Urban haulers hit the road pedalling

Kevin Sooley, Abram Bergen and Reuben Vanderkwaak of The Hammer Active Alternative Transportation, a bicycle delivery service.

Kevin Sooley, Abram Bergen and Reuben Vanderkwaak of The Hammer Active Alternative Transportation, a bicycle delivery service.

Meredith MacLeod

The Hamilton Spectator

Abram Bergen has gone from delivering on 18 wheels to just two or three.

When he was downsized out of a job with a trucking company at the beginning of 2011, he plunged headfirst into launching a bicycle delivery business called The Hammer Active Alternative Transportation Co-op.

The bike haulers carry everything from coffee and bread to newspapers and appliances.

Bergen says using trucks in cities is inefficient and dangerous, damages city roads and the environment and is stressful for drivers trying to negotiate narrow, busy streets. “Trucks are optimized for long-haul and big loads. … Using them in urban areas isn’t good for anyone in the city.”

THAAT uses cargo bikes, trikes and small trailers to deliver goods for about a dozen businesses. The split is about even between food and print, though food delivery seems to be growing faster.

Customers include Coffeecology, Urbanicity magazine, Cake and Loaf bakery and ManoRun Organic Farms.

THAAT even does furniture delivery and has completed three household moves using six heavy-duty bikes and three trailers. The Bullitt cargo bikes can carry up to 400 pounds, and the co-op owns an extra-wide trailer that will hold appliances and up to 600 pounds.

Not surprisingly, moves up the escarpment aren’t possible, at least not yet. The limit for going up the Mountain is 100 pounds.

It’s a year-round operation. Even in the winter just past, THAAT suspended deliveries for just two days.

But the biggest challenge is never weather, says Bergen. It’s tackling the pervasive auto culture. Current customers didn’t need convincing, but to grow, THAAT will need to preach beyond its choir.

Bergen spent two years as a long-haul trucker and more than four years managing a fleet of 50 trucks based out of Guelph.

When he was on the road, he’d take a bike to get some exercise on breaks and layovers.

“It was how I got into cycling. I was stressed and gaining weight and feeling unhealthy, so I got in shape while I was on the road. I got hooked on cycling.”

When he got moved into the office, he would commute to Guelph from Hamilton a few days a week and spend his lunch hours pedalling. He was also researching launching an urban delivery business using bikes.

Bergen always planned on the venture becoming a worker co-op, but he had to meet the right people with the right skills and experience. THAAT, which is located in a small garage tucked in behind storefronts on James Street North, became a co-op in September with seven members who share ownership.

“Members buy in with shares. Once we’re profitable, we will get dividends back,” said Bergen. Not all have the same number of shares, but all have the same vote.

“We pay a living wage to all our members.”

Not all are riders. The co-op includes an accountant and someone dedicated to business development.

Bergen says a future direction is working directly with local farmers on food hubs and other security initiatives.

“We are a collective of over-educated people. We all have one or two or three degrees. We are looking at becoming a think-tank and research hub on issues of food security, urban design and infrastructure.”

mmacleod@thespec.com

905-526-3408 | @meredithmacleod

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