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 The following is a draftof my report to the Toronto City Council concerning the proposed licensingof bicycle messengers in Toronto. A minor updateappeared in Hideouswhitenoise#33 - August 1997.

March 18, 1997


by joe hendry

On Monday, February 24, 1997 Toronto City Council passed a motionforthe staff to prepare a report on the potential licensing of bicycle couriersin the City of Toronto. The report was to explore this licensing on a costrecovery basis. These costs must be properly defined costs and not justdollar costs. A licensing system "should be adopted if its properly definedcosts outweigh its properly defined benefits - not otherwise." The benefitsand costs of a licensing system must be defined not as an increase or decreasein monetary terms but "as a gain or loss in welfare of all members" ofthe city. The welfare of the residents of Toronto is affected by many differentthings some of which include pollution, stress, traffic congestion, roadsafety, road quality, unemployment, inflation, growth and efficiency ofgovernment and business.

Council must also consider the effect of licensing on other goals andpolicy measures. They must also consider alternative approaches to achievethese goals. Even if licensing passed a benefit-cost test other measuresmay be more effective and efficient.

The licensing of bicycle couriers is a complex decision that must becarefully examined with the participation of all those affected. Councilmust gain a complete understanding of the bicycle courier industry andthe effect of licensing not only upon the industry but also upon the welfareof all Toronto's residents.


Many people have the perception that the bicycle courierindustry is a fly by night industry that was forced upon them in the 1980'sbut will soon disappear as people become more confident in fax machines,e-mail and the internet. Like most perceptions about bike couriers, itis false.

Bicycle couriers have been an important asset to the deliveryof information for over a century. In the late nineteenth century, WesternUnion and the United Parcel Service used bike messengers to deliver urgenttelegraphs and packages. In San Francisco, "messengering officially startedin 1894, when a railway strike halted mail delivery for the area. An ingeniousbicycle shop owner in Fresno came up with the idea to deliver it by bicycle.He set up a relay between Fresno and San Francisco, with six riders coveringabout thirty miles each. Other local businesses started to catch on tothe idea that the bike was an extremely efficient way to get products totheir customers."

The popularity and speed of the automobile in the earlyand mid part of the twentieth century led to a decline in the use of bikecouriers. Ironically, the rise of the modern day bike courier came aboutas a result of western society's reliance on the automobile. As residentsof large cities grew more dependant on cars for transportation, they designedcities that mainly supported their dependence. These urban designs discouragedall other means of transportation. By the late 1960's and early 1970'sthe large number of cars in the central core of major cities led to pollution,congestion and gridlock that resulted in an inability to move informationquickly. Bicycle couriers began to re-emerge in large urban centres asa solution to these problems.

The creative community in New York City were the firstto support "Can-Couriers", the first all bike service that carried filmcans around the city. In San Francisco the first all bicycle service wasstarted in 1945, as "Sparkie's". It later became "Aero" and is still inbusiness today. These bicycle messengers were a new breed that could notbe pigeon-holed or stereotyped. They wore jeans and t-shirts rather thancaps and bow ties. Many were artists who looked to the profession as aflexible means of employment that afforded them the freedom to pursue theirart. The list of former bicycle messengers who have become well known isnumerous and includes singer Sade (London), actress/comedienne (SaturdayNight Live) Janeane Garafolo (Boston), 1984 Olympic silver medalist NelsonVails (New York), and musician Ron Sexsmith (Toronto). Not all messengershowever are artists. The bike courier industry welcomes people from allcultures, races, and professions. There are former homeless people, squeegeekids, refugees, lawyers, accountants and stockbrokers. The list could includemost professions. It also boasts future athletes, professionals, artists,politicians and community leaders.

The first all bicycle courier company in Toronto was "SunwheelBicycle Couriers". It was established in 1979 and at one time employedover 50 bike messengers. In the early 1980's other courier companies addedbicycle service to their automobile service and today their are over fiftycourier companies that employ between 350 and 450 bike messengers in Toronto.


The bicycle courier industry is a modern sweat shop industry.In Toronto, almost all bicycle couriers are considered independent contractors.This designation is an industry practice and has never been supported bythe law. In fact, in the United States the Internal Revenue Service considersmessengers employees even though the industry generally follows the samepractices as Toronto. As a result, the IRS goes after messenger companiesone at a time to force them to comply.

Bike couriers are often forced by their employers to signcontractsstating that they are self-employed. These contracts are one-sided andprovide benefits and protections to the companies but none to the messengers.Bike messengers receive no protection from employment standards and labourlaws. They are paid a commission on each package delivered. There is nominimum wage. Couriers receive no benefits. They are not eligible for unemploymentinsurance or workers compensation. They can be fired with no notice. Bikemessengers rely on their company to supply them with enough work to survive.Many companies overhire messengers, resulting in some people making muchless than minimum wage. Messengers are charged for their two-way radioevery day, regardless of whether they are off sick. If a messenger missesa day for any reason, they will not be paid for that day but will be chargedfor the radio. Some companies make money just by having so many messengersfrom which they can collect radio charges. Some firms will charge the messengersradio charges even if the messenger supplies his own radio.

Bike couriers have no control over the price for theirservice. A company can slash prices, offer a discount to new clients oroffer service free of charge and there is nothing the messenger can do-except quit. And even then, if the messenger quits the company may attemptto hold their last cheque for a period of time, as punishment.

Many companies do not provide detailed records of theircommissions to the messengers. This practice exposes the messengers tofraud by their companies. A company can charge the client $10 for a call,and report to the messenger that they only charged them $6. The messengerwould receive commissions on the $6, when he (she) should receive commissionson the $10.

Many companies pressure messengers into unsafe practicesthat put the couriers in danger. For example, they may 'ask' messengersto take boxes on their handlebars. If the bike couriers refuse they maybe punished by a lack of work, or a series of low paying calls, or eventermination on the spot.


Bicycle messengers provide a valuable service to the businesscommunity. They are viewed as solutions to many of the problems in thedowntown core of urban centres, such as gridlock and pollution. Couriersprovide a value added service that continuously improving firms seek outas a means to reduce costs and improve efficiency. The messenger is oneof the most important links in the delivery of information for the businesscommunity.

The presence of bike couriers in the urban centres providecorporations with a safety net. The "laws of human procrastination" andthe errors of employees heighten this importance. When an organizationis 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 andsafe manner. As a result, stress in the workplace of downtown firms isreduced by their confidence in the bicycle messenger.

Bicycle couriers' importance to cities increase everyday. Traffic jams , gridlock and the increased presence of film companieson Toronto's streets point to a greater reliance on the messenger solution.Insightful people recognize that as business firms rely more and more ontechnology, the bike courier becomes more important in the areas of privacyand security. A passage from William Gibson's "Virtual Light" illustratesthis point effectively:

"[the bicycle messenger] earned her living at the archaicintersection of information and geography. The offices [the messenger]rode between were electronically conterminous - in effect, a single desktop,the map of distances obliterated by the seamless and instantaneous natureof communication. Yet this very seamlessness, which had rendered physicalmail an expensive novelty, might as easily be viewed as porosity, and assuch created the need for the service the [messenger] provided. Physicallytransporting bits of information about a grid that consisted of littleelse, [the messenger] provided a degree of absolute security in the fluiduniverse of data. With your memo in the [messenger's] bag, you knew preciselywhere it was; otherwise your memo was nowhere, perhaps everywhere, in thatinstant of transit."

Bicycle couriers provide solutions to the environmentalproblems 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 thereforethe less carbon dioxide emissions. More bikes mean less noise and stench.Bike messengers not only pollute less but also take up less space on theroad and do less damage to the roads than cars. More bike couriers meansless gridlock and fewer road repairs. As a result more bike couriers meanbetter conditions and streets for all road users including motorists.

Bicycle couriers increase the safety of pedestrians comparedto cars. Studies show that pedestrians are "250 times as likely to be injuredby a car, bus or taxi" than a bike.

Bicycle messengers are ambassadors of goodwill for thecity. Tourists often approach couriers for their help with directions andinformation about Toronto. Many times, couriers are among the first personson the scene of downtown accident and they ensure quick response by reportingit.

Bike couriers provide a link between many of Toronto'shomeless people and the rest of the downtown core. Many couriers know homelesspeople by name. In return, many of the city's homeless recognize the effortsof messengers and voice their encouragement. Every courier knows "bad weathersets the stage for heroic aspects of messengering" and in the winter thereis a mutual respect between the messengers and the homeless as they areamong the few people brave enough to endure the harshest conditions. Inthe summer, a little bit of street theatre puts smiles on the faces oftourists and office workers as 'Crow', one of Yonge Streets permanent residents,shouts "Ride Like the Hell's Angels" to almost every bike courier who passes.

Bicycle messengers can be called upon to provide emergencyservices in the delivery of information. After the big earthquake in KobeJapan, bicycle messengers were the only way to transport information anywhere. San Francisco is planning to give free emergency response training tomessengers and is working with the messenger community to provide emergencyservices in the event of an earthquake or any other major disaster. Onemessenger 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 trainthem as crisis medics.

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 anthropologicalstudies. In New York City, tourists look for the best place to watch themessengers. In Germany, some messengers have their own sports card likeother athletes and others are asked to pose for women's magazines.

Through innovative style and function, bicycle couriershave been an inspiration to fashion designers, musicians and artists. Theyare a source of information for new commuters and tourists. They have customizedtheir bikes, locking techniques and winter riding skills to suit the urbanenvironment. They are year round cyclists who promote the bicycle as aviable form of transportation. They illustrate the possibilities and opportunitiesfor the bicycle in the economy of the future.

Even the police have learned from bike couriers. The firstand most famous police bicycle patrol in the United States was startedafter 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 frustrated.

The healthy lifestyle that comes from life on a bike convincedthe federal health department to contribute $250,000 to the productionof the television series, "Liberty Street". The health department wantedto promote healthy living to youths and felt that the bike messenger characteron the show would appeal to them.

One of the most overlooked benefits of bicycle couriersis that they represent an embodiment of the human spirit that triumphs.As our society relies more on technology and people interact less, thecourier "has a way of bringing a small slice of humanity into what is oftenan affronting urban existence." The bicycle courier is viewed as a folkhero, the ultimate urban man or woman, tough, resourceful,"riding againstthe odds the city stacks against everybody". Bike couriers are survivors,as one motorist noted -"they are harder to kill than cockroaches." Mostof all the messenger must be perceived as a solution not a problem.


Bicycle couriers have wide and varied relationships withtheir communities. The stereotyped image of the messenger as a kamikazeroad warrior in New York City has led some people to despise and discriminateagainst them. Others have valued their professional skills and their potentialresourcefulness to the community. The SanFrancisco messenger community illustrates the possibilities.

  • The city has a Bike Messenger AppreciationDay on October 9 every year (10-9 day).
  • Gold Mountain Courier was created in 1984 to help refugeeson public assistance gain employment and learn the streets of their newcity.
  • Bicycles for Afghan Amputee Rehabilitation (BAAR) is a SanFrancisco organization supported by couriers in many cities, that donatesbikes to Afghanistan to aid amputee refugees from the war.
  • The annual AIDS ride uses bike messengers in a fashion showto promote the ride.
  • Messengers collect and deliver toys for needy kids at Christmastime
Despite the San Francisco bicycle messengers' efforts inthe community, they remain frustrated by some of the treatment and harassmentthey receive and are contemplating unionizing.

Toronto's relationship lies closer to San Francisco thanNew York. The Toronto City Cycling Committee and the police bike squadhelp to provide some understanding of riding bikes on grids that were designedfor cars. The bike courier community here aids charities, such as St. Stephen'sHouse through the annual "Courier Classic". It pits couriers in a raceagainst the police bike patrol and firefighters. They produce their ownindependent magazine and are among the leaders of the international bikemessenger community. Toronto's couriers invented the "Alley-Cat" races,which started out as illegal, outlaw, messenger races that replicated thecourier's work day, with the entire city as the course. These races haveevolved into sometimes legal races such as the Temperance Dash (in celebrationof Yonge St.'s 200th anniversary), the Cycle Messenger World Championships(hosted by Toronto in 1995 and now in its fifth year), and the Human PoweredRollercoaster. Many of these events attract corporate sponsorship and couriersfrom all over the world. The Human Powered Rollercoaster is the latestincarnation. It was put on by Toronto's couriers last Halloween in Vancouver.It returns to Toronto each April and will bring messengers from all overas participants and tourists.


The desire by city council to license bicycle courierscomes from incorrect perceptions and misunderstandings about the bicyclecourier industry. There are no studies or statistics to show that bicyclecouriers cause accidents or injury to themselves or others.

The licensing of messengers often comes up as a compromiseto the licensing of all cyclists. Cities study the licensing of cyclists.The studies clearly show that it is not feasible or effective. Motoristand pedestrian groups become upset and the city offers up couriers as sacrificiallambs. Even some bicycle advisory groups support the sacrifice, that isuntil the couriers are studied. Some cyclists feel that couriers give thema bad image and if couriers did not exist, motorists would treat them better.One of the most important reason couriers have an image problem is becausethey ride bikes on the road. Cyclists have suffered image problems fromthe beginning. Even the hobby horse, the bicycle ancestor, suffered thesame problems.

Another reason couriers suffer from a bad reputation isthat they are easily identifiable. One of the most basic rules of safetyon the road for any road user is - be seen. A studyon the Safety of Bicycle Couriers prepared by the Societe de l'assuranceautomobile du Quebec on February 13,1992 (and revised on April 8, 1992),concluded "it is reasonable to assume that [couriers] behaviour draws attentionmainly because their clothing and bag (often bearing the company name orcourier service logo) make them more visible". In fact couriers "have nomore of a propensity for accidents per kilometre travelled than other bicycleriders; the difference in mishap rates between the two groups might wellbe statistically insignificant. for that reason, caution is advised inimputing accident risk to couriers in order to justify specific interventiontargeting this type of road user."

When the city of Ottawa studied licensingcouriers, it noted the above report in its decision not to proceed.They also addressed the problem of identification noting that "concernsrespecting the promotion of safe cycling and compliance were addressedby the Province on 1990 January 12 when the Highway Traffic Act was amendedto require any cyclist to provide personal identification at the requestof a Police Officer. The Police may lay charges on the basis of that identificationfor infractions under the H.T.A. or any municipal by-law regulating traffic.

The potential licensing of couriers in Torontoarose out of city councils' discussion on "enhancing bicycle safety". Thedeaths of city cyclists last summer focused attention on safety on theroads. It should be noted that in the last ten years only one out of seventycyclists that were killed was a bicycle courier. People are surprised bythis statistic not only because bicycle messengers' jobs are very dangerousbut also because of the public's perception that couriers are not saferiders. The truth is that only one courier has died because they are professionalswho rely on safe riding techniques and their heightened awareness to stayalive.

Licensing bike couriers would not have saved Erin Krauseror Martha Kennedy from death. It would not even save one courier. To quotethe Board of Management Report that generated the discussion of enhancingbicycling safety:

"Enforceable traffic regulations for cycling (includingcouriers) already exist in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and the TorontoMunicipal Code...both the Metropolitan Chief of Police and the OntarioMinister of Transportation advised that licensing cyclists would be verycostly and would add little, if any value, for enforcement purposes...Policeresources should be directed at enforcement of existing traffic laws ratherthan ensuring that cyclists have a license."

If licensing all cyclists would not add value for enforcementpurposes then why would licensing couriers be any different? Bike couriersare a highly visible, easily identifiable group. They are an easy targetfor those who are anti-cyclist.

Is there a problem with couriers evading police? No, ofcourse not. The bicycle courier's office is the downtown core of Toronto.He (she) returns everyday. If a courier evades police, all the officerneeds to do is return downtown and wait for the messenger to appear.

Bike couriers are service oriented professionals witha strong work ethic. Their behaviour on the road is determined by manythings - none of which will be affected by a license. Messengers ride accordingto traffic, the demands placed upon them by their client, and their ownskill. Unsafe behaviour by other road users puts the messenger in dangerand sometimes leads to complaints about couriers. Most of the traffic violationsin the downtown core do not involve bicycle couriers but have a directeffect on their safety. Illegal parking, jaywalking, motorists using cellphones and driving in the Bay Street clearway are by far the most numerous.A messenger must deal with each of these and often all of these at thesame time. Many messengers tell stories of motorists opening their doorswithout looking, hitting the courier and then lecturing the courier abouthis or her recklessness. Pedestrians cross in the middle of the block andexpect the bike courier to stop for them. When the messenger refuses togive up the speed and the right of way that he (she) has earned over thelast few blocks, the pedestrian complains.

If a client demands a package in an unreasonable timeframe, messengers must determine the fastest route for delivery. It isnot in the couriers' interest to put themselves in any more danger thanthey already are. Those who break traffic laws without any regard for safetyend up in an accident. As a result they either learn from their experienceand ride safer or they leave the profession. Licensing will have no effectbecause the worst offenders will be long gone before their license canbe suspended.

Taxi drivers illustrate the effect of licensing on roadbehaviour. Licensing has had no effect on their driving behaviour becauselicensing does not work. At present, the taxi industry in Toronto is "ina mess". Licenses have become assets which are "traded like monopoly cards."A recent report slammed the Toronto's taxi industry claiming "dirty cars,too many cabs and too many poorly trained drivers." Licensing bike messengersis merely an attempt by politicians to sidestep normal law enforcementchannels.


Licensing bike couriers will lead to more bureaucracy,red tape and problems with other industries. If bicycle messengers arelicensed, some courier companies will opt for more cars than bikes downtownto avoid the increased costs. This will lead to more pollution, congestionand other problems related to the automobile. Licensing will be a barrierto entering the profession. It will increase costs to individual couriers,many of whom earn a meagre living in the first place. It will lead to increasedunemployment and welfare roles. It will mean increased costs to the clientsof courier companies with no added benefit thereby increasing inflation.The city will also have to bear the burden of administering the programmingand the police will have to enforce it. Licensing will lead to increasedenforcement and court costs. Messengers already feel discriminated against.The perception of further discrimination will result in them fighting everyticket received.

If licensing was to proceed it must be for all commercialcyclists. It cannot discriminate. What about automobile couriers and otherdelivery vehicles of items such as fast foods? Statistics show that pedestriansare "250 times as likely to be hit by a car, bus, or taxi than a bike".If couriers are licensed, it is only fair that their livelihood be protected.No one should be permitted to pick up a package without a license. Taxiswould be required to obtain a courier license if they carried packages.

The type of license must be determined. Many questionsmust be answered.

  • Who must obtain the license, the bicycle messenger or themessenger company?
  • How long is the license for?
  • Is the license for the bike or for the cyclist?
  • Who receives the fine? What kind of punishment?
  • Is the courier company responsible for the behaviour of itssubcontractors?
  • What kind of enforcement? Can people just accuse messengersof wrongdoing? What kind of evidence is required? Is there an appeal process?
  • Is a test required?
  • Will couriers' bike licenses be separate from their drivers'licences or will they be punished twice for infractions on a bike but onlyonce for infractions in a car?
  • Will the licenses affect the couriers when they are not atwork, on their day off, after work hours etc?
  • What about cyclists who look like couriers. Will they beharassed?

Licensing of bicycle couriers is an ineffective solutionto enhancing bicycle safety. It leads to more problems including harassment.NewYork City has licensed and insured bike messengers for many years.The only effect has been the reduction of bike messengers from a high ofabout 7,000 to 4,000. Some blame the fax machine and other technology,but over the same period Toronto has seen an increase in bike couriersfrom 85 to about 350. The failure of licensing to increase safety in NewYork led to the bike ban of 1987. New York passed a law banning bicyclesfrom the financial district in Manhattan between the hours of 10:00 amand 4:00 pm. The law only lasted one hour before it was struck down. In1992, messengers were again the target of a bill that was eventually defeated.It proposed the confiscation of commercial cyclists' bikes if they weresuspected of any traffic violation. New York has taken the wrong approach.There is very little enforcement of any traffic laws there. The only educationoffered to any cyclist in New York is a flyer explaining the traffic lawsas they pertain to cyclists. A bike messenger dies every single year inNew York City. Three died in 1994 alone.

In Washington D.C. bike messengersare required to register their bikes. Police often "raid"Dupont Circle - a messenger hangout. They show up in paddy wagons,confiscate unregistered bikes and toss them in the paddy wagon. On June12, 1992 the U.S. park police conducted a confiscation raid against bikemessengers hanging out after work at Dupont Circle. The S.W.A.T. team usedthe registration law as a ruse to remove the couriers from the park. Policeconfiscated 15 unregistered bikes. One officer pointed his baton at thechest of a courier and yelled "Drop the fucking bike!" The courier replied,"It's not loaded." Although non-registration is a $5 traffic offence, inthis case it was treated as a criminal offence. The couriers had to pay$25 fines. With media attention and support from the American Civil LibertiesUnion, the Superior Court returned the fines and dismissed the criminalcharges.

In San Francisco, on March 18,1993, policecracked down on messengers. In two hours, 51 messengers were citedfor not having a license. Police gave the reason for the crackdown as complaintsfrom the public regarding riding on the sidewalk and hanging on to cars.Couriers noted the coincidence to the previous days events when an officeron a bicycle tried in vain to pull over a messenger for a traffic violation.After giving up the chase the officer went to two popular messenger hangoutsto announce "that something big was going to happen" and there would be"hell to pay" the following day.

In Vancouver B.C., messengersare required to have license plates on their bikes at all times, wear helmets,take a city run test and are specifically allowed to be arrested withouta warrant. The couriers' clothes get caught on the license plates and tear.Messengers bend the corners of the plates to stop the damage and are subsequentlyticketed by police for doing so. With all these measures, complaints againstbicycle couriers are still the number two complaint to the police. Licensinghas had no effect and police have turned to harassment.Vancouver couriers have formed the Vancouver Bicycle Courier Association(VBCA) and are consulting a lawyer regarding a selective harassment suitagainst the police.

In Boston, messengers are requiredto wear special jerseys. In 1996 police began citing the messengers forobscuring the jerseys with their messenger bags. The couriers then cutup their jerseys and sewed them to their bag so they were not obscured.Then the police ticketed them for not wearing their jerseys.

Bike messengers are harassed all over the English speakingworld. Australia has proposed a $1000 bond for foreign couriers to offsetany fines they may receive while there. In Sydney, Australia, off dutypolice officers are paid extremely well to ticket couriers.

New York City bike messenger Seth Amgott in a letter tothe New York Times, entitled, "For the Bicycle Messenger,No Roadbed of Roses" illustrates the messenger's dilemma:

"Like the Jews of medieval Europe, messengers make anobjective contribution to the local economy, but are viewed as utterlyforeign, existing tenuously on official tolerance punctuated by specificharassment. Some of us on the margins of traffic are from the margins ofsociety as well, lacking tact and communication skills, and would not otherwisebe in corporate midtown - or decently employed."

All of these cities devoted so many resources in responseto complaints against bicycle couriers who are just trying to make a livingin a profession that is dangerous but legal. Perhaps the complaints shouldbe carefully investigated. They are often based as much on misconceptionsas they are on fact.


Licensing bicycle couriers does not work. It adds no valueto enforcement and leads to harassment. Bicycle couriers should be treatedno different than other cyclists. The same recommendations apply. Educationis a better approach. Bicycle couriers rely on their skills to survive.The development of these skills and safe riding techniques should be encouraged.Positive rewards work much better than special tickets and fines.

CAN-BIKE should be offered for free, to encourage couriersto enroll. A plan to market and tailor a CAN-BIKE program specificallyfor couriers should be developed. An attempt to train and certify bikemessengers as instructors must be made. The more messenger instructorsthere are the more likely more messengers will take a CAN-BIKE course.

Toronto should work to educate the public on the benefitsand contributions of bicycle couriers. A balanced picture of them may helpto break stereotypes.

Bicycle messengers should be encouraged to offer theirskills to the community. The positive aspects of their image could be usedto help children and charities. It would have the added benefit of improvingthe bike courier's image.

Courier companies should be pressured into paying allmessengers a daily minimum. A guaranteed minimum would discourage companiesfrom overhiring. It would lead to better treatment of messengers and lesspressure to break traffic laws.

A Bike Messenger Appreciation Day would help to achievethe overall goals. It could be used to promote CAN-BIKE to the couriers.It would celebrate the benefits bicycle couriers bring to the communityand educate the public about their profession. It would send a signal tomessengers that the city wants to work with them rather than license andharass them.

The city should encourage the courier community to setup a viable working professional association to help correct misconceptionsabout couriers, to educate couriers, to improve working conditions andto promote bicycle use in general.


The study, implementation and administration of a licensingsystem for bicycle couriers would be a costly endeavour for the City ofToronto. A more inexpensive and effective solution would be to provideseed money and support to a Professional Bike Courier Association.

The association would encourage couriers to complete aCAN-BIKE course. This could be accomplished by offering the course forfree to the couriers - at least initially. The association could attemptto certify some couriers as CAN-BIKE instructors who would in turn traintheir contemporaries. The certified instructors and other courier graduatesof the course would help the CAN-BIKE course evolve into one that was tailoredto the skills necessary to succeed as a bicycle courier.

The association would be a non-profit corporation runmainly by messenger volunteers. The would raise their own funds from asmany sources as possible.

Every bike messenger in the city would automatically bea member in the association. They would achieve "associate member status"as soon as they were employed as a messenger. Once a courier completeda CAN-BIKE course (and perhaps an amount of time working as a courier)they would achieve "Professional Bike Courier" status.

Courier companies would be encouraged to employ a certainpercentage of messengers that had achieved Professional Bike Courier status.The association would in return award companies that met the minimum standards"Professional Bike Courier Company" status. The association would publishand inform the public through newsletters and press releases of the companiesthat earned professional status and those that have not. The associationwould also inform members and the public about companies who have questionablepractices. Companies could also encourage couriers to enroll in a CAN-BIKEcourse by offering them a guaranteed daily minimum pay or a bonus aftercompletion.

The association could issue some kind of identification(for example a sticker placed on a bike) to professional members that wasvisible to the public. This would not be a license. It would not identifythe messenger personally. It would only serve to identify the courier asa professional member of the association. This may help to attach somestatus to the professional messenger. The public could complain to thepolice or the city or the association about professional members' behaviour.Complaints could be tracked by non-professional members vs professionalmembers to evaluate the success of this approach.

A Bike Messenger Appreciation Daydeclaredby the city would bring attention to the efforts of couriers, courier companiesand the courier association to promote professionalism and safety in theindustry. It would legitimize the professional association. It would promoteboth bike culture and courier culture. The day would be on October 9 (10-9is the radio code for 'what' or 'say again') in order to coincide withother Messenger Appreciation Days throughout the world. This day wouldfocus attention on bikes at a time of year when people are thinking aboutputting their bikes away for the winter. This added attention could beused to promote winter cycling and to promote the use of bikes in otherareas of the economy. It could be used to promote CAN-BIKE, SPACE and safecycling. It could include an award ceremony for couriers and companiesthat achieved "professional" status.

The appreciation day could serve as induction ceremonyfor a Bike Courier Hall of Fame, operated by the association. Messengersand others would nominate anyone who contributed in a special way to thecourier community or a courier who contributed to the community at large.The first year would see something like three or five inductees to gainadded attention. Every year after would see one.

The association could explore ways for messengers to helpout in the community. They could aid charities, foster relationships withother bike groups, transportation groups and environmental agencies.

The professional bicycle courier association would acceptresponsibility for its members. It would provide city council with an opportunityto enhance bicycle safety in a much more effective and inexpensive mannerthan licensing. It would encourage the use of bicycle couriers rather thandiscourage their use.

UPDATE - August 1997

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