Local

DoorDash? No, it’s the City of Boston: A new e-bike pilot will seek to provide free delivery for Allston businesses

"Our hope is that this really kickstarts a new era."

Martine Powers / The Boston Globe

If you’re ordering some late night grub from your favorite Allston haunt this summer, your delivery may not come from GrubHub or DoorDash.

Your burger, pizza, burrito, dumplings, ice cream — or perhaps even your groceries — may be coming courtesy of the City of Boston — and it may arrive via e-bike, too.

That’s the vision of a new pilot program in the works at City Hall, at least — an initiative the city’s Transportation Department hopes could help lower the number of double-parked delivery vehicles that incessantly clog up Allston Village.

Demand for delivery services has only boomed in the the stay-at-home era ushered in by COVID-19.

Advertisement:

“Our streets are not really set up to accommodate the frequency and amount of delivery vehicles that we see trying to stop at the curb, sometimes doubled-parked, stopped in bus lanes, bike lanes,” Harper Mills, the “Boston Delivers” pilot’s program manager, told Boston.com. “We need a better way to accommodate this demand.”

The problem also poses an environmental concern: Idling vehicles spew out carbon emissions in a neighborhood already facing disproportionate environmental impacts.

Acknowledging Allston has a “significant number of Environmental Justice populations,” Gov. Charlie Baker announced this week funding from Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy Resources will provide the city with a $492,286 grant to help put the 18-month pilot program into motion — the first of its kind to focus on supporting small businesses.

The Baker administration unveiled the project was selected among several across the state that will focus on “serving a range of Massachusetts residents, including low-income, non-English speaking, and minority communities.”

“Projects receiving funding through the ACT4All Program will put us one step closer to a transportation system that not only combats climate change but does so in a way that works for all residents,” Baker said in a statement on Tuesday.

Advertisement:

With the grant and funding from the city in hand, Mills said her department is now pedaling the pilot with a goal of getting it on the road sometime this summer.

“Our hope is that this really kickstarts a new era,” Mills said.

Under the program, Boston will provide the delivery option at no charge for local businesses, according to Mills.

The city will partner with a third-party delivery service, which will carry out the deliveries on electric cargo bikes.

Mills hopes to see an initial cohort of five to 10 businesses using the service. Officials are already in talks with laundromats, grocery stores, and other retailers, and are also considering ways the program can serve supplier deliveries for businesses, she said.

How large the program’s bike fleet will be is dependent upon the abilities of the city’s yet-to-be-selected independent contractor. The city expects to post a request for proposals as soon as next week, with an operator picked by April and under contract in June.

Mills sees the effort as removing a barrier for businesses that otherwise are unable to provide delivery due to cost or operational challenges, while also encouraging residents to buy locally.

In addition to the environmental benefits of electric energy, the bikes are also a reflection of the fact that Boston is a “fairly small” city — one where deliveries don’t necessarily require the use of larger vehicles, Mills said.

Advertisement:

“This is a way to kind of right-size our delivery vehicles,” she said.

City Councilor Liz Breadon, who represents Allston-Brighton, said she pictures the program as an opportunity for local businesses “to really develop the habit — a consumer base — to source their goods locally.”

“I think it’s very interesting,” Breadon said in an interview. “It’s almost a ‘back-to-the-future’ sort-of concept because we had bicycle deliveries in days gone by, when we had a much more robust retail sector. … You could buy everything locally.

“So I’m hoping that this will actually be very helpful for local small businesses,” she added.

Allston was selected as the, at least initial, site for the initiative based on community interest from local organizations, Mills said.

But the city, which began developing the program a year ago, is also building out the program alongside the Metropolitan Area Planning Council with the aim to create a model that can be used in other communities around the commonwealth, Mills said.

“Hopefully, it’s the start of a program … that continues for a long time,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how grant funding was provided. Funding was provided by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy Resources.

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com