#WORLD CAR FREE DAY
Jos Sluijsmans is the Director of International Cargo Bike Festival (ICBF), co-founder of Dutch Bicycle Center, and member of the Dutch Cycling Embassy and European Cycle Logistics Federation. After working as an interpreter and translator in Spanish for ten years and practicing law for eight years during the early stages of his career, Jos Sluijsmans ventured into cycling business and launched Fietsdiensten.nl in 2004. He started as a bike messenger and delivered organic and local food to restaurants by cargo bike. Jos also gave cycling lessons to people with physical and mental challenges.
Now, his main activity is organizing cycling events, conferences, debates on cycling innovations, cargo bikes and sustainable mobility. In 2016, Tom Parr and Jos Sluijsmans came together and initiated the RIPPL Project – ‘Register of Initiatives in Pedal Power Logistics’. With many successful milestones under his name, Jos has now become a familiar personality in the international cycling circle. On the occasion of Word Car Free Day Jos Sluijsmans joins us to share his rich experience and views on cargo bikes.
From a lawyer into cycling business, how did this journey happened?
When I started as a lawyer in Arnhem I bought a Quest velomobile, a comfortable recumbent trike, to do the daily commute form Nijmegen where I lived to Arnhem. It was a 24 km ride one way. I asked my new employer to built a shower and he did. I really enjoyed the commute and soon several colleagues started to use their bike. The countryside between Arnhem and Nijmegen was developing with new housing projects. Seeing the infrastructure shift, I often asked myself How traffic would grow if all these people would use cars to go to work?’ as traffic jams had started to be more common. On some days I was faster on my velomobile than some colleagues who drove from Arnhem to Nijmegen. I also started thinking about how to create a fast cycling route between the two cities and had some meetings with authorities about the subject. However, they thought the ridership would be low on this route.
I worked as a refugee lawyer and when there was a drop of refugees entering the Netherlands in the early years of the twenty first century, I decided to start something different for myself. Because I enjoyed cycling so much, and many people were complaining about traffic jams, I decided to figure out something fruitful to make more people enthusiastic about cycling. I started a bike messenger business between Arnhem and Nijmegen. Several cities had bike messengers, but there was none who provided intercity services. It turned out that nobody was waiting for that either, but it was a good experience anyway. In the meantime I also started delivering fresh and organic food to restaurants in Nijmegen. I used cargo bikes while the existing bike messengers where riding fixies and carrying bags on their shoulders. Later, I resumed with the intercity bike messengers activity and carried on for three and a half years.
In cooperation with the municipality of Nijmegen I also started organizing cycling events showing innovative bicycle designs. We are talking about 2005 to 2010. In 2012, I organised the first cargo bike event at De Vasim in Nijmegen. From 2012 to 2017 the ICBF took place in Nijmegen, in 2018 in Berlin and in 2019 in Groningen.
What were the major breakthroughs achieved at the International Cargo Bike Festival (ICBF) 2019?
There where many things at the ICBF this year that were breakthroughs. We had representations from more countries than ever. Participants came from all over Europe, including Finland, Portugal and Latvia and also from Corea, China, Taiwan, India, Colombia, Ecuador, Australia, Canada and the USA. We were very pleased with the large Colombian delegation of eleven people and a large delegation from the German city of Bremen. The fest had representations from multinational players like DHL, Amazon, Shimano, Magura, Gazelle, etc. The event received great response and was successful on the back of a well planned social media campaign managed by Tom Parr and by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett of Modacity. The SUMP Conference that was being held in Groningen right after the ICBF also complimented our event.
When I discovered that there would be many new attendees I decided to arrange a match making app so it would be easier for people to know who was around and who they could meet. This idea became a huge success. More than two hundred matches and meetings were set up during the ICBF 2019.
This was the first time that we had the ‘Cargo Bike Of the Year Award’ organised by a German transport magazine Logistra. Also the German Zweirad Industie Verband (ZIV, Two wheel Industry Association) had their general meeting at the ICBF in Groningen.
This year we saw a lot of new innovations like Velove Armadillo with fuel cell batteries, Blubrake ABS brakes for cargo bikes, GoCab and Chat by VanRaam, launch of new models from Urban Arrow, Centaur Cargo and others, electric parking brake by Paztir, cargo bike sharing by Cargoroo, XXL cargo bike by CycleSpark and many more exciting innovations.
The city of Groningen committed itself to have 100% zero emission city logistics by 2025 and they encourage businesses to innovate and cooperate to achieve this goal. PostNL, DHL, Goederen Hubs, Dropper and Cycloon bike messengers opened hubs for consolidated deliveries. To sum-up, participants have come up with creative technologies and practical solutions in the world of cycle logistics setting a high benchmark at ICBF.
The mayor of Groningen city has set a goal to have 100% of cities logistics on cargo bikes (zero emission!) by 2025. How will you meet this ambitious target?
This is an ambitious target indeed. It will not be achieved by only using cargo bikes, although they have a huge potential. Also electric and fuel cell (hydro oxygen) trucks and vans will do their part. Groningen, like many other Dutch cities, will also implement Environmental Zones where fossil fuel vehicles will be banned. In the 5-6 year to come we will have to put a lot of energy and effort in reaching the goal of zero emission city logistics.
Global community of urban planners and cyclists have high hopes in seeking expertise from Dutch Cycling Embassy. What are the key interventions you are able to offer?
The Dutch Cycling Embassy (DCE) has a lot of skilled members and a lot of knowledge, experience and expertise about cycling in all its aspects. I can best cite from the website: The members of the Dutch Cycling Embassy want to share our expertise and technology as the world’s number one cycling country to facilitate cycling worldwide as the most modern, efficient and sustainable method of transport. The growing interest in Dutch practices in urban transport is mainly due to a transition of the transport sector towards sustainability and the rediscovery of the bicycle as a means of transport.
Cycling not only contributes significantly to urban mobility, road safety and emission reductions, but also leaves a positive impact on the economy, social inclusion and health. The best way to experience the Dutch cycling culture is to come to the Netherlands and cycle. For this purpose, the DCE offers tailored cycling tours. Depending on interests and time constraints, DCE can plan a short city tour or an expanded trip through rural areas. When you are convinced of the Dutch principles of cycling inclusive mobility and you would like to improve cycling in your local community, the Dutch Cycling Embassy can help you realize achievable solutions customized for your specific community needs through a ThinkBike workshop, by delivering keynote speakers, by the cycling fellow program, presenting masterclasses and round table sessions. You will find all information on the DCE website: www.dutchcycling.nl
How do you see India as a market for cargo bikes?
I believe India has a huge potential for cargo bikes. Its dense and crowded cities ask for efficient, clean and fast delivery services and cargo bikes are a reliable solution. Also, India has a long and great history of using bicycles and cargo bikes. So people actually know that cargo bikes work. They only need to see the real value of cargo bikes as a solution to many problems of the cities of today; congestion, polluted air, noise, lack of space, health, etc. I also think that India has a lot of really skilled craftsman and IT knowledge which is needed to built cargo bikes and to manage logistic processes.
Tell us about your Dutch Bicycle Center initiative?
The Dutch Bicycle Centre is an initiative that I started thinking about many years ago, as there are lots of cycling companies and bicycle related businesses in and around Nijmegen, but they hardly knew each other and did not really work together. In the Dutch Bicycle Centre we want to bring these companies together and create synergy without competition. In cooperation with Joppe van Stiphout of Stipbike and Hans van Vugt of Elan recumbents the Dutch Bicycle Centre was established in the Honigcomplex in Nijmegen. There are 18 businesses united at this location; retailers, designers, manufacturers and consultants. We have a website where all the businesses are presented: www.dutchbicyclecentre.nl
Under your RIPPL BIKE project what are the latest innovations in cargo bikes you believe will change the logistics scenario in the future?
I really think containerisation will be the next big thing in cycle logistics. If you look at what containerisation did in global trade, the same can be achieved in city logistics. We will have to experiment with different ways of organizing logistics and I’m convinced that city containers will proof more efficient in many circumstances. I also think cargo bike sharing and battery sharing systems will change mobility and city logistics in the future.
What challenges you face in convincing Companies/Government authorities when you recommend them the idea of introducing cargo bikes in their supply chain model?
Companies and authorities are quite conservative. Companies and government organisation consist of many layers. Once you have talked to a person and convinced him or her, there is another layer within the organisation that has to be convinced, and it starts all over again. You convince them by setting the example, simply showing that it works and that it is more efficient to use cargo bikes for specific deliveries and services. That is how I started and I believe we are seeing nowadays that it works. It’s getting there, but slowly. Big companies like DHL, UPS, Coolblue and Amazon are using cargo bikes and bike trailers and they are experimenting with many different kinds of light electric vehicles. As authorities are looking for ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution the clean cargo bikes are an alternative.
How are e-cargo bikes comparable in performance, efficiency and utility vis a vis delivery vans/trucks?
I’m not sure you always have to compare cargo bikes with vans and trucks. You have to look at what is the most efficient means of transport in a given situation. It is of no use to try to transport a truck load of building bricks by cargo bike, because that is not more efficient. But at the same time, you should not transport a box of chocolate or a simple meal by truck, because that is not efficient either. Nevertheless, we see a lot of inefficient transportation by nearly empty vans and trucks. And as I said before, I do believe in the potential of containerisation and we have to change the logistics processes in a way that moving goods by containers is more efficient than we move goods now. I do not know yet, how this will be, but I’m convinced that it can be done.
On Occasion of World Car Free Day, what advice you want to give to people for making their cities more sustainable?
To make cities more sustainable we have to shorten the distances to everyday locations. school, work, shops, the hospital, the library, etc. should be on walking or cycling distance. I’m very much inspired by the 8-80 cities project. It teaches that when you design a city in such way that a 8 years old child and a 80+ years old man or woman can go from A to B safely and independently, you create a safe city for almost everybody; I mean safe traffic wise and socially safe. I also like the Triple A principle: Accessibility for all Ages and Abilities. And last but not least I would advise everybody who has the ambition to make his or her city more sustainable to read “Velotopia” by Dr. Steven Fleming and “Building the Cycling City. The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality” by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett.
Cover Photo Credit: Remco Kroeze
Ways to connect with Jos Sluijsmans:
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai