Barcelona start-up delivers zero-emission on two wheels

BARCELONA -- Start-up 'Gogentle' vies to cut pollution and costs on center-city deliveries, using electric-powered 'cargo-cycles.'
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor

BARCELONA--In an effort to blend cost-saving with earth-saving, brand-new start-up Gogentle uses electric bikes to make the final delivery in cities.

This company is the first of its kind in Barcelona. Using their zero-emission, totally electric "cargo-cycles," Gogentle will make the last mile of deliveries of loads up to 180 kilograms (about 400 pounds.) The partners claim that it gives their clients a quirky, recognizable, and eco-friendly corporate image, while cutting delivery costs about 25-percent.

Gogentle--yes, that's pronounced "Go Gentle"--is a way to contribute more peacefully to a hectic city environment.

The "philosophy of our company is to go further in the ecological solution. You can do the same with (electric)trucks or vans, but when you have a big truck in a city, it can be annoying for people," says co-founder Gonzalo Forniés Cerrada. "When you have a cargo-cycle, it's gentle. It's emission-free and it doesn't make noise."

Forniés and his co-founder Jose Servat, both 25 years old, were auditors for KPMG, when they decided to break out and start their own business.

"We wanted to do an e-Commerce store, and then we saw that delivery (in cities)was not really something that was properly solved because you have to have a warehouse outside the city, and then you have to use vans to get the product to people's houses" Forniés says. "The problem is that this is expensive and when you want to develop a long-term business, you cannot rely on fuel." In that moment, they decided to completely shift the direction of their business model toward the delivery industry. "Everyone's trying to sell on the Internet, but they aren't trying to solve the problem of delivery in a city." They reasoned that there was an unmet market demand in Barcelona for sustainable delivery.

Less than three months since beginning, their customer target is large delivery companies. "The players who have the most volume are shipping companies. Our goal is to help them develop a sustainable shipping system." The concept is that these already in-place delivery companies drop the goods off at an "urban warehouse." Then Gogentle uses their cargo-cycles to go that last mile, which is typically the most fuel-, money-, and carbon dioxide-costly.

"For delivery companies, a truck in the middle of the city, making traffic impossible, is no longer (positive) publicity," Forniés says.

The cargo-cycles themselves are vivid advertising. "The bicycle is very easy to drive and people have not seen it before, so you get a lot of attention," Forniés says. The sides of the storage pods can be used as marketing for the customers already using their delivery service, or another sponsor can rent the space. Forniés says that this advertising leads to "over one million impacts per bicycle per month. Right now, it's going to be very very good quality impacts (because it) associates brand image with sustainability," as well as being a novelty to Barcelona residents.

Currently, it is a two-bicycle force, with four more to be added soon.

Forniés and Servat want to change the whole shipping and delivery system of Barcelona. In the bicycle world, Spain's second largest city is already well on its way.

Barcelona has mimicked Paris and Lyon's example and is now built for bikes. Major roads are edged with bike lanes wedged between curbs and traffic. In 2007, a year before the housing crash, Spain's wealthiest province implemented Barcelona's "Bicing" bike-sharing program. The goal was to to reduce air and noise pollution, as well as to decrease traffic and increase parking, by encouraging cycling instead of driving for short- and medium-distance trips. Now, Barcelona has more than 6,000 bikes parked at and ridden from 400 stations, with a distance of 300 to 400 meters between each spot. Like many European systems, you can take out and return bikes to any location. Since there are heavily bike-trafficked areas, particularly during commuter times, the city has staffed vans to recirculate the bikes to free up more bike-parking spaces, though, the system is not perfect and the source of many impatient commuters' complaints.

The Bicing system enforces "sharing is caring" by charging 50-cents for every half hour or two euros for two hours. Now, once you go over that allotted time, the price hikes to three euros an hour. If you do this too often, you can risk losing your Bicing membership. The city has reported that each of its 400 bikes is used about ten to 15 times a day, with more than 95-percent of the trips lasting less than half an hour.

The membership costs 35 euros a year, which according to the Bicing wiki, makes it by far Barcelona's cheapest public transportation available. Bicing is not funded directly by tax payers, but is taken out of the meter and parking fines in the more congested downtown area.

Other cities in Spain--notably Zaragoza and Cordoba--have followed in bigger European cities like Barcelona, Paris, Copenhagen and essentially all of the Netherlands' shoes in rebuilding bicycle-friendly cities. So far, Madrid is not one of them. Madrid has twice earmarked budget lines for bicycle-sharing, but have twice ended up cutting the program.

Since Madrid has streets like Calle Fuencarral which have recently gone completely commerce-only, with no-thoroughfare, and other popular zones like La Latina that are impossible to park in, it is very challenging for people to make deliveries. Especially in the mornings, before most stores and bars open at 10 a.m., you can see deliverers pushing hand-trucks entire street lengths, over broken cobblestone to deliver cases of beer and boxes of goods. You also see delivery vans competing for space on pedestrian walkways or in the middle of traffic, competing for limited space to offload their goods.

Since Madrid has shocking air contamination levels that show no sign of ebbing, anything that rids the CO2 contribution of cars idling in traffic and outside stores is an important help. Of course, Madrid would be more challenging to implement this infrastructure, since Barcelona is modernly gridded, as Madrid is organized circuitously around the 0.0 kilometer marker in Puerta del Sol. The fight for more bikes continues in Madrid, as well as many cities worldwide.

Video/Photo: GoGentle. The video is only available in Spanish. Bicing Photo: Wikipedia.org

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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