How Technology is Revolutionizing Bicycle Couriers

The times, they are a changin.’ It was not so long ago that bicycle messengers in NYC were threatened with extinction by the invention of the fax machine. Then it was email. Both technologies altered the landscape of the courier business – where previously the bulk of deliveries were papers – think contracts, professional correspondence, and proof copies – now the average courier payload is small packages, mostly from the publishing and fashion industries.

Recent years have brought several new players – Uber, Zipments, and Lyft are just the major players that make the news. In major metropolitan areas across the US, there are hundreds of companies and apps all vying for the holy grail of delivery: instant.

Most of these new players depend on smartphone apps and traditional methods like haulage trucks foot, bike, or cars for the actual delivery. Environmentally minded consumers can now specify delivery methods like foot and bicycle over cars.

Traditional couriers used to depend on human dispatchers and a call center to support them. Today, a growing number of independent one-man-couriers is rising to prominence. Zipments, for instance, allows businesses to contact independent couriers who are nearby and request same day delivery. 

These apps and services continue to innovate in a never ending quest for market dominance. Recent upgrades include the ability to post reviews on individual couriers and to request a specific courier for a particular delivery.

Perhaps the most revolutionary way these apps are changing the delivery landscape, however, is the ability for local retailers to arrange same day delivery. This often levels the playing field when competing with online retailing behemoth

There is a troubling aspect to this revolution, however. Couriers in New York City have recently voiced concerns over these new apps. The fear is that the intense competition will lead to a downward spiral in pricing; a race to the bottom that will result in decreased income for couriers.

Of course, these independent couriers are free to turn down shipments that pay too little. But what happens when all shipments pay too little?

The app providers see it differently. They point to the advantages of being able to pick a specific messenger for a specific delivery, and the ability to post reviews of specific messengers, as game changers that will increase the incomes of couriers. After all, most anyone can ride a bike, but it takes a particular skill set to quickly navigate the busy and often dangerous streets in major metropolitan areas.