New York is taking aim at congestion and pollution caused by swarms of delivery trucks with a plan to boost a greener alternative — electric cargo bikes.

The rise of online shopping has led to a deluge of packages, more than 1.5 million a day in New York City, being delivered by an army of trucks on clogged streets. Part of the city’s response is to team with Amazon, UPS and DHL in a program that will replace trucks with as many as 100 electric cargo bikes, which are cleaner and use less street space.The bikes will be allowed to park in commercial loading zones that are reserved for trucks and vans without having to feed meters like other vehicles.

While riders delivering meals and packages on electric bikes are familiar sites in Manhattan, America is a latecomer to cargo bikes. They’ve long been used in Paris, Berlin, London and other European cities, not to mention Asia. Electric cargo bikes may only go a small way to resolving the congestion and pollution caused by the rise in deliveries — electric, hybrid and autonomous vehicles may also help.

“Around the world, we have seen how freight companies use cargo bikes to move goods around dense urban neighborhoods more efficiently,” Polly Trottenberg, New York’s transportation commissioner, told the New York Times.

The New York program is far bigger than previous pilots. UPS partnered with Portland State University and the City of Portland on a pilot that deploys one electric-assisted cargo tricycle for a year. UPS has launched similar trials in Pittsburgh, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

Delivery services are coming under increased pressure from activists and local officials who say they are worsening congestion and pollution. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said last week that she was considering taxing Amazon and others for the environmental impact of their deliveries. London, which led the fight against crowded roadways with congestion pricing in 2003, has seen the volume of traffic surge with the rise in fast deliveries. 

Investors are looking at everything from underground tunnels to drones to relieve congestion and pollution, while making a profit. British startup Magway is planning to build narrow tunnels and tracks that could run underground and deliver as many as 600 million parcels a year to London alone. UPS, Amazon and other companies are developing delivery drones.

Volkswagen and other car companies are among those investing in electric cargo bikes as alternatives to delivery trucks, Forbes reported last year.

  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced in September that his company would purchase 100,000 electric vans, with the first hitting the roads in 2021. 
  • In another effort to cut emissions, DHL announced in May that it will deploy 100 hydrogen fuel-cell vans to its fleet in Germany starting next year.