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The Cargo Bike Club idea revisited

The Cargo Bike Club idea revisited

Some time back I came up with the idea for a Cargo Bike Club™ along the lines of a City Car Club (read all about it here). Since that time it has been sitting on the back burner and a number of people have been in touch to ask what, if anything, I am doing about it. So I thought it was about time for an update. This post is based on an exchanges of e-mails I have had with interested parties.

Cargo bikes cost about £2K – £4K each and have a high resale value, so security is a bit of an issue. Therefore, having hire stations and security are the key things which are really holding me back. Funding may be less of a problem once I have a clearly laid out business plan ready. There are a range of grants and an increasing number of social enterprise funding models popping up (along the lines of which could make it possible to get off the ground.

Most cycle hire schemes use docking stations, where there is no lock on the bike, and you are expected to travel from docking station to docking station, think London, Paris, etc. This model is fine for big city wide schemes, but would be no use for something like the Cargo Bike Club™. Ideally there would be a locking system attached to the bike, which is track-able when the bike is away from its home location. So I have been looking for a suitable locking system, something like the SoBi model. SoBi started out by developing a locking system which would attach to any bike, so that people could start up their own social bike hire schemes. This sounded just the thing I need, sadly they have moved their business model to selling only whole bike systems and won’t just sell me the locking system. Deutsche Bahn have a similar locking system, with their Call a Bike scheme, but I haven’t found out yet if it is possible to buy the locking system (although I have found out how to hack the software to get unlimited free usage).

I did think of trying to get the supermarkets interested, but an earlier attempt to persuade them to provide free bike trailer hire got nowhere. Waitrose has offered this at some stores down south, but showed no interest in Edinburgh, despite a number of customers asking for it. So I thought that having residential hubs might work better, this also makes the bikes available for a wider range of uses, other than just shopping, i.e., the school run, moving flat, etc.

These residential hubs would need parking space, and I am rather hoping the proposed on-street cycle storage scheme which the City of Edinburgh Council is talking of trialling this year will provide a precedent for this. I have also thought of trying to get the Universities interested in hosting hubs near student housing.

Also, given that Edinburgh isn’t exactly flat, I also wondered about getting electric assist for the cargo bikes. There are a number of options available, so it is perfectly possible, and some users would consider it highly desirable. However, there are the obvious downsides of extra cost and the problem of battery charging. So that one requires some more thinking. Having spoken to Neil from Pronto Pedal Power about his Bullitt (my preferred choice of cargo bike, although Dutch models will also be considered), he says the gearing is low enough to manage to get about Edinburgh without electric assist, but then he rides for a living.

One way of dealing with the security issue and electric assist at the same time might be to employ a modified Copenhagen Wheel. I did try contacting MIT about this, they said they would put me on their mailing list for information and updates, and that was the last I heard from them. Well, that is design students for you, just make it look pretty and ignore real world applications.

If all else fails, we could just form a consortium, buy a couple of bikes, cut some keys and set up a Google calendar…

Climate Week. 21-27 March 2011

Climate Week. 21-27 March 2011

This is Climate Week 2011:

Climate Week 2011 logo

While there are issues with some of the sponsors using the event as green wash, I feel we should take a positive approach and think about what we can do, to actually save the Planet and save the money!

Maybe think about how green is your daily journey, think about how you could save energy by changing the lighting in you house, or just get on your bicycle, go out and enjoy the spring sunshine…

Remember, the idea is to “Save the Planet, Save the Pounds!

New Idea: the Cargo Bike Club

New Idea: the Cargo Bike Club

Following my recent wee issue with getting the biggest pumpkin home from the allotment and trying to find a cargo bike to transport it has made me wonder if there are other people in a similar situation? I think I might have a solution: the Cargo Bike Club®. But, before I get into the details, maybe I should just give a wee bit of background.

First off, what is a Cargo Bike? Well, they come in all shapes and sizes, they are general purpose load carrying bikes, basically they are the SUV of the cycling world, only a lot more environmentally and people friendly. This concept is well understood in Europe, but some in North America struggle with it.

For my purposes, the sort of cargo bike I have in mind is either a Dutch Bakfiets or a Danish Larry Vs. Harry BULLITT, although other bikes would probably work just as well [UPDATE: the Urban Arrow is now the front runner].

Why would you want a Cargo Bike? In places that have a cycling culture, cargo bikes are used in the same way as a second car, for taking the kids to school, doing the weekly shop, moving flat, and all that sort of thing. Indeed some people use them instead of a family car. The important thing to remember is, we are not talking about poor countries here, but the likes of Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Also, cargo bikes are cool! They are increasing in popularity all over the place, even yummy mummies and (I hate to use this word but, here goes) Celebrities are using cargo bikes.

If cargo bikes are such a good idea, why aren’t we seeing more of them on our streets? Here is the rub, there are several good reasons:

Cost: a basic cargo bike will set you back between £1,100 – £1,600, and then there are the accessories: child seats, rain covers, etc. So, for a kitted out cargo bike you are looking at somewhere around £2,000 – £2,500.

Availability: there are very few dealers in the UK who sell these bikes, I am not sure if there are any in Scotland.

Secure storage: yes, they can be stored outside, but, having spent £2,000 – £2,500, you are going to want to keep it safe and secure. As we all know, this can be a problem in our cities.

So this brings us back to my idea of starting a Cargo Bike Club! This would work in a similar way to the City Car Club, with a number of cargo bikes available for hire 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, across the city, for a modest fee to members of the club. The cargo bikes would be stored in lockers around the city, not sure I like the term locker, so let’s call them kennels, I like the idea of a cargo bike kennels. The kennels would be opened by a digital key, with each member having a personalised key. Members will only be able to open the kennels when a (club owned) cargo bike is in the kennel or nearby. This will mean that members will be able to store their own bike securely in the kennel while they are using the cargo bike.

So how would it work? Well, you would book the cargo bike on-line (or maybe even by SMS text or phone, but I would have to work out the cost of that) > go along to the cargo bike kennel > unlock it with your personalised digital key > take out the cargo bike (and put in yours, if you have ridden there) > close the door and ride away.

When would you have to make the bookings? The bookings could be made in advance or right at the last minute 24/7.

Where would these “cargo bike kennels” be? The aim would be to have them in residential areas throughout the city, ideally at roadside or on road in existing parking bays. There would need to be round the clock access. If provision can be made for City Car Club cars, then why not for the even greener alternative? Yes, there maybe some local resistance in some residential areas, people might say silly things like roads are for cars or cyclist don’t pay tax, but this can be overcome in time. Because there may not be a cargo bike kennel inwith walking distance of every member, it is important that members are able to leave their own bikes in the kennel when they take out the cargo bike.

If there were “cargo bike kennels” at various locations, would you have to return the cargo bike to the same one? Yes, unlike other bike hire schemes, the Cargo Bike Club would not be about point to point travel. Although it could be possible to expanded the facilities to include Vélib’ style bicycle hire scheme as well, at a later date.

What would these “cargo bike kennels” look like? Well, there are two approaches that could be taken, either the bicycle locker disguised as a rubbish skip approach or Copenhagen urban camouflage (although I am not suggesting using these colour schemes). Both these approaches could easily fit into our urban landscapes.

What would it cost to hire a cargo bike? Well, that is a detail which I would have to work out, but I would envisage having an annual membership fee and then an hourly hire fee for the actually usage. So, something along the lines of £50 per annum membership, then the first 30 minutes of use free, followed by a sliding scale of hourly fees. Say £1 for up to an hour, £2 for an hour and a half, £5 for two hours and so on. These are just suggestions, I have yet to work out the details.

So who would the Cargo Bike Club be aimed at? The cargo bike club is for everybody! Well, everybody who needs to shift things about, things like the weekly shopping, or kids on the school run, or move a washing machine, or just stuff… More seriously, the obvious target market for the Cargo Bike Club would be young urban professionals (contrary to the belief prevalent among many motorists that cyclists are poor, urban cyclists are more likely to be from socio-economic groups ABC1 than in D or E), students, and allotment holders bringing home large pumpkins.

This Cargo Bike Club sounds like a really good idea, so what is next? Well, I am about to start working up a business plan, so if you are interested in getting involved or you would like to invest, please feel free to get in touch.

Let there be light

Let there be light

We recently had a new bathroom fitted and as it is an internal room lighting is important. When we first moved, in the old bathroom gave a good impression of the Black Hole of Calcutta (well more like the green and blue hole of Calcutta, an interesting colour scheme), lit by a single 40w tungsten bulb. On the first day, all the old tungsten bulbs where removed and replaced with modern low energy bulbs. In the bathroom I put in a 14w, which has a light output equivalent to a 75w tungsten bulb, a considerable improvement straight away.

Putting in a new bathroom gave the opportunity to make more radical changes. My first thought was to use halogen down lighters and flood the room with light, however there are a few issue with halogen down lighters. First off, care must been taken when fitting them into an existing ceiling, as they can be a fire risk due to the heat they generate. Secondly, all that heat is just wasted energy, with most of the energy being converted into heat rather than light. While halogen bulbs while they are more energy efficient than Edison incandescent bulbs, they are still not the most efficient means of lighting. The search was on for energy efficient replacements for the standard GU10 halogen bulb.

Most people are now aware of low energy (compact fluorescent lamps or CFL) bulbs, even if not everybody is using them. There are now CFLs which can be used to replace the old fashioned tungsten GU10 bulbs (GU10 refers to the type of fitting). They are at the present time more expensive (£5 to £6 per bulb) than the halogens they replace (£0.79 per bulb), but the CFs use less energy and last longer, but more on that later.

However I wasn’t convinced this was the most energy efficient solution. Through my interest in cycling I knew that in high end cycle lights halogen bulbs have now been entirely replaced by LED lights. Indeed the popularity of 24 hour cycle racing, where the race continues through the night (at the extreme is the Strathpuffer with 17 hours of darkness), have helped to drive development in this area, as bright and energy efficient lights are important to this sport. If you are hurtling down a forest track in the dark, you want plenty of light to find your way. Yet at the same time you don’t want to be lugging a heavy battery about, so low energy consumption is essential. The German light makers Lupine show just what can be done with their Betty 14, a 1500 lumen 22w light which can run for 6 hours on a 14.5 Ah Li-Ion bottle battery. The whole setup only weighs 810g. Ok, so it comes at a price (£685.00, just in case you want to know what I would like for Christmas) and a 1500 lumen lamp is way more brightness that the average domestic lighting system would normally use, but has any of this high end technology filtered its way down to the domestic lighting market?

Well yes it has, you can get LED lights as replacements for halogen bulbs, but there are a few differences in what is required from a bike light compared with domestic room lighting. As stated above, top end bike lights are far brighter than domestic lighting systems, also there is the colour of the light to be taken into account. As light colour and temperature can be a wee bit confusing, here is a short digression into light colour/temperature.

A lighting designer will describe white light as being cold or warm depending on whether it is towards the yellow end of the spectrum or the blue end, with yellow being warm and blue cold. On the other hand, a lighting engineer will describe white light according to its temperature in degrees Kelvin (°K), to them a “warm white” light has a temperature of 2700°K and the “cold white” a temperature of 5000°K. So why the difference? The designer gives a subjective description of the light, and we have become accustomed to the yellowish white light of the tungsten bulb in most domestic lighting situations. Before that we would have experienced the light of oil lamps or candles, which have a similar coloured light. This light is described as being warm. Whereas white light which is to the blue end of the spectrum, and is closer in colour to that of daylight, is regarded as harsh and cold. The engineer on the other hand describes light according to the level of energy required to generate it. For millennia metal workers have known that if you heat a piece of metal it will start to glow, at first red, then as you heat further straw yellow and eventually it will become white hot. At this point metals start to melt, and if you are using arc welding gear to melt the metal, you will notice that the electrical sparks give out a blue light as they are hotter still. The temperatures at which these colours are produced can be measured, hence colour temperature is given in °K. Ok so back to the subject at hand.

Most bike lights produce a “cold” white light with a temperature of about 5000°K, this is often considered too harsh and cold for use in a living area. So for domestic use there are GU10 LED lights which can replace the bog standard halogen down lighter, these usually come as a choice of either warm white (3200°K) or cool light (5000°K). Power usage ranges from 1w to 4.3w and their light output can be equivalent to 35w to 50w halogen blubs (specifications can vary between manufactures). As this is in many ways still a cutting edge technology, prices are on the high side at between £6 and £18 a bulb.

So to the big question, is it worth spending £18 on a bulb when you can get a halogen bulb for £0.79 to do the same thing? The answer depends on the time scale you look at and how much you use it, to find out it is necessary to carry out a little economic analysis. To do this I, have developed a simple tool to compare the energy usage and running cost of three different types of downlighter type lights.

Basically halogens are cheap to buy but use a lot of expensive energy and have a short lifespan (typically about 2000 hrs). Whereas LEDs are expensive to buy, but use very little energy and have a very long lifespan (typically about 50000 hrs), CFLs are somewhere in between. To see which is the better value in the longer term I chose the following scenario, using four bulb fitting, for four hours a day (OK so that is a wee bit longer that we normally use the bathroom per day) using electricity at a costing of £0.18 per kWh (a rate taken from an old bill, before the recent price hike!), what would be the total running cost per year? In the first year the total cost of the halogens would be £39.10, using CFLs would be £12.96 and using LEDs would be £4.90. This suggest that saving in energy costs of using the LEDs would repay the capital investment is a little over two years. However at the current time the cost of energy is going up and the cost LEDs is coming down, so this could soon be even shorter!

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