The face of urban logistics is changing, and the parcel delivery sector is looking to cleaner, more efficient ways of getting the job done. But is there a sustainable alternative to the trusty van? Co-founder and MD of bicycle delivery firm Outspoken Delivery, Rob King, says that pedal power is the way to go.

The company runs two sizes of delivery bikes out of consolidation centres, where the cycling couriers take parcels from all manner of customers out onto the city streets. The smaller of the two vehicles can carry around 60kg with about 0.4m³ of space.

The bigger delivery trikes with power assist technology are more practical says King, despite some teething issues with the vehicles themselves. They can carry anything up to around 200kg with 1.7m³ of space.

These are relatively new to the road, having only been legalised in April last year.

“Previous to April,” he explains, “the cargo trikes, the big ones that we operate like a small van, were restricted in terms of putting electric assist on anything that weighed more than 50kg. They’ve now totally removed that restriction. It’s been a big game changer for the UK.”

Outspoken has been lobbying the government for the change in legislation for “years”, as it prevented the UK from keeping up with the rest of the continent.

“The rest of Europe didn’t have that restriction, so they're more developed in this area - we’re playing a bit of catch up there.”

King, who founded the company 10 years ago with his brother Peter, has Outspoken Delivery operations in Cambridge (where the company is based), Norwich and Glasgow. The latter two cities were brought into the fold last year, and King says he wants to expand further when they’ve perfected the operation in the current locations.

“We’re keen to get our systems working as efficiently as we can so we can offer the best rates to the big logistics companies, and make sure that we know we can make that work. So we’re using the three cities - or the last two at least - as testing beds.”

When the time does come to expand, King is confident that the business will be there: “There’s certainly a lot of interest from the cities themselves. We’re being asked all the time, from Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, they’re ringing up all the time asking if we can set something up there.”

Rather than operating as a rival to the DPDs and Yodels of the world, Outspoken actually works with a number of known carriers, including TNT and Hermes, helping with tricky urban last mile deliveries.

He says: “We’re not trying to win their work, we’re just specialist urban logistics, so we have no competition with them at all. And I think our being agnostic really helps them - they’re quite happy to share their items, so we consolidate and make the delivery more efficient.”

Companies like Outspoken Delivery have a big future in the UK, King believes. City centres are becoming increasingly pedestrianised and manoeuvring vehicles through seas of people, not to mention mounting restrictions, are getting harder to cope with.

“People are suddenly going well, actually, we’re sending massive trucks into these centres, and we just don’t need to. It’s very inefficient with the way cities are going with LEZs and access restrictions, which are starting to creep up everywhere, and increased pressure on paring.”

“I think this is about looking into the future at what’s happening to the city centres – they’re becoming much more people-focused, less and less likely that big trucks will be allowed in them, and this operation is just one of the options they’ve got.”

This said, King says the next step for Outspoken will be to look into investing in some electric vans.

“We need to make sure we can take the bigger stuff. So we’re looking at electric vans, but it’s about keeping to our core values: keeping emissions down and doing something in a sustainable way. And I think it ties in really well with what cities want and the way they’re going to be moving.”