Could cargo bikes replace delivery vans?

The city has a big, four-wheeled problem. Every weekday more than 10,300 delivery vehicles make their way into central Melbourne.

As featured in The Age written by Aisha Dow

While they carry all the essential items needed to keep the city buzzing, they also gobble up valuable road space - circling around the same streets looking for a park and stuffing their large behinds in Melbourne's otherwise postcard ready laneways.

Delivery vehicles make up almost 20 per cent of cars and trucks venturing into the central city. "It's just huge congestion," Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle said.

The issue of freight in the city is one that urgently needs much smarter solutions, as growing numbers of people demand more room to move and major new transport disruptions, such as the Melbourne Metro Rail Project, loom on the horizon.

So what are the answers?

The lord mayor said the council would increasingly discourage large vehicles from entering the city, "especially when they are unplanned and all over the place".

This could involve larger distribution centres on the outskirts of the city, where the freight is broken up and then taken to its destination using smaller vehicles such as "cargo bikes".

The motorised or pedal-driven vehicles are already being used by some food delivery companies and there is a small but burgeoning industry in bicycle cargo delivery, where parcels and products make the final leg of their journey on two wheels.

Cargone Couriers, a bicycling courier service Butterbing Cookie Sandwiches

Blane Muntz owns Cargone Couriers, a bicycling courier service that operates four cargo bikes from near the Queen Victoria Market. Its regular customers include Butterbing Cookie Sandwiches – for whom they make 10 to 30 deliveries three days a week, to cafes across the city.

Mr Muntz said the uptake of cargo bikes had been slow. "Unfortunately Australia's transport industry is 10 years behind what's happening in European countries," he said. "That said I'm confident (cargo bikes) will happen because the congestion is only getting worse."

Another tactic currently being investigated by the City of Melbourne, Victorian government and VicRoads is scheduling "out of hours" deliveries – for example, organising deliveries at midnight or 2am, instead of during the morning commuter rush.

However this initiative has not necessarily worked in other places, due to the extra cost of having staff on premises to greet the deliveries.

Cr Doyle envisaged that in the future, underground car parks could be repurposed into central distribution centres.

"A large vehicle may arrive in a non-residential area late at night or in the very early morning. And then the load is broken down in the early hours of the morning and delivered before trade starts," he said.

"The disruption to the city is absolutely minimal. The roads are empty, the footpaths are empty and that's when deliveries are made."

Meanwhile, council's transport chair Cathy Oke said drones and robots had also come up in discussions about future freight solutions in Melbourne, as had public transport.

"Swanston Street is one of the biggest [tram] interchanges of the world and why wouldn't you consider maybe having freight on the back of the tram. Some of the tram routes are quite long," she said.