President of Wolfson College, Sir Tim Hitchens, and Oxford city councillor Katherine Miles explain how the college is now using cargo bikes for deliveries.

Wolfson College has launched a trial to switch its parcel deliveries from vans to electric bikes, partnering with local cargo bike delivery firm Pedal & Post.

Bike deliveries will address the challenge posed by the estimated half a million packages a year received by just twenty Oxford Colleges alone.

In a joint effort between councillors, college and couriers, Wolfson College is taking a first pioneering step to address transportation-related emissions and the harmful impacts of its deliveries to students and staff.

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Cargo bike delivery firms use electric tricycles with large boxes on the front or back to deliver goods. Bike deliveries are better for the city’s air quality and the wider environment than non-electric vehicles. The bikes are smaller than vans, so move nimbly, rapidly and predictably through Oxford’s congested streets as well as simultaneously reducing congestion, which is why they are increasingly being used for medical deliveries at the city’s hospitals. Bike deliveries are also a safer alternative to vans, making our city a more attractive and pedestrian-friendly place.

Wolfson College prides itself on being progressive and this trial is no exception.

Throughout the trial, normal van couriers will deliver parcels to a cargo bike delivery hub outside the city centre throughout the day, and those packages will be put aside into a reserved box. In the evening, a cargo bike will take the box to Wolfson College in just one delivery. This will reduce emissions and road danger, while improving inner-city air quality.

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Wolfson’s President Sir Tim Hitchens said: “Like many Oxford colleges with large student communities, we currently have something like 75 van deliveries per week during term time. This trial will aim over time to reduce that to just one delivery by bike per day. Not only is that a huge help to our college Lodge team who handle all those deliveries, but it’s a significant reduction in the congestion and pollution that all those vans cause in the immediate neighbourhood and around the city.”

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Having switched over from gas to electricity on its main estate in July 2022, the college is no stranger to innovation. In its drive towards reaching net zero by 2024, Wolfson decarbonised its main estate by triple glazing windows and replacing all the old gas boilers with electric air source heat pumps. It will have done the same for its entire estate in north Oxford by next year. Like others, the college is also fully divested from companies which derive revenue from fossil fuels. This cargo bike trial tackles some of their remaining emissions associated with transport, the UK’s largest emitting sector at 27%.

Oxford city councillor Katherine Miles said: “After Wolfson’s extensive consultation with students and staff on site, the idea has received broad support - everyone wants safer, cleaner deliveries and people agree that most of their packages don’t require instant delivery. There are details to iron out and test during the pilot, but we’re optimistic that it will be a success.”

To make a big difference to road safety and emissions across Oxford, we will need to scale it. Other colleges and university departments are already interested, and so the Wolfson pilot will provide valuable insights to scale the initiative.

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Cargo bike deliveries are an exciting new market with two firms operating in Oxford (Pedal & Post and Velocity). They’re expanding and paying riders above the Oxford Living Wage. Switching to this type of delivery can contribute to a city that is less congested, safer, greener, and more pleasant to walk in.

We can make this happen as a city by working together: town, gown, and local business.

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

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