At any given moment, there are more than 370,000 trucks, cars, motorcycles, and vans delivering packages and mail around the U.S. Then there's Casey Redman.

Redman is pedaling around Portland, Oregon, as an operator of the first and only UPS e-bike in the U.S. That's right, Redman is delivering packages by bicycle.

UPS e-bike operator Casey Redman with the e-bike. Photo by Erin Canty/Upworthy.


But this is not a return to the company's humble beginnings; it's a forward-thinking experiment to see if electric bikes have a place in the American delivery landscape.

An e-bike is essentially a traditional bicycle with some extra oomph in the form of a rechargeable battery.

Pedal-assist bikes, like the UPS e-bike, are akin to a hybrid car. The operator pedals the bike mostly under their own power, but the battery can kick in for a boost when needed, like going up steep hills or carrying heavy loads. It's all the fun of cycling without the pedaling.

"Ultimately and optimally, the bike is operated with human power and electric power simultaneously to get the most out of the energy," says Scott Phillippi, automative maintenance and engineering manager at UPS and the company's e-bikes expert.

The throttle helps Redman build momentum going up hills. Photo by Erin Canty/Upworthy.

The Portland test features just one e-bike designed and built in the city by Truck Trike, a local company. It weighs about 230 pounds, has an 18-mile range, and can haul 600 pounds of payload. The cargo box, where Redman stores the packages, is just under 5 feet long, 68 inches high, and 4 feet wide. It's approximately 100 cubic feet.

"If you compared that to one of our typical delivery vans, it's about a one-tenth of the size," Phillippi says.

UPS declined to share the price of the bike in the test, but similar bikes from Truck Trike range in price from $10,000 to $14,000 depending on features.

While e-bikes are not new technology, this is the first time UPS is trying them stateside.

A similar four-week e-bike test ran in Basel, Switzerland, last summer. Basel, known for its narrow streets and limited parking, was the perfect place to pilot the initiative. And the company already has a fleet of e-bikes on the road in Hamburg, Germany.

Photo of a UPS cargo cruiser in Hamburg, Germany. Photo via UPS Pressroom.

The success of these programs lead to the test in Portland, which began Nov. 21. Portland was a logical choice for the experiment because the bike-friendly city already boasts a seasonal fleet of operators on traditional bicycles.

During the test, UPS will be exploring the design and reliability of the e-bike and whether it works within the city infrastructure. If the test run goes well, UPS may add more e-bikes to the fleet and run tests in other U.S. cities.

"Lots of things lined up for us to at least to put our toes in the water or see how this would work in the U.S.," Phillippi says. "It may not be an exact replica of what Hamburg is, but at least we're gonna see where it goes from here."

Photo by Erin Canty/Upworthy.

UPS considered e-bikes as a solution to congestion, an issue plaguing drivers across the country.

In 2011, American commuters in urban areas collectively lost 5.5 billion hours stuck in traffic. That means the average urban commuter lost close to a week of productivity while stuck behind the wheel. All that start-and-stop driving also cost commuters at the pump because drivers purchased an additional 2.9 billion gallons of gas and spent an extra $121 billion in added fuel costs and lost productivity.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

For a company based on driving and delivering packages door to door, congestion costs UPS millions of dollars each day, not just in lost time, but in fuel and emissions too. The e-bike is unique in that it can ride in the bike lane and requires no gasoline to operate. So not only can it navigate around congestion, it can do it without carbon emissions. Or as Redman says:

"It's fun, and it's good for the Earth. Why not, right?"

Redman takes the e-bike for a spin. Photo by Erin Canty/Upworthy.

It does, however, require some effort from the operator.

"[Operating the bike] is nothing very difficult at all," Phillippi said "There's a throttle, and everything else pretty much works like a normal bike would."

And for the most part, that's Redman's experience. The athletic former spinning instructor and bicycle commuter admitted that while the bike was easy to handle, there's a bit of a learning curve, especially when it comes to hills.

"There are some hills just up the road," he says, pointing in the distance. "I see [other bike delivery drivers] cruising up there. It's going to take some practice."

And you can't go in reverse, which is fine on a regular bike, but a little frustrating with 600 pounds of boxes to negotiate.

Redman puts the bike in reverse with a little elbow grease. Photo by Erin Canty/Upworthy.

As efficient (and frankly adorable) as e-bikes are, it would require a sizable shift in our transportation landscape to make this the norm.

E-bikes will likely never replace delivery trucks or vans as the preferred method for getting packages to your door.

So it's easy to look at test runs like this and question the very idea of this project. What will one bike do? On its own, not much. But one e-bike, coupled with alternative fuel vehicles, better logistics and planning, and consumers and stakeholders looking ahead to green alternatives? Now we're getting somewhere.

If a large company like UPS can make eco-friendly, traffic-sparing, money-saving changes to its fleet, other companies may soon follow.

Whether or not that's the case, all of us, big companies and individuals, need to assess how we're changing our habits and routines to limit our carbon footprint and ease congestion.

We can't afford to wait. Walking, driving, or on three wheels, we're in this together.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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