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Delivering difference: Mailing Services uses e-bikes to move mail at UW

Resource from UW Sustainability Blog

With over 80,000 students, faculty, and staff on campus, it’s difficult to comprehend the sheer number of packages, textbooks, course packets and dorm mail UW Mailing Services delivers on a daily basis. Thankfully, those deliveries are now a lot more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Sporting neon rain jackets and sturdy helmets, you may have seen Mailing Services drivers cruising around campus on electric assist cargo bicycles. Mailing Services used a grant from the Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF) to purchase five of the bikes about a year ago, and now nearly all mail deliveries to 455 departments across UW are made by e-bike instead of trucks.

"It’s much more efficient for campus,” said Steven Roberts, Mailing Services Manager. “It’s also much safer for campus, with less noise pollution.”

The innovative program earned a 2018 Husky Green Award for dedication to sustainability.

UW is the first campus in the country to move to delivering mail via electric bikes. Mailing Services originally planned to roll out e-bike delivery slowly, but the bikes proved so successful they are being used for deliveries across the Seattle campus, as well as some off-campus locations such as Sand Point and even occasional trips to Bellevue.

With so many deliveries being made by e-bike, Mailing Services has already gotten rid of two trucks, and expects to reduce its fleet further soon. On campus, not only are the bikes more environmentally-friendly, they are also easier to maneuver around campus.

"They can take alternative routes, they don’t have to follow the main streets,” UW Mailing Services Program Specialist Kellan Kinney said. “They can utilize the Burke-Gilman and cut through campus.”

In addition, the bikes don’t need to use building loading docks. Since phasing out trucks, deliveries now take 10% less time and 30% fewer miles traveled. And each truck Mailing Services can remove from its fleet saves nearly $10,000 a year in fuel, lease, insurance and maintenance costs.

The use of electric cargo bikes continues a long tradition of Mailing Services’ sustainability efforts. The truck fleet is made of all hybrid-electric or bio-diesel vehicles, and before switching to e-bikes, the department piloted a program with non-electric bikes.

"Reducing our carbon footprint has been huge for me. I just think it’s important for a production operation to move ahead of where people expect us to be,” Roberts said. “It’s something the university can be proud of.”

The CSF was integral to the success of the project. The CSF provides financial support to environmental initiatives around campus, and awarded UW Mailing Services a $88,319 grant in the spring of 2017 to kickstart their e-bike delivery service and test if it was a feasible plan.

"The CSF is all about making our campus more sustainable, and that’s what we’re trying to do, so the fit seemed natural,” Kinney said.

Roberts said he has heard from other schools around the country that are interested in following UW’s lead and moving to electric bike delivery. He said the cost savings, efficiency and flexibility mean the bikes should be an attractive option for most schools.

However, Roberts said the main reason the program has been such a success at UW is the enthusiasm of the delivery drivers. The bike program started as an idea generated by Mailing Services employees, and the drivers using the e-bikes are avid cyclists, who generally pedal for their commutes as well.

The drivers are also happy to serve as ambassadors for the program, asking questions from people who are curious about the bikes, or other questions. Being on bike rather than in trucks means more personal interactions on campus - so many people were stopping the drivers to ask for directions they printed up large-size campus maps to put on top of each bike’s cargo area.

"We’re just excited that it’s going much better than any of us anticipated,” Roberts said. “It’s so smooth and every week I see happy, smiling faces involved in this bicycle program."


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