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No gas bills for Hawaii bike messengers

Honolulu Advertiser, July 16, 2008

By Curtis Lum
Rising fuel prices, no-fault insurance and vehicle maintenance expenses all contribute to the cost of running a delivery service.

But one segment of the industry keeps moving along with little concern about these issues. It requires no fuel, except food and water, very little maintenance, and the only emissions are from the grunts and groans of its workers as they pedal to their destination.

Bicycle messenger services have been around for years and serve primarily the Downtown business district. Except for advances in bicycle technology, the delivery service has remained unchanged over the years: A person on a bicycle picks up a package, dodges traffic to deliver the item, and turns around to do it all over again.

With the increasing cost of gasoline, at least one bicycle messenger service owner said he's noticed an increase in business recently.

"The gas prices have been going steadily up for a while, and we've had a steady curve in our growth," said Christopher Coleman, president of Crosstown Couriers. "We've been in business for 10 years, and we're always growing so I don't see anything really declining. We're always picking up new clients, at least once or twice a month."

In the beginning, Crosstown had a "handful" of clients, but Coleman said he now has more than 100 regular customers. The company charges about $5 for a Downtown delivery, but its service area covers Kahala to the airport.

Rice Chinen used to work for Crosstown Couriers, but last year she decided to ride solo and formed Fly Right Messenger Service. Chinen, 25, said she has been busy lining up clients and her company does about 100 deliveries a day.

"It's pretty variable," she said of the number of jobs she gets. "Some days you can just sit for two hours waiting for a call, and some days it's like insanity."

Chinen said she doesn't have an advertising budget and relies on word-of-mouth to build her customer base. She also has attracted customers that she had at Crosstown.

Fly Right has a pool of six bicycle riders who work as independent contractors. Chinen doesn't have to pay them benefits, which means very little overhead, but her deliverers do get 60 percent commission on each job, with prices starting at $4.50.

Despite advances in e-commerce and the Internet, many businesses still rely on messengers to deliver blueprints, legal papers and other documents that require quick attention.

"It seems like there's always a need for us. It's hands down the fastest way to get around," Coleman said. "It's just so much faster with the bike, and we can carry boxes up to 40 to 50 pounds, no problem."

Joyce To, administrative assistant for architectural firm Ferraro Choi and Associates on Bishop Street, said her company uses the bicycle messengers often. To said the service is inexpensive and convenient.

"We've had stuff two blocks away. They come pick it up and in not even 10 minutes it's there," she said. "For me, it would take 10 minutes just to get out of the office, so it would take awhile to deliver something."

To, who uses Chinen's service, said another reason her firm uses bicycle messengers is to help the environment.

"We try to think green," she said.

Although business is good, Coleman and Chinen don't expect to ever become a Fortune 500 company. Except for bad weather and the occasional careless driver, they said they do the work because they love it.

"We do between 40 and 70 miles a day. That's a pretty busy day," Coleman said. "Everybody that works for a messenger company loves to ride their bike already so it's great to get paid for it."

Added Chinen, "I do get on the road and do deliveries because I don't want to be stuck in the office all day. I just love it."




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