An excerpt from “Potential
Licensing of Bicycle Courier in Toronto” (March 1997)
By Joe Hendry
Bicycle messengers provide a
valuable service to the business community. They are viewed as
solutions to many of the problems in the downtown core of urban
centres, such as gridlock and
pollution. Couriers provide a value added service that continuously
improving firms seek out as a means to reduce costs and improve
efficiency. The messenger is one of the most important links in the
delivery of information for the business community.
The presence of bike couriers in the urban centres
provides corporations with a safety net. The "laws of human
procrastination" and the errors of employees heighten this importance.
When an organization is in danger of missing a deadline or must be
rescued from its own inefficiencies, the bicycle courier is summoned to
deliver information in a secure and safe manner. As a result, stress in
the workplace of downtown firms is reduced by their confidence in the
Bicycle couriers' importance to cities increases
every day. Traffic jams, gridlock and the increased presence of film
companies on Toronto's streets point to a greater reliance on the
messenger solution. Insightful people recognize that as business firms
rely more and more on technology,
the bike courier becomes more important in the areas of privacy and
A passage from William Gibson's "Virtual Light" illustrates this point
"[The bicycle messenger] earned her living at the
archaic intersection of information and geography. The offices [the
rode between were electronically conterminous - in effect, a single
desktop, the map of distances obliterated by the seamless and
instantaneous nature of communication. Yet this very seamlessness,
which had rendered physical mail an expensive novelty, might as easily
be viewed as porosity, and as such
created the need for the service the [messenger] provided. Physically
bits of information about a grid that consisted of little else [the
provided a degree of absolute security in the fluid universe of data.
your memo in the [messenger's] bag, you knew precisely where it was;
your memo was nowhere, perhaps everywhere, in that instant of transit."
Bicycle couriers provide solutions to the
environmental problems related to many forms of pollution such as air,
noise and smell. The more couriers on bikes there are, the less cars
there are and therefore the less carbon dioxide emissions. More bikes
mean less noise and stench. Bike messengers not only pollute less but
also take up less space on the road and do less damage to the roads
than cars. More bike couriers mean less gridlock and fewer road
repairs. As a result more bike couriers mean better conditions and
streets for all road users including motorists.
Bicycle couriers increase the safety of pedestrians
compared to cars. Studies show that pedestrians are "250 times as
to be injured by a car, bus or taxi" than a bike.
Bicycle messengers are ambassadors of goodwill for
the city. Tourists often approach couriers for their help with
directions and information about Toronto. Many times, couriers are
among the first persons on the scene of downtown accident and they
ensure quick response by reporting it.
Bike couriers provide a link between many of
Toronto's homeless people and the rest of the downtown core. Many
couriers know homeless people by name. In return, many of the city's
homeless recognize the efforts of messengers and voice their
encouragement. Every courier knows "bad weather sets the stage for
heroic aspects of messengering" and in the winter there is a mutual
respect between the messengers and the homeless as they are among the
few people brave enough to endure the harshest conditions. In the
summer, a little bit of street theatre puts smiles on the faces of
office workers as 'Crow', one of Yonge Streets permanent residents,
"Ride Like the Hell's Angels" to almost every bike courier who passes.
Bicycle messengers can be called upon to provide
emergency services in the delivery of information. After the big
earthquake in Kobe Japan, bicycle messengers were the only way to
transport information anywhere. San Francisco is planning to give free
emergency response training to messengers and is working with the
messenger community to provide emergency services in the event of an
earthquake or any other major disaster. One messenger has recently
joined the International Red Cross in war zones. He presented them with
the idea that instead of training medics on bikes, they take couriers,
who already posses professional riding skills and train them as crisis
Bicycle messengers have developed a popular
cultural identity. They "colour the urban environment". Couriers are
the subject of novels, films, documentaries, television series, songs,
even operas and anthropological studies. In New York City, tourists
look for the best place to watch the
messengers. In Germany, some messengers have their own sports card like
athletes and others are asked to pose for women's magazines.
Through innovative style and function, bicycle
couriers have been an inspiration to fashion designers, musicians and
artists. They are a source of information for new commuters and
tourists. They have customized their bikes, locking techniques and
winter riding skills to suit the urban environment. They are year round
cyclists who promote the bicycle as a viable form of transportation.
They illustrate the possibilities and opportunities for the bicycle in
the economy of the future.
Even the police have learned from bike couriers.
The first and most famous police bicycle patrol in the United States
was started after two officers in Seattle, Washington observed
messengers in traffic. They watched as bike messengers navigated their
way through the gridlock, while all the cars remained stuck and
The healthy lifestyle that comes from life on a
bike convinced the federal health department to contribute $250,000 to
the production of the television series, "Liberty Street". The health
department wanted to promote healthy living to youths and felt that the
bike messenger character on the show would appeal to them.
One of the most overlooked benefits of bicycle
couriers is that they represent an embodiment of the human spirit that
triumphs. As our society relies more on technology and people interact
less, the courier "has a way of bringing a small slice of humanity into
what is often an affronting urban existence." The bicycle courier is
viewed as a folk hero, the ultimate urban man or woman, tough,
resourceful, “riding against the odds the city stacks against
everybody". Bike couriers are survivors, as one motorist noted -"they
are harder to kill than cockroaches." Most of all the messenger must be
perceived as a solution not a problem.
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