Career Information: Couriers

By Heather Allen

Canada Work Info Net (http://workinfonet.bridges.com), 1999

An architect races down the stairs with a tube of blueprints that need to get to the city hall before closing time. The courier checks her watch as the architect tapes up the lid and hands over the package. She has exactly 15 minutes to ride up to city hall.

Leaping on her bike, the courier pedals furiously through traffic. She speeds up the hill. Just before the glass doors are about to shut, the courier hands the receptionist the package.

Gasping for breath, the courier thanks the receptionist after she signs for the blueprints, and sighs. Another package delivered and another day done. Now all the courier needs to do is ride home.

Ruby Rowat is a courier in Toronto. She says that helping others meet important deadlines and obtain valuable information is exciting. "You're a part of the pulse of the city," she says. "It's like being a part of a bigger machine that makes business tick."

Couriers, whether walking, driving a delivery van or cycling, cover many miles in a day.

"It's a lot of riding," says Joel Metz. He is a bike courier. He logs about 80 km per day. That may sound like too much time spent on a bicycle seat each day, but Metz enjoys it.

"The idea that you can make a living riding your bike, of course, is always an appeal," he says. "Many of us couriers have always been bikers or are enthusiastic about bikes to begin with. Couriering is just a natural extension of that."

Rowat agrees that couriers have to have a love of cycling. "There's a lot of bike maintenance that needs to be done, especially over the winter," she says. "You have to be into it."

Being a messenger in a city can also be dangerous. Delivery truck drivers and bike couriers have to wade through traffic and make frequent stops. "You're in traffic an awful lot," says Metz. "Both drivers and pedestrians aren't paying attention to you and as a result, accidents are inevitable."

Metz says that he knows a few couriers who have never been in an accident, but it's foolish to think that it couldn't happen. "Few and far between are the couriers who haven't been injured on the job," he says. "It's just common sense to accept that it will happen eventually."

If you walk downtown, you can often see a group of couriers taking a quick lunch together, or hanging out after work. "It's a real subculture of the city," says Rowat.

Metz enjoys this social aspect of the job. "It's great to meet and hang out and work with couriers from around the world. It's really a community," he says. "I have friends all over the world thanks to this job and I've been able to work in other cities and countries as a result."

Many couriers also enjoy their work because they aren't stuck behind a desk at an office. "The freedom of not having a boss looking over your shoulder all the time, of not being tied down to a desk job is always the first thing that people mention," says Metz.

Although there is the freedom of being on the move, it isn't all pleasant work. "The work is undervalued both in terms of pay and social prestige," says Rowat.

"It's not all fun and games," warns Metz. "It's wise for people starting out to realize that it's a difficult and dangerous job."

Some couriers feel the job can be learned quickly. Others believe that experience makes them better. "Picking up a package at point A and taking it to point B is very simple, but it's the nuances of it that make a truly good courier -- that separates a tradesperson from a rookie rider," he says.

"A lot of young kids come into this job thinking it's gonna be cool and fun and they can ride around like crazy with no one to answer to, but that reflects badly on couriers everywhere. It's a serious job that can be both thankless and rewarding, fun and exhausting."

Although many people begin as couriers and move onto other work, Metz wouldn't trade his job for any other. "I love my job and that's a rare thing these days."