12
May 2010
by don

Cargo bike economics, part 2

In my last post, I wrote about a few of the implications of riding my electric cargo bike from a financial and social point of view.  Today I’ll tackle another topic that I’ve been pondering: how much extra time do my cargo bike errands cost?

My first errand under the stopwatch was picking my kids up after school.  As sometimes happens, I was late leaving our house, so I had to literally sprint the half mile up the hill to the school.  When I pulled into the parking lot, I was surprised to see that I had done it in 2 minutes!  Sure, I had cranked those pedals pretty hard, but you can keep up a pretty good effort for an interval that short.  While it’s true that I could get there a little faster in a car (possibly even a minute faster), I would spend much longer waiting to get through the traffic jam in the parking lot, so the bike wins this contest easily.

For my next errand, I needed to pick up a few items for dinner from the closest grocery store.  The route winds through neighborhood streets for 1.7 miles, descending about 500 feet.  The bicycle route tool in Google Maps says it should take about 8 minutes; it actually took me 9 (I got stuck at a red light for a long time).  I spent 11 minutes finding my groceries in the store, and then I pedaled back up the hill in 9 minutes (no significant traffic light delays in this direction).  So, my total errand time was 29 minutes.

To compare, I jumped in our mini-van as soon as I got home so I could measure the same errand in the car with the same traffic conditions.  I got to the store in 6.5 minutes, and the return trip took 7.5 minutes.  The total errand time would have been 25 minutes.

Although the car would have saved me 4 minutes, this was really a best-case scenario for the car.  There was very little traffic at this time of day, and there were plenty of parking spots.  Many times I spend several minutes looking for a place to park.

To be fair, there are many errands in the 5 or 10 mile range where the car is much more efficient time-wise, especially if the route uses a freeway outside of rush hour.  If you’re thinking about buying a cargo bike, you will have to determine whether the kinds of errands you do make this feasible for you.

The terrain is also a factor.  Google estimates that my return trip from the grocery store should have taken more than twice the time it did.  Without the electric motor, the time and effort would force me back into the mini-van on many days.  I really can’t imagine using this bike without some kind of assistance on these hills.

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