[messengers] Neither Pain nor Crowded Streets nor Doom of Industry Deters D.C. Bike Couriers

Date: 28 Mar 2010 22:40:32 +0200
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>

Neither Pain nor Crowded Streets nor Doom of Industry Deters
D.C. Bike Couriers


infoZine , March 28, 2010 



By Erich Hiner


The Internet has cut into their work, but D.C.’s bike
couriers say they still prefer to be riding through traffic and delivering
documents than working behind a desk.



For Kevin Keefe, 57, being a D.C. bicycle courier means one
thing: freedom.


Keefe has been a bike courier for 24 years. He works for
Quick Messenger Service. Bicycling might be his business, but he'll never be
caught behind a desk.


"According to a lot of people, I still haven't grown
up!" Keefe said.


Many bicycle couriers like Keefe still make daily rounds in
defiance of the digital age. The Internet may be taking over the messaging
market, but there is still enough business to keep D.C.'s bike couriers pedaling.


Bicycle couriers often spend rush hour weaving through
traffic and cutting across city parks. Businesses and government offices use
them to move documents and parcels across town.


To those outside the profession, couriers' work might seem


"Most friends outside of this job think I'm crazy for
doing it, for biking like an idiot downtown in traffic," said Patrick
Peoples, 24, a courier for LaserShip Inc. "For me, it's a rush."


Couriers work as independent contractors for dispatch
services and take jobs as customers place orders. Dispatchers contact
individual couriers who choose specific deliveries to make.


Paul Hofford, operations manager at Washington Express, said
the federal government and its regulatory agencies are the cornerstone of the
bike courier business. Chris Brown, 29, a courier for LAPS, delivers documents
from the State Department to embassies around the city.


Assignments can take messengers all over town, and few
couriers know where their next delivery will take them. Work hours are


"Most days, you're out here 9, 9 ½ hours," said
Stephen Greenwood, 55, a motorcycle messenger for QMS who started as a bicycle
courier. "You have a lot of days you're out here 14, 15 hours."


Pay is equally unpredictable. While some long-distance
deliveries can pay well, short stops might only pay a few dollars each. Most
riders are paid on commission, and rates vary by company and delivery.


QMS courier Collin Barth, 32, said it takes about 25 jobs to
make $150. He said he might make $750 in a good week.


When business is good, couriers have little time to rest.
Keefe said his personal best is 57 deliveries in one day, and Peoples said he
once made 60.


Making all those stops takes more than physical endurance.
It takes street smarts, Keefe said. Knowing the city can mean the difference
between making or breaking delivery deadlines, which can be as tight as 30


Between jobs, couriers congregate in downtown coffee shops
and parks. Their community is tightly knit, and many messengers know one
another by face or name, said Daniel Daudu, 30, founder of Bald Eagle Courier.


Couriers often use down time to repair their bikes. A
quality road bike can cost from $700 to $2,000, said Richard Jackson, head
courier for Travisa Passport Service. Jackson, who is a full-time employee, is
paid $100 every three months to maintain his bike, which he said covers most


Despite its laid-back nature, the courier business is a
dangerous trade. Bike messengers must constantly be alert to avoid the city's
many obstacles, Barth said.


Drivers making illegal U-turns are a serious threat, and
many bicyclists are "doored" when motorists open car doors in front
of them.


"There are some times where you see messengers go down
left and right," Peoples said. "You might visit three or four
different people in the hospital in the same week."


Barth said most couriers are hit at some point, and a few
are seriously injured. As contractors, most couriers do not have health
benefits and must pay their own hospital bills, Greenwood said.


Bad traffic and injuries can't stop D.C.'s couriers, but the
bottom line might.


Hofford, who oversees 35 bike messengers at Washington Express,
said the courier business is declining. E-mail, tight budgets and heightened
security have taken their toll, Hofford said.


Many government office buildings are closed to couriers
because of post-9/11 security boosts. Concerns over the anthrax attacks in 2001
cut couriers off from a major source of income.


"It basically stopped Capitol deliveries for a long
time," Hofford said. "It used to be a substantial percent of
business. Now it's a tenth of what it was."


QMS courier Alfonso Fuller, 33, fears for the industry.


"Right now, it's dying," Fuller said. "The
game is practically over."


Throughout his 13 years as a courier, Fuller has usually
made about 30 stops a day. His number of daily deliveries has halved, and he's
taken a second job to make ends meet.


Other messengers are less concerned. Stephen Spencer, 24, a
courier with Washington Express, said D.C. will always need bicycle messengers.


"The federal government's here, so there will always be
work to be done," Spencer said.


Even if the industry is dying, devoted couriers are unlikely
to swap bikes for office chairs anytime soon. For Keefe, the freedom of riding
is too much to give up.


"It gets your blood flowing. It wakes you up in the
morning. It's kind of a Zen," Keefe said. "I get my giggles by
gliding through gridlock on a bicycle."



Mess media Bryant Watch