Re: Licensing of Bicycle Couriers by Metro LicensingCommission
May 31, 1991
The Association of Professional Urban Cyclists is a labour based organizationwith temporary offices at 506 Adelaide Street West, founded in November1990 by Neville Alexander and Shannon Reiner to unite the bicycle couriersand protect their chosen profession from bureaucratic bungling. A bodyof 10 persons loosely runs the organization, all on a volunteer basis,with approximately 150 couriers supporting the efforts of APUC.
Brief Courier Job Description
Driving 50 hours a week on the downtown streets, with traffic chaos,exhaust fumes, blind pedestrians and obnoxious security guards, is notsomething you could wish upon someone, but we choose to do it. Physicalproblems with knees and backs are the most dreaded. Scrapes and bruisesseem to be the most common. All the above factors make this a job, nota career.
Cost of bicycle courier services to clients.
Minimum charges $2.50 for pickup and delivery within the same day. Maximumcharge $15.00 straight up to Eglinton Ave. in less than one hour. Averagecharge per delivery is $3.50/$4.00. Note most couriers make only a percentageof the charge, 50% - 70%. Clients are charged GST on all deliveries.
Income level, and expenses of bicycle couriers.
Gross $18,000 to $14,000 per year, full time, 2 weeks off. After expenses,repairs, replacements (1/3 to 1/2 gross income), and more than the averagefood consumption, taxes, fines, etc. most couriers are at or below thepoverty line. The above stats are from 1989 and the current recession hasdecreased pay even further.
Bike handling, skill level & attitude towards accidents.
Bike handling and skill level improve with experience. The more yearson the road, the better the rider, generally. The appearance of recklessnessin bicycle couriers, which shouldn't be confused with foolish recklessness,is just another technique in the repertoire of a professional urban cyclist.The attitude towards accidents is simply; do not get hit, it's not worthit, you will lose - 2 tons vs 200 lbs is no contest. Even pedestrians canseriously wipe out a bicycle with just one hand.
The following are submissions by Toronto bike messengers to the MetroLicensing Commission regarding the Commissions attempts to license bikecouriers. They are dated May 31 and June 1, 1991.
From Shannon Reiner, (A.P.U.C.):
A typical day in the life of a bicycle courier. November 13, 1990,8:30 a.m.
Grey, freezing drizzle, 5 degrees Celsius, pedestrian, car, cars, truck,streetcar, taxi, car. Acknowledge message from dispatcher, cars, bicycle,trucks, van, car, bus, pedestrian, stop, enter building, elevator, seenice receptionist answer phone, grab package, elevator, unlock bicycle,cars, pothole, pedestrian, streetcar track, taxi, taxi, pedestrian, redlight, etc. Repeat 25 to 50 times a day.
So it goes, day after day. I have developed a sharp awareness of thehazards of the road including an extra sense which might be described asthe mind guesser sense. I have persevered through thick and thin. Fromthe most adverse weather/traffic/economic conditions, to deliveries inScarborough, North York, and Etobicoke all in the same day. Sometimes Iquestion myself about I continue to apply myself to these duties. I usuallyrespond with, 'I'm Building discipline and character, but the job doesoffer some advantages: being outside, riding a bicycle and the impressionof entrepreneurial spirit.
After six years on the road, I have suffered two minor injuries on thejob and never have I caused an accident of any kind. I took my first jobat a smaller company, one that had a higher downtown charge than most.I was the only bicycle courier they had and I actually had to talk theminto hiring a bicycle. They had me purchase the same insurance that theirlicensed car drivers had. I never needed it and didn't renew. I did quitewell for a time (1 year), and developed a feeling of contributing to something.The company now had 10 bicycle couriers and 10 less cars. Like all goodthings, it came to an end. Drifting now on the fringe of the courier business,I encountered many dead ends, pitfalls, exploitations, and the like froma host of sources (some most certainly playing a serious game of deception).But the real sharks lie elsewhere.
I persevered and once again found a niche in the fragile bicycle courierindustry. The industry's slim profit margins, which are already standard,have created the following problem. The non- experienced, owner/manager/operatorsopening every week and undercutting the already established companies andthen going out of business. As a result, the cost of a delivery in Torontohas not increased in 10 years, although the cost of living has and thecurrent recession has actually decreased our pay.
The one most constant thing in the courier industry is the source, thelarge corporation with a big delivery service account. This corporation,over its many years in business, has figured the best way to get the mostnumber of deliveries completed for the most amount of dividends, in mostof the shareholders pockets. This has been accomplished by cutting outthe biggest shareholder, the Government. The books no longer have deliveryservice accounts directly tied to payroll deductions. This leaves the deliveryservice contractors holding potential taxation revenue which ends up directlysupplementing the sub-contractors' (bicycle couriers') commission.
The courier industry will ultimately have to pass the cost of insurance/licensingon to either the Bicycle Courier or the corporate account. Past and currentindustry trends indicate that the individual courier will pay, most likelyin the form of a daily fee. Most bicycle couriers make less than povertywages after expenses.
What benefits do I receive from licensing? Who is going to protect mewhen I'm inevitably bowled over by a motorist or pedestrian? Especiallyin the event I'm injured. Under no-fault (insurance), during the firstweek I would zero dollars from an insurance claim. Most bicycle accidentsare minor with less than one week injury time.
On the positive side of Metro's proposed licensing of bicycle couriers,government will be half closing a loop hole in the large corporations'efforts to maximize dividends. Negatively, it will be hitting hardest theworking people that are making an honest living that is quite clean andpositive to the future of our planet.
I beg Metro to go after the source instead of serving it.
Oh, and about getting "bowled over by a bicycle courier",the odds are approximately: Metro Population 2,000,000 / 250 bicycle couriers,or 8,000:1 and that's only during business hours.
From John Greig, (A.P.U.C.):
Bicycle couriers are Ambassadors of the street who operate between pedestriansand motor traffic, avoiding both.
The "perception" that citizens risk being "bowled over"by couriers is mostly fantasy and strangely invented by people who spendthe greater portion of their working days indoors. Bike couriers are onthe street each day, year round and are expert cyclists. Commonly, bikecouriers are overly cautious. Hit someone and you will get hurt too. That'sthe rule.
Riding bicycles on city sidewalks is forbidden and rightly so. Sidewalksare the domain of pedestrians. Yet in this automobile obsessed society,civic officials deem it proper for local business people and organizationsto block sidewalks with shiny sports cars while selling tickets to rafflethem off. This is curious.
For those attempting to tag an ethos to bike couriers, lets hope theycome up with something positive. Bike couriers are good for any city anddo not deserve a toe tag.
From Peter Lord, A.P.U.C.:
As a cycle courier, full time, year round. I have to be concerned withthe notion of a bylaw being introduced that would license bicycle couriers,restrict their freedoms as citizens and more fodder to never ending bureaucracythat distracts the people and wastes their time and tax money. I wouldbe glad to put the money and energy into a license if I thought it wouldserve a useful purpose. I have been at this job almost three years andthere has never been a problem that required licensing. It works so well,it is the most popular way of delivering packages. We must be doing somethingright. This service is virtually limitless and in times of economic expansion(even now) this service is a necessity and not a luxury. As a fulltimecourier, I take the job very seriously. I think it is unfair to try tohorn in our system because it is a system that works for all involved.If people opened their eyes before they stepped into moving traffic, endangeringthe lives of others, then maybe they wouldn't be so frightened of bicyclecouriers, maybe there wouldn't be such a hate for couriers. We're justtrying to do our jobs and stay alive as best we an. It is dangerous andwe do it by choice. With co-operation and meaningful dialogue we mighteven be able to create a favourable environment for a licensing by-law.We had hoped to be more involved with the process.
From Kevin F., A.P.U.C.:
I have been a bicycle courier for more than a year and a half and Ilove it. I have never hit a pedestrian but I have had two accidents whena driver opened a car door without looking, both resulting in minor repairsto my bike and myself and no damage to the car or person who opened thedoor.
A Winter Day. I start my day by listening to the weather to figure outwhat clothes to wear and what extras to bring with me. Leaving my placebefore sun up and riding in the cold winter air wakes me up and I ridefaster through the snow. A driver who only cleaned off enough of the frontwindshield to see out the front, cuts me off because he can't see out theback window. I get to Bay and Bloor and check in about 8:15 a.m. I getsome pick-ups going downtown and head off. I continue picking up and droppingoff till about 5:30 p.m. and then home. Working in the winter has manyadvantages. All or most of the pedestrians are in the underground malls.There is much less traffic, less couriers and no problem finding a placeto lock my bike. I also like the challenge of facing bad weather forcingme to transcend the cold wind and snow. It's great fun and personally challenging.
In the summer the weather is good but the abundance of pedestrians emergingfrom the tunnels and walking out from between parked cars, standing fivefeet from the curb waiting for the light to change causes many problemsfor cyclists and cars.
Ninety percent of my near death experiences are caused by drivers payingmore attention to their car phones than the road, with phone in one handand cigarette in the other, they can't be bother to signal or pay attentionto traffic conditions. There is also a problem with commuter cyclists andnew or summer only couriers who don't know how to ride in heavy traffic.They are a danger to themselves and other cyclists and cars. Parking spotsthat are secure and convenient are sparse for locking your bike, but Istill love my job. Over all it is a great job because I get to challengemyself, go different places every day, meet new people and I don't haveto wear a suit and tie.
I'm concerned that if the proposed by-law is passed I may end up inthe welfare line, as my company would cut back on their bicycle couriersand replace them with cars, increasing the traffic and more importantlythe pollution. If a gun permit only costs $23.00, surely licensing a bikecourier, a non-polluting, clean and efficient form of transportation, shouldn'tpay more. The costs that are for the companies will only be passed on tothe courier in direct charges or reduced commissions.
From Mike Armstrong (A.P.U.C.):
I make my living delivering parcels on my bicycle in downtown Torontoand have been doing so for almost four years. In that time, I have grownfond of my work. Being outdoors (despite inhospitable conditions) and beingpart of the rhythm of the city make my work enjoyable. After taxes, I donot make very much money. I am, however able to remain in school part time(York U.) and create my music, while still paying the rent on time. Theseare my thoughts on being a bicycle courier.
Dealing with Traffic: Over the years, I feel that I have acquired extremelygood riding skills. In four years, I have had no serious accidents norhave I hit any pedestrians. I don't ride slow either. I can see situationsdeveloping up to 20 seconds before they happen. Expect and be ready foranything from motorists, other cyclists and pedestrians. This is the goldenrule of cycling in the city. To deal with this, I have adopted a tolerantattitude, taking everything in stride. No, I'm not kidding.
Experiencing Conflicting Attitudes Toward Me, The Courier , On the Road:I feel that there is sometimes a mutual respect between vehicles and bicyclecouriers. I notice this when I ride recreationally in the city and visiblynot working as a courier - it's a bit scarier. Other times, however, Ifind we are marked for death.
The Image Thing: Needless to say, bicycle couriers are a highly visiblegroup and I'm constantly aware of this as i work in a city geared towardstourism and conventions (remember Toronto the Good?) Some may see bicyclecouriers as a blemish on Toronto's shiny image. I think that our presencehas a positive impact on a rather humdrum landscape of the city core.
An Expensive Job: Riding a bicycle on the streets of Toronto nine hoursa day is costly. Food consumption can be a bit silly (6,000 calories aday?) as do the expenses of clothing and bicycle upkeep, as everyone knowsour winters can be devastating. I have gone through two and a half bikesin four years and enough parts to build up another four bikes. We can'talways riding on Spadina Avenue either.
My Attitude: I sincerely believe that what I do for a living is tremendouslypositive for the city of Toronto. I provide a safe, clean and efficientservice delivering parcels in a city which is growing continually congestedand polluted. The bicycle (courier) is the logical alternative and shouldbe encouraged in every way by a city government which has a mandate tocut down on its carbon monoxide emissions.
Another From Mike Armstrong, A.P.U.C.:
I see the marble-lined corporate corridors. I see the graffiti in theelevators of St. James Town. I see black, gold-trimmed imported automobilesbrowse through red lights as the driver makes a deal on his cell phone.I see a desperately drunk man on his hands and knees on the road and peopleturn or just stare as a cab ploughs into him. I see two men in the FCP( First Canadian Place) elevator, well-dressed, talking about "lettingthe 'nips' carry" their luggage in Japan. I see the carved ivory tusksprominently displayed in the corporate office. I see bicycle couriers obeyingthe rules of the road (many times). I see cars and trucks breaking therules of the road (many times). I see mothers pushing their babies in theirbuggies, out into traffic from between parked cars without looking. I seecars making left turns from the right lane. I see Bay Street as the Autobahn.I see the driver and he sees me and he accelerates to make that left turnbecause he weighs two tons and I weigh 200 pounds (with my bike) and heknows it. I see brown snow in the winter and browner air in the summer.I see more and more people riding their bikes downtown and that's a goodthing to see. I also see a municipal election looming.
Letter to the editor, Toronto Star, 1991, from William Long:
Re: the licensing of bicycle couriers by the Metro Licensing Commission:I have been a cycle courier since the fall of 1988. During this time myaverage annual income has been around $15,000. Not a great deal of moneyconsidering the expense of living in Toronto, but since I am not deeplyconcerned about being a "mass consumer" of expensive goods, Imanage to make ends meet. There are lots of daily nuisances which makethe job difficult but every job has its frustrations.
Most of my relatives and long-time friends treat my vocation as a phaseI'm going through, but I enjoy the work enough to continue as long as possible.There are two reasons why I may not be able to keep working as a courier.The first is economic. I currently spend more than 60 percent of my incomeon food and housing. The remainder must cover clothing and equipment forwork, repairs and maintenance and all the miscellaneous expenses of lifein the big city. The cost of doing business is firmly attached to the inflationaryspiral and is thus out of my control. Since I work on a commission basis,my income is dependant on the cost and number of deliveries available,and I have no control over that. As expenses rise and income falls, therewill come a time when I can't continue. A license costing $93 will onlyincrease the financial pressures and will provide little benefit for meor the public at large.
The other reason I may not be able to ride for a living is the possibiltyof injury. The city streets are becoming more crowded and the people usingthe streets are more impatient and less careful. I consider myself to bea competent cyclist with more than 5,000 hours of experience operatinga bicycle in heavy traffic - more than some vehicle operators log in alifetime. Even using extreme caution and common sense, I still have numerous,heart-stopping, close calls every day that could result in injury, permanentdisabilty or death, for which I have no protection. Something as simpleas an improper lane change by another vehicle (vehicle here could meancar, bike, bus, or truck) could cause an accident that could sideline mefor days or weeks with no income. The one serious accident I had resultedin a minor headache and $300 damage to my bike. One week's pay gone becausesomeone decidied they had the right to pass in a lane narrowed by construction.
To summarize, I am one of the lucky few who have found a career thatI love, which harms no one and which supports me. I only hope that someonecan address the real problems facing our city, overcrowding and economicinstability, so that I can continue my chosen occupation.
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