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Published on December 11th, 2008 | by Nick Chambers

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UPS Drivers Using Bikes to Deliver Packages This Christmas. I Seen it Wit Me Own Two Eyes.

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So I came home from work today and saw a woman riding a bike loaded to the gills with cardboard boxes on a heavy duty bike trailer. At first I thought it was just another one of the local crazies that rides their bikes from one side of the town to the other all day long, but I’d never seen her before, and if you’ve lived in my town for as many years as I have, you get to know who our crazies are.

I watched her ride her bike around my neighborhood (it’s a small neighborhood) with a bit of a detached interest as I unloaded things from my car. She stopped every now and then, picked a package out of her clown-car-stuffed trailer and dropped it off at various neighbors’ doors.

My first thought was that somebody had started a bike delivery service. I actually had had this thought at one point, but then decided there wouldn’t be much money in it. After a while, my curiosity got the better of me, so I went to investigate.

Turns out, the woman is a UPS driver — a UPS driver at the bottom the totem pole to be more exact. And she was very nice. Apparently, UPS had some bean counters crunch numbers and find out that by replacing a certain number of trucks with bikes in the more temperate winter climates, they could save a boatload of money over the holiday season. In the case of my local UPS district, $36,000 to be exact.

I never got her name, but she said that she only knew for sure that UPS was conducting the program in Oregon, California and Washington. She didn’t seem like she was happy about kind of being forced to do it because of her status as a noob driver, but she said it really wasn’t that bad except for when she had to ride in the hilly parts of town.

She said that she hasn’t had to deal with any rain yet, but that she was worried that when the rain does start it might get pretty ugly for her — although it certainly looks like they’ve outfitted her to deal with bad weather.

I mean, look at that bike, it’s decked out. Check out the camo handwarmers. I’m not sure why they gave her a mountain bike though, it’s not like she’s going off-roading. A commuter bike with some smooth tires and a more comfortable sitting position would have been a much better choice. Methinks they didn’t actually consult with any real cyclists.

You know though… I’m having trouble doing the math. I mean, yeah they can save on fuel by not using the trucks, and certainly it helps cut down on emissions (yay environment!), but using my all-knowing powers of guesstimation, you’d have to make like 10 bike trips to carry the same amount of crap that one of their trucks can. That doesn’t really matter, I guess, if you’re not worried about volume or time, but it seems that a company like UPS is inherently worried about both of those things.

Anyway, I’m not the bean counter with the UPS statistics, so don’t hold me to that analysis. And if UPS is convinced they can save money and help the environment at the same time, so am I!

Admittedly, I’m a little late to this story as UPS announced the program a month or so ago. But it was completely new news to me, and I’m guessing most of you didn’t know about it yet either.

One other perk the UPS bike driver commented on: she has a lot more conversations like the one she had with me today. In that sense, I guess you could say it’s a bit of a community builder too. Imagine if we all had reasons like that to talk with the service people who come and go throughout our busy days.

We might actually start treating each other like human beings.

Photo Credit: The author’s own handiwork. Note that the photo was altered to provide some amount of anonymity to the UPS bike driver. I did ask her if I could take it beforehand.




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About the Author

Not your traditional car guy.



  • Steve

    The probable irony is that the calculation that found that these bikes saved UPS money was probably made based on the price of gas at $4. Now below $2, they are like so many other companies both in and out of the energy business that have gotten caught in the downdraft of falling oil prices.

  • Steve

    The probable irony is that the calculation that found that these bikes saved UPS money was probably made based on the price of gas at $4. Now below $2, they are like so many other companies both in and out of the energy business that have gotten caught in the downdraft of falling oil prices.

  • http://dotcommodity.blogspot.com Susan Kraemer

    Meh. They’ll be up again.

    It’s not every year you have complete catastrophic worldwide economic collapse. There is a finite remaining supply, and it is more and more expensive to get to it.

  • http://dotcommodity.blogspot.com Susan Kraemer

    Meh. They’ll be up again.

    It’s not every year you have complete catastrophic worldwide economic collapse. There is a finite remaining supply, and it is more and more expensive to get to it.

  • Doug

    Big problem is how do they get the packages to the bike riders? I am sure with big brown trucks. Then how do they keep people from stealing the packages when they go inside a store to deliver them. Also what happens if it rains or snows? This is just a simple case of greenwashing. UPS wants everyone to think they are being proactive, but please don’t notice they are not wearing any clothes.

  • Doug

    Big problem is how do they get the packages to the bike riders? I am sure with big brown trucks. Then how do they keep people from stealing the packages when they go inside a store to deliver them. Also what happens if it rains or snows? This is just a simple case of greenwashing. UPS wants everyone to think they are being proactive, but please don’t notice they are not wearing any clothes.

  • Cameron

    I would think this would actually make sense in some urban areas, where traffic and parking headaches make delivering with large trucks a hassle.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to judge this as a pr stunt, after all, the USPS still delivers mail in some areas on foot. You take out the monumental costs associated with purchasing, maintaining, and insuring a big truck and you find a lot of cost savings.

    They can’t have more than a couple of grand into that bike and trailer. Only cost that stays the same is that for paying the driver. Bet he/she stays in shape too :)

  • Cameron

    I would think this would actually make sense in some urban areas, where traffic and parking headaches make delivering with large trucks a hassle.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to judge this as a pr stunt, after all, the USPS still delivers mail in some areas on foot. You take out the monumental costs associated with purchasing, maintaining, and insuring a big truck and you find a lot of cost savings.

    They can’t have more than a couple of grand into that bike and trailer. Only cost that stays the same is that for paying the driver. Bet he/she stays in shape too :)

  • Alexei

    I could see this working in dense areas. They could start out from local distribution centers (or even a truck) and taking loads of packages.

  • Alexei

    I could see this working in dense areas. They could start out from local distribution centers (or even a truck) and taking loads of packages.

  • Doug

    @ Cameron,

    They still have to use the big truck to get the packages to the bike rider. USPS delivers on foot because it is cheaper and they don’t carry large packages. Also that trailer can not hold many packages so the rider would lose A LOT of time riding back to the depot. UPS would have to employ a lot more bike riders to cover the same area as 1 truck. Sure it makes a smaller carbon footprint, but if you need 6 riders to do the job of 1 driver it does not seem very efficient. I guess they are paying the bikers considerably less than the drivers.

  • Doug

    @ Cameron,

    They still have to use the big truck to get the packages to the bike rider. USPS delivers on foot because it is cheaper and they don’t carry large packages. Also that trailer can not hold many packages so the rider would lose A LOT of time riding back to the depot. UPS would have to employ a lot more bike riders to cover the same area as 1 truck. Sure it makes a smaller carbon footprint, but if you need 6 riders to do the job of 1 driver it does not seem very efficient. I guess they are paying the bikers considerably less than the drivers.

  • http://www.artformfunction.com Michael

    I don’t think that UPS would do something like this without a great deal of forethought, especially in a critical time like the holidays. This is the same company that uses custom software to create their daily delivery maps so there are no left turns, because the gas wasted while waiting for the left turn light was tens of thousands of gallons.

    I suspect they are using the bikes because the cost of getting more trucks for a brief spike in deliveries is not cost effective, while a bike/trailer is is cheap to add, and there are lots of folks looking for work.

  • http://www.artformfunction.com Michael

    I don’t think that UPS would do something like this without a great deal of forethought, especially in a critical time like the holidays. This is the same company that uses custom software to create their daily delivery maps so there are no left turns, because the gas wasted while waiting for the left turn light was tens of thousands of gallons.

    I suspect they are using the bikes because the cost of getting more trucks for a brief spike in deliveries is not cost effective, while a bike/trailer is is cheap to add, and there are lots of folks looking for work.

  • anon

    the idea has potential.

    at the moment using bikes you deliver less packages per day.

    but what about using electric bikes ? or electric scooters ?

    and maybe if needed a bigger trailer?

    and because of much lower capital costs , it could give ups more flexibility.

    there’s really good potential for saving money.

  • anon

    the idea has potential.

    at the moment using bikes you deliver less packages per day.

    but what about using electric bikes ? or electric scooters ?

    and maybe if needed a bigger trailer?

    and because of much lower capital costs , it could give ups more flexibility.

    there’s really good potential for saving money.

  • doug nielson

    I’m guessing they are doing it because bikes are so damn cheap. They can probably get one for the cost of

    2 or 3 hand-trucks that a normal driver uses. I bet they will do no maintenance on these machines and then

    sell them on Craig’s list after the holidays.

  • doug nielson

    I’m guessing they are doing it because bikes are so damn cheap. They can probably get one for the cost of

    2 or 3 hand-trucks that a normal driver uses. I bet they will do no maintenance on these machines and then

    sell them on Craig’s list after the holidays.

  • BeePee

    I was a UPS driver for 20yrs. My route was about 90% residential, and every holiday season I had a driver helper.

    Believe me, while good press is a nice side effect, I’m sure this was done to save money. Big Brown has an army of industrial engineers that analyze everything.

    Really though, it makes some sense at the holidays. My route would normally run 140-150 stops per day. During the holidays it could jump to 300-320 stops per day, still within the same physical area.

    Someone on a bike, in an area with a high delivery density, could be very effective.

  • BeePee

    I was a UPS driver for 20yrs. My route was about 90% residential, and every holiday season I had a driver helper.

    Believe me, while good press is a nice side effect, I’m sure this was done to save money. Big Brown has an army of industrial engineers that analyze everything.

    Really though, it makes some sense at the holidays. My route would normally run 140-150 stops per day. During the holidays it could jump to 300-320 stops per day, still within the same physical area.

    Someone on a bike, in an area with a high delivery density, could be very effective.

  • http://phoenixwoman.wordpress.com Phoenix Woman

    This would be fabulous for high-density areas, and — for the stronger riders — even some inner-ring suburbs. Even a novice or mediocre rider can easily average 10 to 12 mph in Portland’s flattish downtown area; stronger riders can do 15 or even 20 mph, which is good enough for downtown. (Of course, venturing out into Portland’s hills is another matter — I expect that UPS won’t attempt that unless/until they get riders with stronger legs and lungs, though with Portland’s burgeoning bike community that’s not impossible or even unlikely. And they could always have motorized-assist bikes for those routes, too.)

    People wondering about the viability of bike transport need to check out the Peace Coffee website. They deliver all of their coffee on either bikes with trailers (http://www.peacecoffee.com/pedaling.htm) or biodiesel-powered vans (http://www.peacecoffee.com/van.htm) — and they do so in winters that would make West Coasties curl up into a ball and whimper.

  • http://phoenixwoman.wordpress.com Phoenix Woman

    This would be fabulous for high-density areas, and — for the stronger riders — even some inner-ring suburbs. Even a novice or mediocre rider can easily average 10 to 12 mph in Portland’s flattish downtown area; stronger riders can do 15 or even 20 mph, which is good enough for downtown. (Of course, venturing out into Portland’s hills is another matter — I expect that UPS won’t attempt that unless/until they get riders with stronger legs and lungs, though with Portland’s burgeoning bike community that’s not impossible or even unlikely. And they could always have motorized-assist bikes for those routes, too.)

    People wondering about the viability of bike transport need to check out the Peace Coffee website. They deliver all of their coffee on either bikes with trailers (http://www.peacecoffee.com/pedaling.htm) or biodiesel-powered vans (http://www.peacecoffee.com/van.htm) — and they do so in winters that would make West Coasties curl up into a ball and whimper.

  • Doug

    The question is still how many bikes and riders does it take to equal 1 truck. As the former UPS guy said he did 320 stops in a day during this time of year. OK how many trips does this equate to bikes? I mean the silly little trailer carries like 10 packages. So that is at least 32 return trips to the depot to make the same # of deliveries. Seems to me that this is a cheap but inefficient system. Hey whatever makes UPS a extra buck and makes the hippies happy.

  • Doug

    The question is still how many bikes and riders does it take to equal 1 truck. As the former UPS guy said he did 320 stops in a day during this time of year. OK how many trips does this equate to bikes? I mean the silly little trailer carries like 10 packages. So that is at least 32 return trips to the depot to make the same # of deliveries. Seems to me that this is a cheap but inefficient system. Hey whatever makes UPS a extra buck and makes the hippies happy.

  • http://www.dbcouriers.com chris grealish

    In select urban markets this solution makes a lot of sense. UPS started their company on bicycles in the Seattle area. This is a viable way for them to save tons of money in my opinion. My dream job would be to contract with UPS or FedX to assist them with integrating cycle messengers wherever possible ! C

  • http://www.dbcouriers.com chris grealish

    In select urban markets this solution makes a lot of sense. UPS started their company on bicycles in the Seattle area. This is a viable way for them to save tons of money in my opinion. My dream job would be to contract with UPS or FedX to assist them with integrating cycle messengers wherever possible ! C

  • MS

    Why do you refer to people who commute by bicycle as “crazies”? I think there’s a much more reasonable, and sane, argument to be made that the truly crazy people are those able-bodied folks who are too lazy and arrogant to eschew car-driving in favor of carbon-neutral alternatives such as bicycling, especially in our social/economic context, and those cowards who would mindlessly marginalize bike riders simply for taking the extra initiative.

    But if commuting via bicycle is crazy, then for the sake of humanity, please step aside and let the lunatics take over!

  • MS

    Why do you refer to people who commute by bicycle as “crazies”? I think there’s a much more reasonable, and sane, argument to be made that the truly crazy people are those able-bodied folks who are too lazy and arrogant to eschew car-driving in favor of carbon-neutral alternatives such as bicycling, especially in our social/economic context, and those cowards who would mindlessly marginalize bike riders simply for taking the extra initiative.

    But if commuting via bicycle is crazy, then for the sake of humanity, please step aside and let the lunatics take over!

  • Nick Chambers

    MS,

    What makes you think I was referring to commuters? Get over yourself, get off your high horse and read that paragraph again. This time don’t enter the word “commuter”in there on your own.

    In my town we have literally crazy people who ride their bikes around town all day long. They may be mentally handicapped, I don’t know. But they’re creepy and ride very slowly just back and forth all day long from one side of the town to the other.

  • http://phoenixwoman.wordpress.com Phoenix Woman

    Doug, three things:

    1) Ever hear of bike messengers?

    2) We’re talking about making deliveries in high-density downtown areas during peak delivery season. Did you not understand what BP the UPS worker typed? It’s a very good (and cheap) way of increasing delivery service without having to buy another truck or eight. This frees up trucks to work in less-dense areas such as the suburbs. Plus, it’s easier to park the bike-and-trailer rigs downtown than it is to find a spot for a truck during the day.

    3) Bikes and trailers can haul a lot more than you think. See the Peace Coffee website: http://www.peacecoffee.com/pedaling.htm

  • http://phoenixwoman.wordpress.com Phoenix Woman

    Doug, three things:

    1) Ever hear of bike messengers?

    2) We’re talking about making deliveries in high-density downtown areas during peak delivery season. Did you not understand what BP the UPS worker typed? It’s a very good (and cheap) way of increasing delivery service without having to buy another truck or eight. This frees up trucks to work in less-dense areas such as the suburbs. Plus, it’s easier to park the bike-and-trailer rigs downtown than it is to find a spot for a truck during the day.

    3) Bikes and trailers can haul a lot more than you think. See the Peace Coffee website: http://www.peacecoffee.com/pedaling.htm

  • MeMySelfandYou

    The problems start when a company gets bigger or as big as UPS, the bike idea is an echo one but one that is frought by problems because of the infastructure, in most small towns one would need a drop off point that was both secure and within the town centre.

    If there were smaller depo’s to hold the daily deliveries the owner operator could run both bike and depo, as fuel prices get larger this might have to become a reality.

    Bike were used for hundreds of years for local pickup and deliveries, I used one for five years while I was serving my time as an engineer, no need for a double take or to stand back in amazement, its all been done before, and could be done tomorrow if people simply put that little bit more effort in.

    There is also the older method of the electric float like we all used to have our milk delivered with, this would fit right into the echo mentality, cheap clean energy on tap and would be a much safer and secure way of watching over those valuable parcels.

    A horse drawn vehicle would do the same job, you could hire the Amish to deliver the letters and you would get free fert for your rose to boot, only kidding, but the horse is the most echo freindly way of all, every town has them growing fat in the fields only to be rode at the weekends, and I could make you the wheels and carts as im a wheelwright.

    As we travel at the speed of light, things seem to slow down and what normally took a day or so to complete seems as if it taking the same amount of time if you want a next day parcel, they will say or ask you to wait in most of the day to collect and sign for it, so your no better off, a localdepo would cut down on road miles and fuel cost at journey or depo end, then the greener, slower route could take over, but its all down to costs at the end of the day.

  • MeMySelfandYou

    The problems start when a company gets bigger or as big as UPS, the bike idea is an echo one but one that is frought by problems because of the infastructure, in most small towns one would need a drop off point that was both secure and within the town centre.

    If there were smaller depo’s to hold the daily deliveries the owner operator could run both bike and depo, as fuel prices get larger this might have to become a reality.

    Bike were used for hundreds of years for local pickup and deliveries, I used one for five years while I was serving my time as an engineer, no need for a double take or to stand back in amazement, its all been done before, and could be done tomorrow if people simply put that little bit more effort in.

    There is also the older method of the electric float like we all used to have our milk delivered with, this would fit right into the echo mentality, cheap clean energy on tap and would be a much safer and secure way of watching over those valuable parcels.

    A horse drawn vehicle would do the same job, you could hire the Amish to deliver the letters and you would get free fert for your rose to boot, only kidding, but the horse is the most echo freindly way of all, every town has them growing fat in the fields only to be rode at the weekends, and I could make you the wheels and carts as im a wheelwright.

    As we travel at the speed of light, things seem to slow down and what normally took a day or so to complete seems as if it taking the same amount of time if you want a next day parcel, they will say or ask you to wait in most of the day to collect and sign for it, so your no better off, a localdepo would cut down on road miles and fuel cost at journey or depo end, then the greener, slower route could take over, but its all down to costs at the end of the day.

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