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Postmen get e-bikes as Covid boosts parcel delivery in Calcutta

Nodal delivery hubs set up, last-mile transport mechanised for bulky packages

Sudeshna Banerjee Calcutta Published 15.12.20, 02:10 AM
A postman sets off on an e-scooter at the Salt Lake post office

A postman sets off on an e-scooter at the Salt Lake post office Telegraph picture

The pandemic has given a push to the parcel delivery business of India Post. And to deliver the parcels, postmen are coming to the doorstep riding e-bikes.

The metamorphosis in the image of the mailman, from the runner of yore, carrying a sack full of letters over his shoulder and a lantern in hand, or even from those on foot or on bicycle in more recent times, has been necessitated by the shift in the nature of deliveries.


“Parcel is a new trend of mail that is developing for both home delivery and commercial sectors. They require a different approach from letters. While a single mailman can handle a large number of letters for a small area, parcels are bigger and heavier,” said postmaster general, Calcutta, Niraj Kumar.

Postmen on their e-scooters at Bhowanipore post  office

Postmen on their e-scooters at Bhowanipore post office

So the city has been demarcated into zones, with a post office — designated as a nodal delivery hub (NDH) — chosen in each zone catering to not just its own area of service but a larger area encompassing the neighbourhood. “In a digitally integrated environment that post offices now have, we have assigned a location in each area where parcels can be handled in a more focused manner,” said Kumar.

There are six NDHs in the Calcutta metropolitan area, with Bhowanipore and Salt Lake CC Block post offices being added on November 24 to the existing list of the General Post Office, Alipore, Dum Dum and Tangra.

Because of the bulky nature of the parcels, e-bikes, three wheelers and four-wheelers are being procured. “We chose e-bikes as a postman’s footprint should not be carbon,” Kumar explained. The bikes are being rented, according to the need of each delivery hub.

Parcels for the entire neighbourhood are gathered in each hub and mailmen from neighbouring post offices come to help with sorting before setting off for delivery.

Parcels  being sorted at Salt Lake  CC Block post office

Parcels being sorted at Salt Lake CC Block post office

Though parcel delivery has been a growing business for some years, 2020 has been a catalyst. “During the lockdown, we were the only ship in the stormy waters and we saw a great surge in parcel delivery orders, to carry essentials like medicines. Our post offices were flooded with parcels. Even afterwards, the demand has remained high,” the postmaster general added.

The bikes are easy to charge, he adds. The daily charging is done by representatives of the rental agency.

This is not the first bid at mechanisation of the mailman’s delivery mode. “We had tried using mopeds experimentally in 1998. But the postmen refused to use them. The unions pointed out that cycling was a requirement for their recruitment but having a driving licence was not. It was an idea before its time,” recalled Gautam Bhattacharya, who retired as chief postmaster general, West Bengal circle, in April. “This generation of postmen is more open. Neither do e-scooters need licences to be driven,” he added.

E-scooters were used in a pilot project in April 2018 at the Sarat Bose Road post office for parcel and speed post delivery. They were deployed for parcel network optimisation when the first NDH was inaugurated in September 2019 at the General Post Office. Since this March, four more NDHs have come up.

Currently, a fleet of 51 e-scooters is deployed in the city for parcels, making mailmen on bikes an increasingly familiar sight. The highest number of parcels is handled by the Alipore post office.

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