Seattle Messengers: Urban Buffalo?

Chained.jpg The P. I. proclaims the immanent demise of bike messengers in today’s issue. It’s true I’m sure that the number of messengers are down, but I doubt Messengers are the urban buffalo of the late part of the first decade of this millennium. The reports of messenger death are greatly exaggerated from what I can tell – check the following: Transportation Alternatives from 1996 (The industry is too squeezed to pay messengers in NYC); The Economist from a decade later; the Sydney Morning Herald and BCBusiness from just last year. Meanwhile, if you like your media closer to home, check out Pilder’s blog, of one of the messengers in the PI article.

Messengers gone? Could be, doesn’t seem like it’ll be right away to me. I’d be very sad to see the days of paid-to-ride fall by the side of the road, but that doesn’t seem like what’s happening either. I imagine we’ll actually see more pedal-powered traffic on the roads as oil prices top $100/gal. Maybe not so much for moving documents though – here’s a local pizza joint who delivers by bike (on Cetma racks no less).

It’d be a big blow to lose this very physical culture from our city, and digital documentation does seem like it’s making a dent. Messengering is the quit-my-job fantasy for more than a few of the very folks enabling these digital docs (myself included). But my money’s on this buffalo surviving. And as Byron wrote earlier, The Hip and the Dead.

p.s. As always, the PI Soundoff darkly funny in it’s over the top anti-cycling response.

Photo Credit to Mike Kane/P-I


The messenger industry has had it’s ups and downs for decades, but the problems it faces currently (predominantly the digital transmission of documents) is thinning the ranks in all but the largest cities. The industry will probably never die, but it is certainly in a decline.

In New York and other major metros, couriers mostly transport small items (dvd masters, model portfolios, rent checks) whereas in smaller cities 75% of the work is documents. Documents (including legal filings) are all going digital so there’s a very tangible downturn in “paper” deliveries. But people will always need small errands run and items delivered, so I doubt this is the end of the messenger.

If anything would’ve survived the dotcoms, I wish it was Kozmo. Who knows, maybe a messenger entrepreneur good go into delivery groceries downtown with cargo bikes.

Messengers aren’t the urban buffaloes, they’re the urban Buffalo Bills - you know, pony express, telegraph, etc, etc…

As you point out, there is a difference, as the nitch (sp?) that messengers - or can I say just human powered vehicles that carry mail, packages, etc is changing from office-type documents to things like Last Mile services that UPS is playing around with and food deliveries in urban areas make sense.

I keep hearing rumors about UPS Last Mile on bikes, but I’ve never seen any real evidence. What’s the scoop? True?

i was a messenger in the late 1980s, when the same predictions were made about the messenger’s demise due to the popularity of faxes. didn’t happen, of course. there’s always stuff to deliver that can’t be faxed or emailed. yay for more bicycle deliveries of stuff that has long been delivered by automobiles!

Hey, you might be interested in this, which I posted last year in response to the perennial ‘messengers are dying’ stories

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