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More than a century ago, the company now known as UPS started as a simple courier service in Seattle. A handful of messengers would deliver packages by bicycle and by foot. Today, the United Parcel Service returns to its roots.

UPS has partnered with the Seattle Department of Transportation and University of Washington to make deliveries using electric-assist cargo bikes in downtown Seattle. During the year-long pilot, UPS will deliver packages in Pike Place Market and the surrounding neighborhood using the bikes. If the pilot is successful, UPS will expand its cargo e-bike delivery service to other parts of Seattle.

UPS worked with Silver Eagle Manufacturing to develop the e-bikes, which carry trailers packed with cargo containers. UPS has tested e-bike delivery in other cities, but the Seattle pilot is the first in which wagons with detachable containers will be used. The cargo bikes can hold up to 400 pounds. Couriers will drive on sidewalks and designated bike lanes to make their deliveries.

The new UPS cargo e-bikes can carry up to 400 pounds. (UPS Photo)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the UPS alliance will “help us better understand how we can ensure the delivery of goods while making space on our streets for transit, bikes, and pedestrians,” in a statement.

The University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab will study the pilot and report back on traffic and emissions reduction.

Freight delivery plays a significant role in the growing congestion of cities, according to a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte. Researchers discovered that between 2005 and 2015, the global number of parcels delivered grew by 128 percent, due, in part, to consumers increasingly buying single items at a time.

That surge is driven by retailers like Amazon and Walmart, which make it easy and cost-free to have cheap items delivered quickly. Delivery trucks are responsible for 7 percent of traffic in American cities, according to the report.

UPS is testing the cargo e-bikes in Seattle with ambitions to expand the program to other cities battling congestion. Scott Phillippi, UPS’s director of maintenance and engineering, said the company plans “to offer these customizable urban delivery solutions to other cities nationwide.”

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