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Knox: The cargo e-trike

We added an electric-assist cargo tricycle to the City's central fleet. Can we now encourage employees to use a zero-emission vehicle for work trips?

The experiment

We used a grant to buy a three-wheeled, front-loaded, cargo tricycle with electric assistance. We wanted to help City employees lead by example while conducting City business. We hypothesized that for short-distance trips, the trike would be a reasonable replacement for a car or truck. That's assuming that an employee needed to carry something for their work trip, making walking or taking the MBTA less feasible.

The name for the City's employee vehicle check-out system is FleetHub. We analyzed FleetHub data for trips made between September 2018 and September 2019.

  • Number of trips: ~6500
  • Median distance (round-trip): ~9 miles
  • Number of trips at or less than the median distance: ~2500

Working with Public Works, we offered to host the prototype for two years to "kick the tires" on the trike. We are currently exploring logistics around:

  • storage and maintenance
  • data management
  • employee training
  • resident perceptions and feedback, and
  • vehicle checkout and return.

We took inspiration from other cities and organizations who were testing whether cargo bikes and trikes made sense. In particular, we looked at:

  1. Madison, WI: partnered with a local manufacturer to add a cargo bike to their fleet
  2. Denton, TX: bought a trike to replace employee car trips for hauling things around town
  3. Hoboken and Jersey City, NJ (along with an Arboretum in Arkansas): bought cargo trikes for landscaping work, including hauling mulch and compost.

Closer to home, we see examples of cargo bikes at:

  • the Arnold Arboretum
  • the BiblioCycle at the Boston Public Library, and
  • the BPM Blueberry, the market’s produce cargo trike.

We initiated the purchase of the trike in March 2020, before Boston declared a public health emergency due to COVID-19. With the pandemic, our launch timeline was delayed. The community meetings that we also imagined employees would need the trike for moved to virtual sessions. We are being responsive to the moment and finding new, safe uses for the trike until public meetings return.

Why we did this

The Environment Department released the City's Climate Action Plan update in October 2019. We wanted to explore a prototype that aligned with that commitment.

One thing the plan calls for is reducing municipal carbon emissions. The City's "Central Fleet" of vehicles accounts for roughly 25 percent of our local government emissions. So we wondered a few things:

  1. If we added a cargo electric-assist trike to the fleet, would employees want to use it instead of a car or truck?
  2. How would residents perceive the City’s use of the cargo e-trike to reduce our emissions?

The trike also supports Go Boston 2030, the City of Boston’s long-range, equitable transportation plan. Go Boston aims to encourage mode shift away from single-occupancy vehicle trips toward low-emission modes of travel. These included walking, biking, and public transit.

We hope to learn what benefits this zero-emission vehicle can bring through testing. For example, savings could be gained if the we decide to add a number of electric-assist cargo bicycles or tricycles to the Central Fleet?

Cargo trike at Irving Street in Boston's West End, home of Kittie Knox in the 1880s
The cargo e-trike parked on Irving Street in the West End. This is down the street from the 1880s home of Kittie Knox, after whom the trike is named.

Watch: Virtual naming ceremony

Honoring Kittie Knox

We wanted the City's first cargo e-trike to be doubly special. So, we decided to name it after a trailblazing Bostonian: Kittie Knox.

On August 20, 2020, in the virtual naming ceremony, the tricycle was named after Katherine “Kittie” Knox. Knox was a biracial West End resident in the 1880s who confronted racial and gender stereotypes in Boston’s bicycling community. Mayor Walsh also proclaimed August 20, 2020, Kittie Knox Day in Boston.

We also partnered with Women's Advancement and the Environment Department. We incorporated the virtual naming ceremony into Women's Advancement's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of suffrage.

What we hope to learn

What we hope to learn
Reduction in employee car trips

We hope to convert 5 percent of Fleethub trips to the cargo trike, for a total of at least 125 trips taken with Knox in one year. With the convenience and fun of using the cargo trike, we may see even more trips taken. We hope toshow the potential for adding more cargo bikes and trikes to the City's central fleet.

Stay tuned for updates on Knox's trip data!

Employee productivity and satisfaction

We hope that by avoiding Boston's notorious vehicle traffic, employees will:

  • be more productive in their tasks, and
  • also feel increased satisfaction in their work.

Research shows that cycling has the highest "commute well-being score" and brings physical health benefits. Stay tuned for qualitative results as the prototype unfolds.

Improved community perceptions

We know many of our plans and goals ask a lot of our business community and residents. We hope that through leading by example, we can show our many constituencies that we, too, are doing the work necessary to make Boston carbon-neutral by 2050.

Furthermore, we think the trike is quite attention-getting. We hope it will start informal conversations with residents as they see City staff using the trike. If you see the trike, let us know on social media using the hashtag #SpotKnox. And ask the employee who is riding it what their experience is!