On the front page:
Bike messengers hit potholes in business
MANHATTAN The city’s seemingly omnipresent bike messengers have more frustrations than just getting “doored” by a parked car.
Many delivery companies are looking to shift their focus from bikes for several reasons, including a rise in new companies that undercut established service providers, a drop in business since Sept. 11 and Internet technology, which allows documents to be shipped electronically.
Mike Sirota, general manager at NY Minute, said the big money nowadays is in van deliveries, because new messenger companies that use those vehicles – often without proper insurance -- continue to offer lower prices. Messengers make less today than they did ten years ago as a result, he said.
Some messengers will always be needed, said Jack Blackfelt, a 17- year veteran messenger and member of the New York Bike Messenger Association. And, in a way, technology will keep them riding; some commonly messengered items are damaged laptops and iPods, cellphones and Blackberries.
But, he said, “Fortunately for me not that much of a percentage of the city wishes to risk bodily harm or death with no insurance, benefits or retirement options.”
then, on page 8:
City bike messengers fight more than traffic
MANHATTAN Bike messengers face many obstacles when they zip around the city with packages strapped to their backs. But beyond car doors opening unexpectedly, inconsiderate drivers and jaywalking pedestrians, bikers face competition from technology and each other. High-speed Internet provides the ability to send large files quickly and cheaply, which has cut down on some deliveries, so many companies are looking to diversify services to compensate. Also, new cut-rate delivery companies are popping up in the city that undermine existing messenger outfits.
“The Internet affects the business because some companies don’t need to use our services anymore, but the law firms and advertising agencies still need to send original proofs, and we’ve been getting more business from them so it’s pretty even,” said Mike Sirota, general manager at NY Minute, which employs roughly 20 bike messengers.
The bigger problem is fly-bynight companies, Sirota said. “Ten years ago, messengers were making more, but all of these nonlegitimate companies without the proper insurance come along and they’ll charge $6 a delivery,” he said. “We have to drop our price. It means less money for the messenger and less profit for us, so we’re trying to get more [truck] work. That’s more profitable.”
Jack Blackfelt of Mother’s Messengers and co-treasurer of the New York Bike Messenger’s Association, a de facto union, said deliveries today cost roughly $8; in 1998 they cost $6 or $7, he said. And, the 17-year veteran said, companies often hire college students in the summer to cut costs. “That’s when people who have no intention in being a career messenger will get hired,” he said. “But less experienced riders are more likely to have accidents and more likely to cause the company’s insurance rates to go up.”
Blackfelt has noticed a “saturation point” in the industry. Some of the novelty of the business has worn off, “and the effect of Sept. 11 put a damper on business in terms of new security hurdles we face,” he said. To weather the changes, A1 Courier, which employs up to 20 bike messengers, handles mailroom functions for companies and the product distribution for Amazon.com, said Vincent Kajiwada, A1’s director of sales.
Robert Wyatt, president of Lightspeed Express Delivery Systems, is also shifting. His company now has a 50-50 messenger to vehicle split; 10 years ago, 80 percent were messengers. “Anything that can be sent electronically is already sent that way, so I don’t think this will be the end of bike messengers,” Wyatt said.
“Next is when they do the Star Trek teleporters. That’ll really mess things up.”