Starship Technologies’s delivery robots aren’t the only curiosity on streets of D.C. A fleet of four delivery tricycles, from startup Schlep CitySmart Logics, are testing out bike lanes as the District’s newest creative delivery method.
Maybe think of Schlep as the complete opposite of Starships: they’re low-tech, lack ultrasonic sensors and autonomous driving tech because they’re literal grown-up tricycles. Still, they’re a major upgrade to the “tie-baskets-to-everything” method. With the ability to cart up to 550 lbs and slip through painful downtown traffic, these eccentric and eco-friendly tricycles are riped to take a stake in D.C.’s delivery market—maybe.
Schlep founder Geoff Merrill was tired of noisy delivery trucks blocking crosswalks and sides streets. As a defense contractor and former lobbyist for the Volvo group and Mack Trucks, Merrill is an unlikely advocate for green delivery. He was looking for something invigorating to bring him back to his Peace Corp roots, though, and when he saw these delivery trikes in Europe and noticed them catching on in Portland, he wanted to be the one to bring pedal power to D.C..
The trikes have a cargo box between the back two wheels. The overall design is somewhere between a U-Haul and a baby bike trailer, except the cargo box is sitting on the same frame as the bike, rather than trailing behind. Overall, it measures roughly 8 ft. long and 4 ft. wide and can carry 62 cubic ft. of cargo and up to 550 lbs.
Now, the full 550 lbs might seem difficult to maneuver for such a small frame, but the trikes have an electric assist motor so riders can manage hills even with a heavy load. The motors run on battery, so they’re zero-emission. Eco-friendly? Check.
For now, Schlep will mostly be a delivery service, and Schlep employees will deliver products to their clients. (Merrill is currently doing that for his first client: a farm-to-table produce provider.) He brought the four trikes to the District in February and started delivering in the last few weeks.
But Merrill says he’s also interested in other uses for the trikes, like being a vending provider at street fairs or operating as mobile stores. The interest is there from possible consumers and companies, Merrill said. He’s heard from several people looking to lease the trikes out, but that idea is on hold until he can figure out insurance and liability. With each trike costing Merrill roughly $8,000, after importing and customization, and with a beginning stage, self-funded company, he’s not taking chances.
Merrill has also had to face a few regulation questions with them, such as, how do you classify them with the D.C. government? Under current D.C. rules, the trikes appear to be allowed in bike lanes because they don’t go above 10 mph. However, the trikes are larger and more cumbersome than your average bicycle—in an accident, a quarter-ton trike will do more damage than a single rider. Merrill says he’s been riding it in bike lanes and hasn’t had any problems so far, but it’s unclear how the District will actually react. It may depend on how easy they are to maneuver around pedestrians and other traffic.
“We’re going to be pushing the boundaries somewhat, I guess, when it comes to the D.C. government, but I do believe they will see the benefit that these trikes bring to the District,” Merrill told DC Inno. “They cut down on obstruction of traffic, they cut back on tail-pipe emissions. They don’t make a lot of noise, so I think the social benefits will outweigh any side effects.”
And, he says, people love the trikes. He says when he’s out with one “a lot of people yell out, ‘Hey Schlep-it, Hey Schlep!’” They’re an oddity, he says, people see them and smile.
Images courtesy of Schlep