IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Cities Experiment With Pedal-Powered Delivery Policies

The rapid expansion of food delivery services — coupled with e-bikes — is forcing cities to adopt new ideas and policies to get more couriers out of their gas vehicles and onto bikes.

Adam Gromis, who leads sustainability policy at Uber, sitting on stage speaking into a microphone. Sitting to the left of him is Henna Trewn, clean transportation program manager with the city and county of San Francisco, and sitting to the right is Harper Mills, new mobility planner with the Boston Transportation Department. Both are holding microphones while listening to Gromis speak.
From left, Henna Trewn, clean transportation program manager with the city and county of San Francisco; Adam Gromis, who leads sustainability policy at Uber; and Harper Mills, new mobility planner with the Boston Transportation Department, speaking on an Oct. 20 panel at the Micromobility America conference in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Skip Descant/Government Technology
Getting your burrito delivered by a bike courier is nice and all, but consumers don’t want to pay more for this admittedly more sensible form of conveyance — and they want the food hot.

That’s basically the feedback Uber has heard from thousands of users who have food delivered, an increasingly widening cross-section of the population.

“We hear mixed responses. Generally, what ‘eaters,’ as we call them, care most about is selection, cost, the time of that delivery — they want that food hot,” said Adam Gromis, who leads sustainability policy at Uber, speaking on a recent panel at the Micromobility America conference, “and don’t think about how it got there.”

When customers are asked about climate issues, or Uber’s move to electrify the entire fleet of cars carrying out its service, “Folks tend to be like, ‘that’s great. That would be fantastic, but by the way, we do not want to pay more for any of that,’” said Gromis during a panel titled, “Delivering Change: How to Get More Couriers on Two Wheels.”

“We really would like to have our cake and eat it too. And in fact, we’d like to pay less, if that’s possible,” he added.

Regardless of how “eaters” see the issue, cities and the restaurant industry are recognizing the need to rethink food delivery.

In Boston, the increase in demand for food delivery “has been astronomical,” said Harper Mills, new mobility planner with the Boston Transportation Department.

“Our streets, our curbs, simply can’t met that demand, given that most of these trips are being made in a car,” she added. “I think it’s really important to think how to mitigate the impact on our curbs, on our streets.”

San Francisco is in the middle of a new pilot program where 30 delivery workers are being outfitted with electric bikes, accessories, safety training, as well as one-on-one case management. The first cohort was launched in June, and the city recently launched a second group.

The purpose of the pilot is to collect data over a course of three to four months to understand the impact on earnings and the efficiency of the deliveries compared to a car comparison group.

Couriers, by and large, preferred e-bikes to traditional only-pedal versions, said Henna Trewn, clean transportation program manager with the city and county of San Francisco.

“[Some couriers] could not afford a car, so they were thinking about what else could they do,” said Trewn. “They were able to get farther faster, make a little bit more trips per hour.”

Restaurants are also experiencing the side effects of an exploding delivery market: curbs are cluttered with delivery vehicles — which are usually cars. The activity spawns double parking and other unsafe street activity.

“Restaurants, they want to be good neighbors,” said Mills. “They see the impact of their delivery activity outside their window. They don’t like that the couriers are blocking the street, or double parking. That’s not something that they want to have happen.”

Boston has introduced a new definition for a “small vehicle,” which is a vehicle that does not require a license. A pilot project will install “small vehicle” loading zones to allocate and prioritize access to the curb for delivery vehicles like bikes, cargo bikes and similar devices.

“I think that businesses are open to dynamic and flexible options for how the curb is accessed,” said Mills.

The switch to more sustainable delivery will require more engagement from the public sector, say industry observers. This could be in the form of incentives to help with the purchase of an electric bike, as well as infrastructure like bike storage and charging hubs.

To tip the scales toward e-bike or electric moped delivery vehicles, “we need to have overwhelming industry and government intention, and make the value better for the courier,” said Gromis. “At the end of the day they’re optimizing their economics.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.