Mess Media

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

Messenger Institute
 for Media Accuracy




Bike Messengers – A Vanishing Breed?


Articles about disappearing messengers have become as popular as track bikes and messenger bags but this article is about nothing.


A seemingly, meaningless fluff piece from the MCAA. It’s pretends to be about vanishing bike messengers but only one bike messenger is presented and no evidence is cited.  The real purpose of this article is to display an exception as the norm. It’s like those global warming deniers who say look it was cold somewhere in the world today therefore global warming doesn’t exist.


An overwhelming majority of messengers who work as independent contractors, work for one company. If they are suspected of working for more than one company their employer will generally fire them on the spot. Yet the MCAA sought out a rare exception to give readers an inaccurate view of the industry.



The MCAA’s sole purpose is to continue the practice of abusing the  independent contractor model in the messenger industry. The IC model was developed to circumnavigate employment standards and in the messenger industry it was first employed as an attempt to permit the use of child labour.





Bike Messengers – A Vanishing Breed?


Messenger Courier World Magazine, Winter 2007


Runners, Inc., a small, woman-owned company located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, ( has been providing courier services in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area since 1987. To meet the ever-changing needs of their customers, Runners’ has expanded services and added trucking, warehousing, fulfillment and custom services.


Delivering packages in congested areas where parking is at a premium or nonexistent, can be difficult for traditional couriers with vehicles. Runners’ relies on the services of Elton Franklin, an independent subcontract bicycle messenger to make an average of 10 weekly deliveries in Washington, D.C. to customers such as:

  • graphic/marketing specialty firms who want to hand deliver marketing products to attract new customers and thank existing clients;
  • companies who want to deliver files, documents and packages;
  • architectural firms that need over-sized bulky blueprints delivered; and
  • anyone who wants concert or movie tickets picked-up and delivered.


For over 18 years, Elton has been providing courier services to satisfied customers on his reliable Cannondale mountain bike, making an average of 30 daily deliveries. His reputation for service has created many loyal customers and he works with several courier companies in addition to Runners, Inc.


When asked why he chose this type of a job, he quickly replied: “For 15 years I worked in a government office and longingly looked out the window at people on bikes wishing I could be outside. One day I just decided to do something about my dream and need for a career change with more freedom. I walked into the office of a nearby courier company and signed up as a bicycle messenger even though I didn’t have any previous experience. They trained me on-the-job and my new career began. I enjoyed my work so much that I stayed with them for over 15 years and never regretted my decision even in bad weather. I’m from Chicago and the climate in Washington, DC doesn’t bother me at all!”


One of the obvious benefits of choosing this type of a job is that bicycling 30-35 miles every day keeps Elton physically fit. In fact he doesn’t have or feel the need for a drivers’ license. When he wants to take a break from his bike, he hops on a metro bus. Washington, D.C. is becoming more bicycle-friendly through the Metro Bike-’N-Ride program and cyclists can transport their bikes for free aboard Metrobus in a special rack attached to the front of each bus. Bicycle lockers and racks are available at Metrorail stations for cyclists wishing to split their commutes between bike and rail. Metrorail also permits cyclists to bring their bikes aboard trains at off-peak times. There are several private and government organizations that offer helpful information on local bike trails, commuting, safety, advocacy, the annual Bike-to-Work day and other bike events, services and initiatives. Many transit systems already have had the same type of bike racks on their buses for several years including: Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, and Montgomery County Maryland’s Ride-On buses.


When asked to describe some rather unusual courier assignments, Elton said that one customer has him routinely deliver the Wall Street Journal from the 5th floor to the 6th floor in the same building!


Kevin Joyce, the Technical Operations Manager for Dispatch Services at Runners, Inc., is very familiar with the bicycle messenger business. Kevin worked as a bicycle messenger in the early 70’s in Washington, D.C. for several years. He remembers making about 20 deliveries per day and earning an average of $80 daily, which he considered a good income for doing what he loved…riding his bike! One delivery challenge he fondly remembers was successfully balancing a huge cake on his handlebars for ten blocks. At that time, he was kept busy delivering press releases from UPI to the Washington Post; making visits to Congress to pick-up the Federal Register; and going to the Document Room on Capitol Hill to pick-up copies of new laws being passed.


The bicycle messenger business continued to flourish until the 1990’s until the impact of the Information Revolution changed traditional ways of doing business. Fax machines, modems and e-mail provided alternative ways of sending documents and the reliance on bicycle messengers diminished. However, technological innovations continue to provide new opportunities to process information in ways never thought possible and this change creates different business needs.


Futurists Alvin Toffler and his wife Heidi co-authored the earth-shattering, futurist classic "Future Shock" back in 1970. In a twist on the term "culture shock," the Tofflers described in their book a mass disorientation caused by technological innovations coming faster than most people can grasp. So far, they’ve been disturbingly correct. A decade later, the Tofflers predicted the rise of the information age and the Internet in "The Third Wave." The book explained how the embedded industrial civilization based on social conformity and muscle power would be replaced by an information and technology culture dependent wholly on the creativity of the individual mind.


As businesses create new demands, the need for bicycle couriers will remain. Bicycles provide the ability to easily navigate in congested cities with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Currently there are an estimated 500 independent bicycle couriers in Washington, D.C. and associations such as the District of Columbia Bicycle Courier Association provide support.





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