In for the long haul

July 7, 2016

Kimberly Kinchen, business network writer

A Green Gears cargo bike in action in 2015. (Image: Paul Kletter)

Paul Kletter and Mary Beth Karabinos are passionate about making their hometown of Pittsburgh a better place, and they’re using cargo bikes to do it. The former marketing and promotions professionals head Green Gears, which began as a pedicab service before transitioning to hauling cargo. Cargo bikes can easily skirt Pittsburgh traffic congestion, and unlike traditional vans, face far fewer restrictions on where and when they can park. This translates to faster delivery and greater flexibility. Bikes can also compete with larger vehicles because the reduced delivery time saves clients money. As a low- to no-carbon option that also reduces traffic, cargo bikes are good for the health of the city.

Today, Green Gears works with the client to develop a delivery plan, then runs a pilot in the field to refine scheduling and routing. Clients then take on day-to-day delivery, leasing the bikes, which are branded with their own logos, from Green Gears. The time it takes to cultivate and fine-tune the service is a worthwhile investment to the Kletter and Karabinos, who say they want to attract clients for whom cargo bike delivery is the best solution.

One slightly unexpected use for their bikes is hauling trash. If you’ve recently attended a large music, sports, or cultural festival in the Pittsburgh area, there’s a good chance that Green Gears cleaned up after you. Take Pittsburgh’s EQT Three Rivers Regatta, which attracts around 600,000 attendees each year. The firm hauled almost three tons of recycling and eight tons of garbage on its high-capacity tricycles. Like other cargo bike delivery services, Kletter and Karabinos know how to maximize their assets: their trikes also carry festival sponsor ads or messages from brands looking to get attention from the novel and noticeable placement on the bikes. While his company is not likely to take over municipal garbage pick up anytime soon, Kletter reports that the fast-growing service now makes up about 30 percent of their business. “We haven’t tried to market grounds keeping at all, it’s all been through word of mouth,” he says.

Bufvelo co-founder Andy Rosevear with one bike from their cargo fleet. (Image: Dmitry Gudkov Photography)

Farther north, Andy and Nat Rosevear moved to Buffalo less than a year ago before putting their Boston bike delivery experience into practice to launch that city’s first cargo courier business, Bufvelo. “Buffalo is a great city for this kind of work because it’s almost totally flat and, despite what some locals say, the weather actually isn’t that bad,” Andy says. While Buffalo doesn’t experience the headache-inducing traffic congestion that afflicts other cities, she notes that their business still offers clients the benefits of lower costs associated with parking, maintenance, insurance, and freeing up valuable employee time for more specialized work, plus other intangibles, especially for small local businesses. “Loading up at a bakery or small factory and making drops to markets or stores that sell their products can help businesses reach customers in a cost-effective way while being visible and approachable in the community.”

From Pittsburgh to Buffalo and beyond, the future of cargo bike delivery looks bright—and all kinds of green.

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