LA URB-E startup uses cargo electric bikes to solve urban traffic

On city streets, almost every day, Amazon delivery vans, UPS trucks, Ubers and vehicles for instant delivery services all compete for space. A Los Angeles-based company aims to solve the problem of urban congestion and accompanying emissions by replacing delivery trucks with electric cargo bikes.

URB-E is carving out a high-density niche in the electric utility vehicle market, which Guidehouse Insights predicts will reach $370 billion by 2030. The company wants to create an ecosystem around cargo electric bikes, with the goal of to go from 50 to 500 of them by next year.

“E-cargo bikes allow delivery people to avoid traffic jams, reduce pollution, and are safer vehicles on our streets than trucks,” says Sarah Kaufman, associate director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation. . “Cities around the world are beginning to reshape for smaller vehicles and more human-powered transport; electric cargo bikes fit perfectly into this vision.

URB-E, which started as a company that made mini electric scooters, is pivoting to monetize demand from companies that need their own low-emission delivery systems. URB-E manufactures its own e-bikes in China, which are designed to carry large loads (800 pounds) at low speeds and fit into a parking space with 20 folded containers. The bikes are equipped with a double wheel and braking system like those used in airplanes. A hitch and suspension allow for greater stability on frayed road infrastructure in their premier New York and Los Angeles locations.

URB-E provides the vehicles, but not the drivers. The startup trains customers on how to put their own drivers on the e-bikes and offers an e-bike valet service to help manage the load. It’s an experiment, but one thing is certain: it’s not another home delivery company that brings you lunch. They want the biggest high-volume freight market for businesses. Containerized boxes make it easier to move goods from trucks entering cities and onto trailers for e-bike delivery, chief executive Charles Jolley said.

“We’re really not specifically focused on ‘get me a burrito, coffee, toothbrush in 15 minutes,'” Jolley said. “We’re trying to replace trucks and vans with something that uses 90% less energy.”

The company’s customers range from UPS to Square Roots, which delivered its produce grown at the company’s vertical farm in Brooklyn by putting a trailer on consumers’ e-bikes and loading it with vegetables. An URB-E co-founder described it as “like trying to use a Prius to do the job of a tractor”.

UPS has used URB-E bikes in a trial as part of its expanding “last mile” logistics solutions that involve more than 30 projects, and the company continues to research urban logistics solutions as part of of its bid to be carbon neutral by 2050, said Luke Wake, vice president of maintenance and fleet engineering for UPS.

Square Roots, which is backed by Kimbal Musk, said the new partnership helps ensure fresh food is available year-round, which was not necessarily the case during supply chain disruptions in the UK. pandemic era. URB-E’s containerized system has the ability to use cold storage insulated bags to protect fresh produce. The bikes can be used at approximately 100 local grocery stores in the New York area, located within five miles of the band’s farm. A recent Instagram Publish worked out the numbers: 30 pounds of carbon saved over 25 miles per week.

URB-E started in 2012 with the ambition to manufacture the most compact electric vehicle in the world at the time. They’ve developed a mini foldable e-scooter with a range of 20 miles and a top speed of 15 miles per hour, which has had some success in places like co-founder Peter Lee’s alma mater campus. , USC.

The company had created a new vehicle for micromobility, but scaling up required competing in a close race with deep-pocketed competitors including Lime and Bird.

“Our choices were to die or take all of these learnings that we had identified and pivot,” Lee said.

The URB-E co-founders had noticed that the freight cars they had started supplying to a local fire department along with the scooters were in high demand, and UPS was even asking for them. Lee and his team took a step back – what if they started designing not just scooters, but an entire electrified ecosystem for deliveries that could replace city trucks, all the way to logistics centers, mechanical workshops and gas stations? He was able to draw on the design expertise of co-founder Sven Etzelsberger, who spent years leading the Porsche team, to create a fleet of e-bikes for heavy loads, compact bike trailers for the containerized freight and the load hubs to supply them.

Delivery is just one niche in the burgeoning e-cargo bike market, which ranges from family and commuter platforms to UPS delivery programs, which have grown with Rytle its own fleet of bespoke cargo e-bikes in Europe. Matt Roorda, an urban freight expert at the University of Toronto, plans to study that city’s newly approved pilot program to enable the use of large e-cargo bikes, including the possibility of freeing up city parking. He says the introduction of the new bikes could bring new challenges: managing safety in busier bike lanes and where to put new charging hubs. A bill from the New York State Legislature allowing wider e-bikes is a start to solving the problem, says NYU’s Kaufman.

Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a pilot project for electric cargo bikes starting in 2019, which included freight companies Amazon, DHL and UPS. URB-E’s orientation towards freight began last year. The startup’s transformation caught the eye of Jerry Yang, the Alibaba board member who co-founded Yahoo! Yang, a user of URB-E’s mini-scooters, had become an early investor through his AME Cloud Ventures and invested again, attracted by the company’s ambition to create a container delivery network compacts to replace trucks and small electric vehicles. URB-E also counts UBS and Acadia Woods as backers.

Cars and trucks were no solution amid rapid urbanization, said Yang, whose bet on Alibaba in 2005 was one of the biggest payoffs for investors in China’s Silicon Valley. Cargo e-bikes, like drones and autonomous robots, are likely the future of cities, where the problem of last-mile delivery is the most difficult part of the supply chain to solve at scale, said Yang via email.

“Every e-commerce business today is wondering how to meet the huge increase in demand while trying to meet the CO2 targets that their customers and investors are asking for,” Yang said. “There will always be deliveries that require a truck or van, but over time a very large percentage of deliveries can be converted into new vehicles built specifically for the size and scale of modern cities.”

Bloomberg writer Eric Roston contributed to this report.

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