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Courier service thrives on Hawaii's traffic congestion


Pacific Business News (Honolulu), December 24, 2004


by Nina Wu Pacific Business News

Chris Coleman is one of the few people in Honolulu who isn't complaining about the traffic.

The worse the weekday traffic gets, the more business he gets.

Coleman, owner of Crosstown Couriers, has a fleet of bike messengers who tote important documents and architectural blueprints from one location to another -- within three hours at most.

He charges a standard fee of $11.67 for delivery from Kaimuki to the Honolulu International Airport within three hours. For a rush fee of about $27, a bike courier can deliver it within one hour.

On weekday afternoons, Coleman claims that a bike will get farther and faster down Nimitz Highway than any other vehicle in the clogged traffic.

Most requests are fielded within 45 minutes from offices in downtown Honolulu and Waikiki.

Regular clients include print media companies, advertising agencies, mortgage and title companies and a growing number of law firms.

Coleman, who spent five years in the U.S. Army, first discovered the courier business while following a bike-messenger friend around Washington, D.C., where he was stationed.

"I rode my bike around all the time," he said, "and I figured it would be good to get paid to do it."

A former messenger for the now-defunct Mokes on Spokes, he started his own company with two partners who have since left.

Crosstown Couriers is, to his knowledge, the only bike messenger company in town, and it is filling a growing niche in Honolulu. Business, which brings in more than $100,000 a year in gross revenues, has increased about 5 percent every year.

With a staff of eight -- half of whom are part timers -- Crosstown Couriers fields an average of 75 deliveries a day.

Everyone on the team is an individual contractor, according to Coleman, making 50 percent to 60 percent commission, which adds up to, on average, $400 a week. If they hustle, they can make more.

Company costs include rent for an office on Bethel Street, liability insurance, utilities and dispatch software to field the requests.

But Coleman said he hardly has to advertise.

Clients find him in the yellow pages, by word of mouth and via a Crosstown Couriers sticker placed on each delivery item, with the dispatch number.

Nor does he have to spend money looking for new hires -- the bikers come to him.

Only those who have a true passion for biking will make it, he said, because it's a demanding job that requires deftness and speed on two wheels.

The No. 1 job hazard, he says, is "the people inside the cars."

He's been in a number of collisions himself that cracked open his bike helmet -- but luckily, none that put him in the hospital. Other couriers have suffered from broken collarbones and face injuries requiring surgery.

"There are inherent risks and everyone that rides know that," he said. "These guys would be out there, anyways."

On the weekends, most of them go mountain biking.

The average courier logs 40 to 80 miles a day, and probably will make at least one trip to the airport.

Staff members use their own bikes. Typically, a single-gear road bicycle costs $400, a cell phone about $40 to $50 a month, and a messenger bag about $160. Other costs include about $200 a year to patch up flat tires.

They pay for their own health insurance, depending on their needs. Coleman himself has a basic plan from HMSA.

Unlike the UPS guys, bike couriers wear no uniforms because, according to Coleman, that goes against their individual streaks.

Most couriers choose the career as an alternative to corporate life, but still need to walk into a law office to deliver a package with professional customer service skills.

The most unusual items Coleman recalls delivering by bike? Two live bunny rabbits and a case of wine.