It is only a matter of time before a driver using a phone kills someone in Bath, according to a cycle courier.
Reflecting on the last five years in business as he seeks a replacement to take the handlebars of Three Bags Full, Stephen Paul said there had been few improvements to cycling infrastructure, air quality still has a long way to go, and he has barely seen any university students on bikes.
After a 30-year career in book publishing the 61-year-old wanted to do something completely different so decided to see if e-bikes were the answer to Bath’s transport problems and set up an “only mile” delivery firm.
Five years on he says the technology is more accessible than ever and has made the hilly city’s topography as an argument against cycling “an irrelevance”.
Mr Paul, who is originally from Brighton and came to Bath 18 years ago, said: “I saw what was happening on the continent and thought there was an opportunity to see if it would work in Bath. The goal was to introduce cargo bikes as an air pollution and congestion solution.
“I started as an artisan food delivery service. As that started to take root I moved away from food to an all-round eco delivery service. That played quite nicely into the arrival of the clean air zone, but then the lockdown hit. The last two years have been a bit of a hiatus.”
He added: “Five years ago you saw very few e-bikes in Bath. Today they’re everywhere. The technology has improved. They aren’t cheap. What’s changed is some of the older Bath population with a couple of quid have been buying e-bikes.
“The hills argument is an irrelevance now. There are thousands of schemes to do with buying ebikes. It couldn’t be easier and more affordable.”
Bath and North East Somerset Council is among the organizations offering e-bikes and e-cargo bikes to rent, and has touted the idea of last-mile distribution hubs where lorries can offload onto electric and pedal-powered alternatives to into the deliver city. Such schemes are already well established elsewhere.
“Bath is a bit of an anachronism. In cities across the country there are much bigger cargo bike logistics operations. We’re lagging behind the continent. They’ve been doing this a lot longer than we have.”
The last five years have seen the introduction of Bath’s clean air zone and the launch of the Voi e-scooter trial.
“I haven’t seen any incidents with e-scooters, despite all the moaning. If you ask me, it works,” said Mr Paul. “The negative aspect is all the drivers on their phones. Someone is going to die sooner or later.
“Pavement parking has gone mad in the last two years. It seemed to coincide with lockdown. If they can’t be arsed to find a parking space they just park on the pavement. There doesn’t seem to be any enforcement.
“From a cyclist perspective, there remains the usual hostility from drivers. The more drivers get clogged up in traffic, the more they seem to resent cyclists going past them. We get a different reaction on the branded e-cargo bikes. They’re more visible and could do more damage.
“I don’t think the experience of cycling around Bath has got any better, even though there are more cyclists around.
“Given the number of students in Bath, if I’ve seen two students in five years on bikes I’d be surprised. Bath Uni is at the top of a big hill. They’ve been running an e-bike hire scheme [for staff and postgraduates]. You see the massive queues at bus stops in term time. I’m surprised how few students you see on bikes.
“Before the clean air zone was introduced the smell of diesel was everywhere. Just because you can’t smell it or see the black clouds of smoke doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. There’s still a long way to go. The solution isn’t going to be cleaner diesel, it’s going to be no diesels.”
Looking to the future, he said: “Now is the time for a younger pair of legs to have a go, someone who fancies running their own eco-business. There are numerous directions it could go in and quite a lot of central government funding available to help.
“I have no idea what I’ll do next. Maybe I’ll do something completely different.”
Stephen Sumner, LDRS