Cargo bicycling follow-up

Thinking more on the subject of human-powered logistics, I will share this observation. I passed by the 99-cent Grant Discount Mart the other day, on East 167th Street and Grant Ave. The store had just received a delivery. On the sidewalk were 16 six-pack boxes of bleach, in three different sizes between 64 fluid ounces and 128 fluid ounces. That amount of bleach (assuming an average of 96 fl oz per bottle) weighs about 40 lbs per box. Sixteen 40-lb boxes weigh in total about 612 lbs.

There were about the same number of boxes of ammonia (but harder to count because they didn’t say “BLEACH” in big black letters on the boxes). Assume the same number and that’s more than 1,200 lbs of cleaning supplies on the sidewalk.

Assuming each bottle costs $1.50 at retail, the total shipment of 192 bottles of bleach and ammonia costs $288. Assume the distributor takes about 1/4 of that, or $72 (half to the manufacturer, and another quarter to the retailer).

Now, my cargo bike setup maxed out at about 500 lbs capacity. So that amount of bleach and ammonia would be three trips. To one 99-cent store. For a total of $72, which divided three ways is $24. That’s about what I would pay one rider for two hours of work. Delivery of cleaning supplies is not a financially sustainable line of business for a cargo bicycle company.

Another issue: bicycles or tricycles can’t stack their loads as high as trucks can. The lower the stack, the more surface area the delivery has to take up. Financial considerations aside, it will take up more street space or sidewalk space to deliver by cargo bike than by truck. One caveat to this calculation is that the truck is often half-empty, however.

Another Insightful Streetsblog Comment

I looked this one up today so I could refer to it again; I don’t know if it’s really that insightful or whether I just keep rebutting the same guy with the same bland insight.

A true 21st century human-powered logistics system would still require extensive distribution and logistics facilities. The West Side docks closed because they didn’t have the fifty acres of back-pad necessary to offload and store the containers from the ships; I presume the same acreage is necessary for any kind of transfer facility, which leads to the question of where best to locate an 18-block logistics facility in midtown Manhattan.

This is a pretty good argument that the likelihood of a 21st-century human-powered logistics system developing in New York City is pretty slim, as land is so expensive it makes the return on the investment too small. Look at Chelsea Market, which is one single block, and how that adapted from a small-scale food distribution center to a high-end retail food center.

Another reason this is a good argument is that Greg, the cargo-trike guy on the West Side, suggests the creation of a distribution center, “like in Paris,” as a prerequisite for a human-powered delivery system.

Other more bicycle-specific reasons are these:

System max weight is 700 to 1000 lbs, using a tricycle chassis. System can probably carry about 10 big-size totes (22 inches long, 12 in deep, 15 in wide), each of which can hold 50 lbs of coffee. So you cube out before you weigh out. But really, the staff costs kill you, with the workers’ compensation insurance added on. Going more than a couple blocks at 5 mph increases the time spent traveling, and therefore the payroll (as well as helping bump up against the 8 hour limit, and the lunch hour…) over reasonable costs. Hiring more workers to cover slow travel means you need more bikes as well as a larger pool of potential workers. And if you are only going 5 mph with a cargo trike, you might as well go 3 mph with a hand cart and save on the workers’ comp and the salary.

One reason a tricycle is better than bicycle for really heavy loads because you can shift into a lower gear while standing still on a tricycle. In order to get going with a heavy load from a standstill on a bicycle, you need to be in the low gear when you stop. I remember with fondness the high crown of Avenue A at East 2d St, and trying with difficulty to get the bike with trailer into forward motion over that crowned roadway.