This week on Mobility Moments, we sit down with Pedal Me CEO, Ben Knowles, a starter and leader of disruptive projects, an entrepreneur and, above all, a believer in the power of working cooperatively, deep insight, and leadership.
So Ben, what’s Pedal Me’s backstory?
We started from a community cycling project based in Camden – we taught people to ride bikes in council estates and areas of high deprivation. To do this we needed to transport bikes with us, and vans weren’t cutting it….so we got cargo bikes and trailers, which gave us the idea for the business.
Urban Arrow built us a bike that could carry two people on the front for us to try out, and then we made a start in May 2017 with two of us riding.
Today we have 50 employees.
Why choose to use eCargo bikes?
They’re just a lot more efficient, if you can use them correctly. We can cover ground faster in congested city centres – our data shows that our average travel speeds in central London are more than 20% faster than motor vehicle average travel speeds – our journey distances are also shorter (c. 6% shorter on average according to our modelling) because we can use cut-throughs and cycle tracks that motors can’t access.
We’re also quicker at pickup and drop – our bikes can get closer to – and sometimes into – buildings that we’re picking up and dropping from, reducing loading times.
Then – there’s the social and environmental angle – one of our bikes can cover c. 300,000km on the CO2 needed to make a single electric motor vehicle – before it’s even left the garage; our vehicles are far lighter than motors and therefore a lot less dangerous to city citizens; and the reduced weight means that we produce <5% the particulate emissions of an electric van (the effect compared to conventional motors is even more pronounced).
What does it take to become a Pedal Me rider?
It’s helpful to be pretty good at riding a bike in the first place, but the main things we’re looking for are: coachability, resilience, great communication skills, organisation and motivation – understanding of the need for urgency.
Lots of people under-rate the skill needed for doing the job that we do – we get some 40 applications a week to work for us, of whom 2 of those will make it through to meet us and start training, 1 will make it through initial training, and then 0.5 will go on to become full Pedal Me riders with passenger qualification.
Describe your partnership with Lime in London
Lime have dockless e-bikes that people can use to buzz around the city. Their bikes are great – thoroughly recommend making use of them if you’re in London!
We replace batteries when they become flat, keeping them bikes rolling! We also do some bike recoveries when they’re broken, and basic fixes at the side of the road.
We’re helping them scale up – they’ve nearly doubled the number of bikes on the street since the summer, which is incredible.
How did Pedal Me help out during lockdown?
Lockdown had a huge impact on our traditional business segments – which were mainly business to business deliveries of people for meetings, large hot food orders, reprographics, coffee, bread, cakes, cheeses, veg etc for cafes and restaurants.
We repurposed our tech to make it better for home deliveries and away we went!
We set up a supermarket to connect those companies that were doing deliveries to restaurants with a new market and delivered to people’s homes. We reached out to everyone that we could think of for new work, and won a tender to deliver food for shielding and sick people across Lambeth which ended up being a little bit larger than anyone had planned for – at the peak of the outbreak we were delivering over 400, 15kg aid packages a day. 6 tons of aid across a large area.
We’d been briefed to expect about half of this – so there were a lot of long days and some seriously hard work going in to make it all work. Luckily we have an incredibly motivated workforce of smart human beings that managed to bring this all together
How Covid-safe are your services?
Passengers on our service are carried outside in the sunshine – so very low chance of infection transfer!
Our riders are all hygiene trained and carry sanitiser – again, because cargos are carried outside this reduces the already low chance of passing on infection.
Super covid safe!
What’s next for Pedal Me?
We’re looking to a rapid expansion into warehousing and 3rd party logistics, to supplement our other activities. We’re moving into a 6,500sq ft zone 1 space in the next few weeks which I’m really excited about. It’s going to be a huge step in the right direction for us and provide office space, warehousing and bring our mechanics inside (they’re currently working outside which I’m really unhappy about).
There’ll also be plentiful power supply for charging batteries for Lime and other similar shared mobility services, and our warehousing space will allow us to load direct onto bikes from racking, making loading times super-fast.
We’ll be looking after people’s stock – providing a full service where we receive orders for fulfillment, optimise and sort them and then send them out by cargo bike or cargo bike and trailer. Because this work tends to be more time flexible it’ll help us give our riders the hours that they want a bit more than we’re able to at the minute.
We’re also taking huge steps forward in terms of our tech – with new features popping up on weekly basis. Hard to describe everything that’s going on here, but huge changes going on to make our systems more efficient and make it easier for people to book.
What will urban mobility look like by 2030?
It will look completely different – look around you at any big city and see the rate of change that’s happening right now. Motors will play a much smaller part in how we get around and how our goods are delivered in cities – cargo bikes will dominate urban deliveries; some with even bigger carrying capacities than we have on our bikes and trailers. Most streets will be closed to motors during the day, with the largest deliveries coming in overnight. Many of these larger deliveries will be to consolidation centres dotted around the city, for last mile delivery by cargo bike.
This is the world we’re planning for and looking to empower.