From trucks to trikes: Portland Mercury now delivered with pedal power

Michael Hanchin, left, drove a Portland Mercury delivery truck for 5 years before successfully pitching the company on a plan to switch to cargo trikes in the inner west side.
(Photo © M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Michael Hanchin couldn’t take any more hours behind the wheel.

“You would never know where there’s a loading zone,” the veteran Portland Mercury delivery contractor, 42, recalled Wednesday. “I think that’s what did me in.”

Hanchin’s back ached from crawling into the bed of his truck to haul out 18-pound newspaper bundles on hands and knees. His fuel and repair costs were eating up his contract income. Sometimes, when he couldn’t find anywhere to park downtown, he’d sit behind his wheel and glare at other contractors while they ate lunch in their rigs, hogging the available space.

Then, after five years of delivering the Mercury to inner Southwest Portland every Wednesday, Hanchin had a revelation.

He’d recently rigged his truck to remove its canopy, replacing it with a homemade contraption that kept the papers dry. But after seeing SoupCycle and other cargo bike companies around town, he realized he’d been thinking too small.

“The idea is like, don’t take the canopy off,” he said. “Take the TRUCK off.”

A few months later, Hanchin is no longer the Mercury’s downtown delivery-truck driver. He’s one of three downtown delivery-trike drivers. It’s a deal, Hanchin and his colleagues say, that’s speeding deliveries of the free alternative weekly newspaper, improving its marketing to the community and vastly improving the job of a newspaper deliverer.

Mercury General Manager Katie Lake said the cost to the company per copy is “comparable.” Hanchin’s truck, meanwhile, stays parked at his house, and he says the stress of his job has “evaporated.”

“I take the bus to do my paper route,” Hanchin said. “And that’s so awesome.”

Lake said delivering newspapers on a trike makes the Mercury part of its community in ways that truck deliveries can’t.

“Our readers are literally flagging them down asking for a fresh copy,” Lake said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Wednesday was the first day the newly named independent trike delivery operation, Cargo Bike Couriers, delivered all 10,000 Mercuries to the inner westside, from Portland State University up to the Northwest Industrial Area. It was also their first day with the newspaper’s branded decals on the sides of the cargo trikes.

Cargo Bike Couriers is part of Portland Pedalworks, an existing pedal transportation company that now holds the Mercury contract and subcontracts with Hanchin.

“Not to be presumptuous, but UPS started out as a tricycle company.”
— Ryan Hashagen, Cargo Bike Couriers

“We’ve been doing commercial cargo cycling for our entire careers, and this is just formalizing the service,” said Portland Pedalworks owner Ryan Hashagen. The company’s other operations include Icicle Tricycles and Portland Pedicabs.

Cargo Bike Couriers is part of a big new trend toward cargo-bike freight in central Portland. Firms like B-Line and Portland Pedal Power also offer pedal-powered cargo delivery services in the central city, combining them with direct marketing. In a presentation at the Oregon Transportation Summit in September, Portland State University professor Miguel Figliozzi presented new research explaining why B-Line’s cargo trikes are cheaper than larger vehicles for some trips: not so much because they save fuel (though they do) but because trikes’ small size and maneuverability cuts labor costs.

In a separate presentation on “sustainable freight”, Portland freight coordinator Bob Hillier wrote that “The private sector selects the most cost-effective mode of transport based on cost, reliability and customer needs.”

That’s exactly what’s happening here, Hashagen said.

“Not to be presumptuous, but UPS started out as a tricycle company [with] trikes like this in Pioneer Square in Seattle,” Hashagen said. “We’re not stopping with this. We’ve got a lot more future possibilities up our sleeve.”

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