B-Line Sustainable Delivery Proves Good Land Use is Good for Business

Karli Petrovic

When Franklin Jones founded B-Line, a sustainable bike delivery and advertising company, he drew on a wealth of experiences. From his background as a bike and pedestrian planner and then as a sixth-grade humanities teacher to his bike travels through Japan, Europe, and other places abroad, Jones was exposed to the fabric of many cities.

“It gave me hands on experience to see how different cities moved people and goods,” he says, “from the high-tech methods in Europe to the low-tech methods of China.”

After he left the Bay Area to relocate in Portland, Jones considered different career options. B-Line was actually part of a larger business idea: A gap year program between college and high school that would connect students with people in green trades and the environmental sector. The bike-based delivery was one component of the overall plan.

“I wanted to focus on looking at the city based on how you move,” Jones says. “How can we best move goods and services throughout an urban core that wants to be livable and green? I was looking at that niche market. B-Line was part combining past experiences and part just going for it.”

In February 2009, B-Line was born. Six years later, the company is proud to have become a certified B Corp, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 54,000 pounds and completed more than 10,000 deliveries. B-Line has also assisted with a beverage launch and promoted various products and events using the cargo box panels on its electric-assist tricycles.

More than a transportation or advertising company, B-Line also helps local businesses act sustainably. One example is by helping law or tech companies recycle hard plastics or plastic wrap, materials that can’t be recycled in the standard office bin. A B-Line team member will drive the trike to the office, pick up these materials, and bring them back to the B-Line warehouse in southeast Portland. From there, workers sort and gather the recyclables and take them where they need to go.

As the business expands, B-Line is partnering with companies across the region. From Carman Ranch in Wallowa to fisheries pulling product from the coast, B-Line provides a central city storage area and a delivery mechanism that allows producers to reach Portland-based customers. This helps cut down on truck trips producers would take from rural communities to the city and back.

“Rural producers don’t often have a volume of product moving through a system than can reach an ideal price point for the consumer,” Jones says. “If they are conscious of their practices when ranching, fishing, farming, etc., the price point is too high or the volume is too low to bring it to the major companies. There’s a gap in the overarching food distribution model, and we are looking to provide a solution to that gap.”

Whether delivering Organically Grown Company produce or advertising Dave’s Killer Bread, B-Line’s business model relies on effective land use planning. “I think it’s critical,” Jones says. “What I find most interesting is that there are so many places where food, books, parking, advertising—everything we do—intersects with livability and quality of life concerns. We are a transportation company but a lot of that has to do with land use because Portland had some foresight in the planning and how the city looks at its roads and industrial areas.”

Jones admits that the B-Line business model isn’t conducive to certain communities where the city is built around the car. The suburbs, in particular, are challenging because they don’t necessarily have an integrated infrastructure and what Jones calls “a nexus of aggregation points.” Places that do tend to be small- to mid-sized towns, particularly college towns.

“College towns like those in Eugene and Corvallis have downtown cores that are near the universities,” he says. “The universities have a demographic of students that companies like Clif Bar and Yerba Mate are eager to attract. The model starts to come together. We offer an aggregation point in a small town and can deliver to restaurants and businesses. The university builds a market for us to service.”

The benefit of having such an interconnected community is that B-Line can generally keep pace with larger vehicles. “With the timing of the lights and how the streets are built, we are about the same speed as a car in the urban core,” he says. “It’s not in the movement; it’s in the stopping. We’re not double parking, which eliminates congestion, and we don’t have to wait for a spot or lower a ramp to make deliveries. We can be in and out before a traditional vehicle. Since we’re not using the loading zone, it frees it up for a more appropriate truck.”

As B-Line continues to grow, it builds on a mission of innovation and doing things a little differently. “Our partners like how we’re connecting with people in Portland,” Jones says. “People have responded well to what we do. It’s obviously green, and it makes people feel good that we think outside the box. And hopefully, we even encourage someone to get on a bike once in awhile.”