Instead of a driver running with a box from an idling truck, a delivery person on an electric tricycle might pull up to bring packages to your door in Manhattan this holiday season.
Under the city Department of Transportation’s Commercial Cargo Bike Program, UPS, DHL and Amazon are partnering to ease some of the congestion and pollution that accompany the deluge of online orders delivered by trucks and vans.
“We need to go small. This has to be the only the beginning, to deal with congestion…and making the city greener,” said City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), chair of the Council Transportation Committee, at the Dec. 4 Flatiron Public Plaza announcement that showcased small electric vehicles from UPS, DHL and Amazon.
Demonstration drivers pedaled away in bike lanes along Fifth Avenue on three-wheeled electric vehicles outfitted with rear compartments for packages. The trikes, which will operate below 60th Street in Manhattan over the next six months, can use open street parking spots or spaces usually used by bikes and delivery trucks. Their helmeted operators will take safety training and must go no faster than 12 mph.
“We see this as an opportunity that will help UPS and its customers and the city, so we’re excited,” said Leo Cummings of UPS, vice president of operations in the Northeast.
The pilot plans for 100 vehicles, according to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Rodriguez said the program feeds into the city’s Vision Zero plan to make the streets safer by getting more trucks off the road.
The city has been urging private delivery services to go smaller, Rodriguez said in an interview: “One, to go electric. Second, go smaller in numbers. Third, to use trikes. We’re not the first to do this, but in New York [we] hope to reduce the vehicles that take away space from pedestrians and cyclists.”
Rodriguez restated his oft-repeated goal of seeing the city reduce the number of vehicles on its streets and roads from 1.4 million to 1 million by 2030.
Some bystanders scoffed at the idea of the electric trikes being up to the job.
“The UPS bike is too small to fit any packages for any sort of building in this city. It won’t be able to park anywhere. It won’t be on the sidewalk. It’s too small,” said Gramercy Park resident Wendy Slater. “I saw UPS rent a U-Haul today because there’s too many packages for their trucks. That trike will work for one building in the spring, maybe. But Christmas? No way.”
A bigger change is coming to the streets in 2021. That’s when New York will introduce “congestion pricing” for cars and trucks operating below 60th Street. The plan will charge commercial vehicles $25 and pedestrian vehicles $14 to enter the area during peak hours, Trottenberg said, which will further encourage the use of cargo bikes.