What really drives people to launch new mobility businesses? In a new series, Zag takes an in-depth look at the backstories of Founders to understand the origins of their inspiration.
Keith Jones is no stranger to innovation, having started his engineering journey in unusual fashion back in the 1990s.
After his brother’s fiancé was injured in a car crash and temporarily required to use a wheelchair, he designed a foldable ramp for the boot of their car that allowed them to travel with the chair.
More than 30 years on and those ramps are now used in train stations throughout the UK, as well as on buses and in taxis across Europe, North America, and Asia.
For Jones though, the world of e-shuttles is his new focus, with Cityshuttle preparing to roll out its ground-breaking ePack4 later this year.
With more than £10 million worth of pre-orders, including 250 units from a UK delivery partner to one of the largest global online retailers, the subscription-based e-cargo bike is a last mile sustainable delivery solution designed to be more powerful and comfortable than its competitors.
Its 4,000-litre volume means it has capacity for more cargo than its rivals and Jones believes its narrow shape and secure features further set it apart.
“Volume is what fundamentally sets the ePack4 apart,” says Jones.
“We’ve taken a standard cargo bike and doubled its size.”
A history of innovation
Shortly after developing a ramp for his brother’s fiancé in 1992, Jones founded Portaramp in order to take his new product to market.
He insists this was never part of a plan to make money, but instead a way to help people in the same situation as his future sister-in-law.
“We received a £5,000 grant from the Prince’s Trust early on and it just took off, in fact I still have the letter from Prince Charles to this day,” says Jones.
“I did not create that business to become a multimillionaire but to create a legacy, so that when I depart this world, my product will still be here, and my children will know what I invented.”
The business had a turnover of £5 million when Jones decided to move on, but it was the skills he developed that have prepared him for this latest challenge.
“The experience helped me learn to manage people and partially give up some responsibility,” he says.
“I did not come from a management background, so I had to learn all of these skills on the job. I also gained a lot of technical skills, and now, when I bring a product to market, it has to be the best – I will not settle for second.”
Fit for purpose
The ePack4 is exciting in Jones’ eyes because it combines durability with comfort and versatility.
Besides its 4,000-litre parcel capacity, it also possesses torque sensors that allow it to travel up hills without exhausting the rider.
He explains: “This vehicle has torque sensors built in so that it will easily travel uphill, regardless of the weight on the back of it and the strength of the individual riding it. So the ePack4 is a vehicle for the masses, anyone from the age of 16 to 70 basically.”
The size of the ePack4 is also important, with its dimensions making parking and navigating tight streets as easy as possible.
“We have brought the height of the ePack4 down to two metres, which allows it to enter an underground carpark,” Jones says.
“Bumper to bumper it is five metres, meaning it can fit into a standard car parking space. Then, its width means you can park two of them next to each other in a single space.”
It can also fit between the concrete bollards that are dotted around a number of major cities, a key consideration for delivery riders trying to access inner-city locations.
Projected to be one of the premium options on the market, Cityshuttle has plans to save money for its operators by using advertising screens that will be installed on the side of each ePack4.
Advertising will be managed by Cityshuttle as part of the service, in addition to maintenance and breakdown assistance.
“Each vehicle will be equipped with 43-inch screens on the outer walls, allowing operators to display adverts,” Jones says.
“Control of these advertising screens can be managed by us or a third-party company, so there is no reason for the operator to use the internal locker where that system is controlled. The only requirement for the operator is to put a small plug in the side of the bike and the trailer to charge the battery.”
Cityshuttle believes this model will allow it to keep costs down, which Jones hopes will attract small and medium-sized businesses to use their services to fulfil their logistics needs.
Comfort a priority
With side screens, the rider is protected from the elements, while the seating position has been especially designed for maximum comfort.
“The rider is in a recumbent position because that’s the way you push your legs rather than being sat on a saddle bending forward, which puts a lot of pressure on your back.
“We’ve also got heated handle grips and heated seats in there.
“I think the point I want to make is we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on all these details to give riders a safer, more efficient and more sustainable delivery option, so we are very excited to now be bringing the ePack4 to market.”