All about cycling in the Netherlands
A weekend chock-full of cargo bike themed activities in Nijmegen, where the annual International Cargo Bike Festival was held on 16 and 17 April last. The 3rd international Cargo Bike Conference took place on Saturday, while Sunday was reserved for the 5th Cargo Bike Parade and Fair.
The festival has grown every year and it has become more professional too. A bit like the entire cargo bike transport sector. Participants from 25 countries registered for the conference. The majority came from a wide range of European countries, but people also visited from Brasil, China, Colombia, Egypt, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates and the USA. Where it was all about how to build a cargo bike before, the main topics now were standards of containers and pallets and how to connect well to the conventional transport sector (also literally). Participants of the conference were surprised with a conference magazine, which they received just before the conference was closed. Event-organiser Jos Sluijsmans explained the goal of the International Cargo Bike Festival in this magazine:
“Cities worldwide are congested with cars, trucks and minivans that are blocking roads, polluting air and causing more and more frustration. This is progressively becoming worse due to rapid growth in internet sales and home deliveries.
The solution is as simple as it is old: using cargo bikes instead of motorized transport will make cities feel more spacious, improve transport efficiency, increase living conditions and social interactions, [it is my] mission to reduce the number of vans by fifty percent in the next ten years. For the Netherlands this means that 400,000 delivery vans will be replaced by cargo bikes by 2025 saving 1.5 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.”
That Saturday morning, the conference had been opened by a member of the European Parliament, Michael Cramer (Greens/EFA parliamentary group), who also chairs the Committee on Transport and Tourism of the European Parliament. Michael Cramer agrees with Jos Sluijsmans that cargo bikes could reduce CO2 emissions, which he feels is very necessary. In his presentation Cramer explained that the transport sector has a bad record. Since 1990 the sector’s CO2-emissions have increased by 24%. Trucks contributed most to this increase. What makes it even worse: in all other sectors (such as industry and households) CO2-emissions have decreased in the same period.
Keynote speaker Michael Cramer explained that an unfair competition in the transport sector is currently in the way of a change for the better. While airlines, merchant shipping and motorised road transport benefit from low taxes and sometimes even subsidies in fuel, transport by rail and eco-friendly transport are heavily taxed. To fundamentally change this, the cargo bike sector should lobby not only their local politicians, but also the members of the European Parliament. The European Parliament is ready to fund projects, but regional and local authorities must ask for these funds. Cramer urged the conference attendees to convince policy makers that cargo bikes are a good idea. They should use statistics about business opportunities, jobs, taxes, environment and health, because Cramer feels that this is the only way to repair the unbalance in the transport sector.
Connecting with the conventional couriers was a hot topic that was discussed in smaller groups and workshops. Key word: “standards”. Johan Erlandsson of Velove in Sweden strongly believes in the use of a standard type of bike containers to improve and increase cargo. Much like the global advent of sea containers revolutionised cargo transport, cargo bike containers could revolutionise cargo bike transport. Other speakers explained how using the standard euro-pallet, also on cargo bikes, would be a good improvement. Traditional transporters are not willing to introduce a new standard for the cargo bike sector. They want to stay with existing standards that are used in the entire industry. The large dimensions of a euro-pallet (80x120cm) can be difficult on a cargo bike, also because the weight of a loaded euro-pallet can be very high. That choosing the euro-pallet could still be beneficial is shown by Belgian firm Bubble Post. They work with a custom-made cargo bike that carries a large container that can hold a euro-pallet. It is easy to slide the container on and off the bike and it is designed so that a forklift can carry it. Bubble Post was founded only a few years ago in 2013, but it already operates in 14 cities in Belgium and it is currently expanding its services to 5 cities in the Netherlands.
A different type of challenge was brought forward by Fietskoeriers.nl. They feel a need to increase the number of distribution hubs to also make deliveries possible outside the bigger cities. Fietskoeriers wants to achieve nationwide coverage so they can better compete with traditional couriers. In today’s market operating locally is no longer enough to be competitive.
Video impression of the conference day.
Sunday was a day of fun, starting with the traditional Cargo Bike Parade. People gathered with a lot of cargo bikes and a variety of other human-powered vehicles on the market square (Grote Markt) in the historic city centre of Nijmegen. As the parade rolled past, I overheard an accidental spectator saying: “If you didn’t already know Nijmegen is a city of left-wing hippies, here’s further proof”. What that remark proved to me, however, is that some members of the general public still live in the petrol era and they really need to wake up quickly!
The tour was interrupted briefly for a bit of rain, but most of the time the weather was kind enough to the events. The parade was even more fun this year with live music played from bicycles by the band Orchestre Bicyclette from Utrecht.
Video of the Cargo Bike Parade in Nijmegen.
The parade ended at the venue of the Cargo Bike Fair, where a lot of people came to meet designers, producers and dealers who presented their cargo bikes and related products. This year there were participants from 20 countries. People tried Syrian dishes prepared on cargo bike stoves in the food court. Others enjoyed ice cream or coffee, also from cargo bikes. The official Dutch national slow biking competition took place as well and children enjoyed a show in the country’s only cargo bike cinema! The fair was also interrupted by some more rain, but there were enough tents for everybody to take cover and when the rain stopped soon enough, the festivities quickly continued. The organisation can look back at a very successful event.
Video of the Cargo Bike Festival Fair.