monitors, analyzes and corrects media reporting errors and bias concerning messengers and couriers.

Messenger Institute
 for Media Accuracy

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Running the pushbike gauntlet

This is a typical anecdote that will often appear in the press. Unfortunately it  will be accepted as fact, although the documented facts in Sydney reveal another story.

The Sydney city council ADMITTED to approving a labeling system for couriers even after a council report indicated the council had "received numerous complaints about bicycle couriers, DESPITE the small number of accidents they cause."

Perception is such a problem that the flawed Australian STAYSAFE 30 report on bicycle messengers relied almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence, casual observations, media fluff articles and fashion and lifestyle television programs. Whatever statistical evidence was presented was discounted as unreliable and "significantly underreported" because it did not support the inflexible perceived behaviour.

However even the STAYSAFE report recommended solutions include developing a system of bicycle lanes, including contra flow lanes on one way streets and pedestrian malls, improved bicycle parking and bicycle priority signals at selected signalized intersections within the Sydney central business district. Unfortunately the council only implemented labeling and harassment.


Running the pushbike gauntlet

Sydney Morning Herald, April 28, 2004

Those bike couriers . . . what a knock out,
writes Ken Knight.

Training programs for Sydney's bicycle couriers urgently require upgrading. On three occasions during the past two months I, though elderly and overweight, had absolutely no difficulty in sidestepping couriers who attempted to run me down from behind. One rider managed to brush my arm as he hurtled by, but the others were quite inept and didn't even look like hitting their target.

By contrast, I could swear I observed last year a prospective courier engaged in self -training. Just as aspiring London taxi drivers first study street layouts ("The Knowledge") on push or motor bikes, so this student courier, immaculately clad in Lycra shorts and jacket and equipped with mobile phone, walkie-talkie and water bottle, was on foot.

The traffic was heavy and fast, just where Martin Place meets George Street. Without warning and against the red light, our hero dashed across the road, threading through four lanes of vehicles while talking into his phone. Two dozen cars and a bus skidded to a halt, drivers screamed abuse or sat white and shaken, wondering whether they were capable of continuing their journey. It was five minutes before the traffic flowed normally.

This is what well-conceived training could achieve. All couriers should begin their initial training on foot. They should first be assigned to quiet or narrow streets and should be mentored by experienced operatives able to demonstrate the basics of traffic disruption. Students should also be shown how to run along footpaths against and with the flow of pedestrians, being assessed on the number knocked over.

Later they could hone their skills on wider streets with heavier traffic. Points would be awarded in every segment of the training, with high scores being rewarded with reductions in the lead-up time to the start of the actual bicycle training section of the course and ultimate graduation as a courier. This would provide a significant incentive for students.

This early basic training, "boot camp" as the US Marine Corps would have it, should be sufficient to weed out those who will not develop into skilled bicycle couriers, and to identify those who will be merely competent or those who will go on to be among the all-time greats of the profession.

Students may see the cycling segment as the glamour part of the course, but the basics are much more important. Cycling training will require demonstrations by experienced mentors. But it is the ability to cross diagonally at intersections, to go through the red light at the last possible moment before a collision is inevitable, to skip onto the footpath to catch unsuspecting pedestrians that will demonstrate the qualities of future couriers of fame and legend.

Some details may need refining, but only when systematic training is introduced will the bicycle courier companies be able to achieve their ultimate goal of bringing Sydney to a grinding halt.

Readers are invited to apply wit to anything that makes the blood boil. Send 500 words, with day and evening phone numbers, to heckler@smh.com.au. Submissions may be edited and published on the internet.


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