The Dutch Post Office, PostNL, have begin systematically testing last-mile delivery vehicles. Naturally this includes cargo bikes, but they are also trying out Light Electric Vehicles (LEVs), such as the Stint. I met Nanette Wielenga, Bicycle Network Project Manager for PostNL, to find out more. We met at a depot on the western edge of Amsterdam at around 6pm and discussed the project as PostNL delivery riders, known Stadsbezorgers, returned from their evening rounds on various bikes, trikes and LEVs.
The overarching idea behind the project is to replace the PostNL’s city-based delivery vehicles with a cleaner, more agile alternative. It’s an ongoing project – so far based in 8 locations across Amsterdam, although this may be expanded. During this phase, the aim is to replace 60 of PostNL’s conventional delivery vehicles with 60 bikes, trikes or LEVs. If successful, it will be scaled up.
What is interesting about the project is the manner in which PostNL have chosen to evaluate the options available to them; it is thorough and evidence-based. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are being employed, and a combination of the two will inform the decisions that are eventually made.
As you would expect from any project being conducted by a large organisation, a lot of data is being gathered for analysis. This includes things like financial costs, but also productivity figures, for example comparisons of the time taken to do the same tasks using a van, versus each different model being tested. Some of the bikes, trikes and LEVs are GPS tagged, meaning all sorts of data can be collected and analysed. According to Nanette, the bikes, trikes and LEVs tested so far are much faster at the job than the vehicles they replaced: “you see the difference in the data”. GPS tagging also plays another role: security. The system allows PostNL to keep track of where each bike, trike or LEV is, and only allows a locked box to be opened by a Stadsbezorger who is actually using it.
PostNL are taking the qualitative side just as seriously and it is here that the Stadsbezorgers (who were all previously doing the same tasks, but in a van) are heavily involved. Taking part in the program was optional, the idea being that those involved would be open-minded and invested in making it a success. Each Stadsbezorger tries out every bike, trike and LEV, then feedback is gathered in a series of interviews from the people actually using them.
This qualitative side of the process is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it provides context for findings that come up from the data. For example; imagine a situation where a particular trike is taking longer to do a postal run than the other models being tested. The first thing PostNL would do in this situation would be to ask their Stadsbezorgers what was going on. More often than not, the answer would be forthcoming.
Secondly, an engaged workforce that knows it is being listened to can provide myriad advantages in terms of labour relations. Stadsbezorgers feel like they are being listened to, because they really are.
Thirdly, it has allowed PostNL to develop and test new processes so that the bikes, trikes or LEVs are managed in the most efficient way possible. Management of a fleet of cargo bikes can be a very different thing to managing a fleet of vans; keys, batteries and maintenance routines must all be handled in different ways. This test phase is allowing PostNL to iron out any issues before scaling up.
Another important aspect of the project is that of the relationships that PostNL has with the manufacturers of the bikes, trikes and LEVs being tested. The process has allowed PostNL to give manufacturers feedback on design changes that would make the bikes, trikes or LEVs more suitable for the job. Naturally, all of the manufacturers are keen to ensure that their bike, trike or LEV is chosen by PostNL, so both parties have an interest in making it work.
Nanette makes it clear that PostNL are keen to let the process run it’s course before making any decisions about which solution will work for them. In fact, they are open to choosing different solutions for different cities; after all, the medieval streets of central Utrecht, post-war boulevards of Rotterdam and, say the suburban outskirts of Eindhoven are all very different environments in which to operate. Delivery runs, where you know in advance how much you are carrying, may require a smaller capacity than collections, where a few full postboxes could mean a time-costly return to the depot to offload before heading out again to complete the run. This would suggest that designs with larger and smaller capacities might both have a place at PostNL.
I ask Nanette if there are any early indications as to what they will decide: “No, but what I can tell you is that we’re never going back to the vans. We don’t want it and neither do our Stadsbezorgers. The most popular amongst them is the Stint – it’s cool and they enjoy the attention.” Cargo bike manufacturers, take note!
We’ve covered Post Offices shifting to the bike before, see RIPPL #24 to read about how the Croatian Post Office did it.
Country: The Netherlands
Bike Manufacturer(s): Babboe, Urban Arrow, Johnny Loco
Tom Parr: Interview with PostNL Bicycle Network Project Manager, Nanette Wielenga, Nov 2017