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UPS tests electric cargo bicycles in congested cities

The sleek four-wheeled carts look familiar enough, but not even UPS knows precisely how to describe what could be the delivery giant's latest way to get packages to your door.

UPS unveiled Tuesday a battery-powered, four-wheeled cycle to more efficiently haul cargo in some of the world's most congested streets and to reduce its carbon footprint. The company is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050.

The slimmed-down vehicles feature the company's signature gold and brown logo and resemble delivery trucks. But the "eQuad" — as the company calls it — garnered amusement from passersby.

Ian Lagowitz had never seen one and walked over to give it a look.

"It's funny looking," he said, "but it's probably good for the city, right?"

Mohammad Islam called the vehicle "cool stuff," and wished the program well.

"Big trucks always blocking the traffic," he said, "so if they do that kind of stuff, it's 10 times better for everybody."

The pedal-powered vehicle was dwarfed by one of the company's more traditional delivery trucks, which rumble through traffic and sometimes draw the ire of motorists trying to get by parked trucks on narrow streets.

Delivery companies have tried all sorts of ways to deliver packages — from traditional vans to drones. The company now has a fleet of more than 1,000 electric vehicles and thousands more that aren't powered by traditional gas engines.

Testing grounds in NYC

UPS said a trial run is focused on New York City and in several cities in Europe.

"New York is a complicated city, when we look at the density," said Nicole Pilet, the industrial engineering director for UPS. "So if we can have success here in the city, then we can see how we implement in other cities throughout the U.S."

The company had its start in Seattle more than a century ago and the first deliveries were made by foot or bicycle. As the company grew, its motorized fleet did, too.

"This is right in my wheelhouse," said Dyghton Anderson, a 22-year-old UPS delivery person and an avid cyclist who is helping pilot the program. "I ride to and from work — from all the way from the Bronx all the way to here on 43rd — so it's pretty comfortable for me."

In announcing the pilot program on Twitter, UPS said it had come full circle after starting as a bike messenger service more than 100 years ago. 

UPS is partnering with Fernhay Partners, a van free logistics company that bring sustainable last-mile transportation solutions, such as the vehicles UPS is testing, to cities around the world. 

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