed at? The cargo bike club is for everybody! Well, everybody who needs to shift things about, things like the weekly shopping, or kids on the school run, or move a washing machine, or just stuff… More seriously, the obvious target market for the Cargo Bike Club would be young urban professionals (contrary to the belief prevalent among many motorists that cyclists are poor, urban cyclists are more likely to be from socio-economic groups ABC1&2 than in D or E), students, and allotment holders bringing home large pumpkins.
This Cargo Bike Club sounds like a really good idea, so what is next? Well, I am about to start working up a business plan, so if you are interested in getting involved or you would like to invest, please feel free to get in touch.
Addendum: I have taken the first step by having an Urban Arrow Cargo Bike available for hire via the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling.