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monitors, analyzes and corrects media reporting errors and bias concerning messengers and couriers.

Messenger Institute
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Public Benefits of Messengers

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 messenger.

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 security. A passage from William Gibson's "Virtual Light" illustrates this point effectively:

"[The bicycle messenger] earned her living at the archaic intersection 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 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 transporting bits of information about a grid that consisted of little else [the messenger] provided a degree of absolute security in the fluid universe of data. With your memo in the [messenger's] bag, you knew precisely where it was; otherwise 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 likely 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 tourists 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 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 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 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 other 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 frustrated.

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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