The Post had a front page story on the impact (negative) that 9/11, digitization and the economy have had on the bike messenger business.
The number of full-time couriers in Washington has fallen from a high of about 400 in the 1990s to about 150, said Andy Zalan, a longtime bike messenger and head of the D.C. Bicycle Couriers Association.
"Those of us left are making a lot less money," Zalan said.
The decline is being felt in all cities, according to Michael Gualtieri, president of the Messenger Courier Association of America. In New York, consolidations and business failures have cut the number of courier companies from a high of almost 500 to about 40, he said.
But the beginning of the end came with the security shocks of 2001, first the attacks and then anthrax. Messengers were relegated to alley entrances and basement mailrooms. Veteran riders still find ways to get their rushes through; White House staffers, who aren't allowed to accept handoffs through the iron fence, have been known to meet couriers at nearby coffee shops.
"Almost in one day, we were getting a lot fewer rush jobs," said Marcia Vottero, 28, a rider for Washington Express. She knew of 25 female riders when she started in 2000. Now, she says, she is one of two who ride regularly. Like a lot of messengers, she works a second job, as a bartender, to supplement her salary.
"I used to be able to make $1,500 a week, not even working long hours," said Vottero. "Now that's cut in half, and I've got to work all day."
Vottero, who has clearance to deliver inside the Department of Justice and the World Bank, is on the high side of earners. More typical now, according to several couriers, is $400 to $500 a week.
Stories about the demise of bike messengers are nothing new, but this one makes the point that the economy is having an effect as well.
In a world where it's possible to instantly send a document almost anywhere in the world, it does seem a bit anachronistic to have a fleet of people physically transporting paper around town. I'm probably ignorant, but frankly I'm surprised there ARE still bike messengers. I'm also surprised it took 5 comments on the Post piece before you finally got to someone who said something negative about messengers - and the comments are mostly positive.
Despite their pessimistic plight, the article goes a long way to discuss the unique cultural position that messengers fill in this town, and that maybe they will be nostalgically missed - like phone booths and streetcars. Maybe, like streetcars, they'll even come back - UPS started as a bike messenger company and I suspect bike messengers could move packages around downtown faster and with less illegal parking than the big brown trucks. It all makes me think of all the cultural references to bike messengers, the TV Shows Double Rush (underrated, with a young D.L. Hughley and David Arquette), Dark Angel and Streetwise; the movie QuickSilver and that episode of Red Shoe Diaries when Joey from Friends played a bike messenger...
Photo by mcwaffle89