Mess Media

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

Mess Media




Bicycle messengers are pedaling uphill against the Internet

The media is obsessed with promoting the myth that bike messengers are disappearing. They have been  predicting the demise since at least 1991.  Messenger numbers go up and down with the economy. The effect of the internet on the messenger industry was felt almost 10 years ago yet journalists make it sound like it just happened.

Here are some stats according to the US department of Labour:

Number of messengers in the US:
1996 – 138,000
1998 – 120,000
2000 - 141,000
2002 - 132,000
2004 – 147,000

The End of Bike Messengers

The Decline of the Messenger Industry

History of the Messenger Industry - Transportation Alternatives' "Bicycle Blueprint"

Bike Messengers: A Vanishing Breed – MCW, Winter 2007

Bike messengers lose business, not hope - Colombia Chronicle, May 31, 2005

Messenger Troubles Afoot - Chicago Tribune, October 13, 2003

Lean Pickings - Bicycle Trader, September 1996

Economic cycle flattens life for NYC bicycle messengers" - Boston Globe, May 6 1992

Fax Displacing Manhattan Bike Couriers - New York Times, March 19, 1991

Messenger Boys Fading Away - New York Times, December 2, 1959

Bicycle messengers are pedaling uphill against the Internet
By Kathleen Pender
San Francisco Chronicle, July 17, 2007
Bicycle messengers are not quite an endangered species, but their business is certainly going downhill, yet another victim of the Internet.
Like many other companies, including newspapers, messenger services are finding it hard to complete with free and instant.
Anyone with a computer, a fast Internet connection and the ability to create a PDF file can send a photo, drawing or document of almost any size in a matter of seconds at no cost, other than the technology investment.
By comparison, it costs about $12 to send an envelope via messenger from the Ferry Building to the Federal Building in San Francisco .
"There was a big fear 20 years ago that the fax would do away with our business," says Philip Macafee, president of San Francisco 's Own Quicksilver messenger service.
While the fax machine did put a dent in the business, it was nothing compared with the Internet's bite.
"We have five messengers today (compared with) maybe 20 bikes and 15 trucks in 1990," Macafee says.
Other San Francisco firms report similar drop-offs.
"We're doing one-third of the business we used to do," says Ray Roy, owner of Lightning Express. "I have six to eight messengers now compared to 15 to 20 all through the 1990s."
Lori O'Rourke, owner of Speedway Delivery, says, "Today, we have 15 bikes and four drivers. Five years ago, I had maybe 30 bikes and seven drivers."
Initially, the Internet gave San Francisco messenger companies a boost. Dot-com companies -- flush with cash from stock offerings, unburdened by any need to show a profit and always in a hurry -- spent lavishly on messengers.
"In those days, the money was flowing a lot better and people didn't mind spending it on very expensive deliveries -- a couple or three hundred dollars," Roy says.
People who left a suit coat at home or a briefcase at a Lake Tahoe cabin would simply call a messenger to retrieve it. "They wanted it immediately and didn't care what the price was," Roy says.
Some messengers benefited directly from the Internet boom by working for, which delivered snacks and movies that customers ordered online.
" lost money on every delivery," says Michael Eno, a self-employed bike messenger in San Francisco .
Things got worse for messenger companies after the dot-com collapse in 2000, and much worse after the terrorist attacks in 2001, which caused stocks to fall even further and companies of all kinds to pare their spending.
"When things became a little tight financially, the messenger companies were one of the first things where offices and companies could cut back," Roy says. "They said, 'We'll have our own employees deliver it or send it in the mail.' "
Heightened security after the Sept. 11 attacks also meant messengers had to spend more time making deliveries.
Before Sept. 11, "You could go anywhere, do whatever -- you were the messenger," says Greg Spear, a former messenger who now runs the Bike Hut, a repair and rental shop.
Today, "What used to take three minutes now takes 20 minutes. That's a common complaint I hear" from messengers who stop by the bike shop, Spear says.
By the time businesses had started to recover, more firms were using e-mail, instant messaging and other forms of electronic delivery.
"We used to deliver a lot of airline tickets," says a San Francisco bike messenger who goes by the name of Pappy. Today, almost all tickets are delivered electronically.
Many messenger firms are also losing business as courts demand electronic filing.
In August, San Francisco Superior Court began requiring electronic filing in all asbestos cases. As a result, at least 20 percent of the court's civil case filings are now received and processed electronically, Superior Court Judge Tomar Mason says.
Federal courts are also migrating to electronic case filing. "It started with Bankruptcy Court, migrated to district courts, and appellate courts are at the last stage. The Ninth Circuit (Court of Appeals) will go to (electronic filing) later this year," says spokesman David Madden.
Jeanne Marlow is office manager for two law firms in San Francisco . One primarily handles business litigation and files most of its cases in federal court. That firm's use of messenger services "has fallen by 90 percent" since the dawn of electronic filing, she says. "It's rare that we use a messenger."
The other firm handles family law and files most of its cases in Superior Court. At that firm, "We still use messengers several times a day. We ask them to take a document over (to a client), have it signed, file it with the court and bring back a copy," Marlow says.
That could change if Superior Court demands that more documents be filed electronically.
For now, some messenger firms still depend heavily or even primarily on legal work.
Another continuing source of business is architectural and engineering firms. Even though they can design buildings or interiors on a computer and could send them electronically, most clients and contractors don't have large-format printers capable of printing blueprint-size drawings.
Architecture firm HOK still uses messengers regularly to deliver "oversize packages, drawings and samples," says Jim Takagi, manager of office services.
Mark Maloy, HOK's library manager, says architects "are very tactile." They want to see and feel everything that goes into a building.
Macafee says his messenger firm still makes a lot of deliveries for the State Compensation Insurance Fund. "They may be moving X-rays or documents that are difficult to scan," he says. His firm also moves a lot of documents between facilities for the University of California .
The messengers who hang out on Market Street say they still deliver a lot of physical items like bagels and cash deposits. Some make personal and business deliveries for rich, busy people who have more money than time.
Most messengers work on commission, earning roughly half the delivery charge. The downturn in volume has made it harder to make a living.
"A good messenger should be able to make $100 a day. That's very rare now," Macafee says.
Jim Riley, who works for Western Messenger, says he can do 15 deliveries on a slow day, 35 on a good day. A messenger might make $450 in a slow week, $600 in a good week, he says.




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