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Vancouver bike couriers change strategies

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Brothers Fez and Sal Rismani started their delivery service with electric scooters, but realized capacity and safety issues limited the types of deliveries they could make.
(Photo submitted)

Brothers Fez and Sal Rismani started their delivery service with electric scooters, but realized capacity and safety issues limited the types of deliveries they could make. (Photo submitted)

The growth of Vancouver-based bicycle-delivery companies has led to what seems to be the slow resurgence of licensed bicycle couriers — except instead of the urgent small brown-envelope packages of days past, many are now delivering everything from take-out food to laundry.

According to city numbers, 15 years ago there were 324 bicycle couriers registered with Vancouver City Hall. That number plummeted to 87 in 2012.

Traditionally, Vancouver’s market has seen the likes of companies such as Corporate Couriers with its three decades of history — advertising a fleet of 150 drivers and bicycle couriers.

But in recent years, new companies have sprung into the market. There’s Shift Delivery, a firm that opened in 2011 and now employs seven couriers who use trikes, a mechanic, and two managers.

Ben Wells, one of the co-owners, said their firm has chosen to focus 100% of their business running cargo for just 10 companies.

“My sense from the messenger community is that it’s not a growing industry for the urgent packages, especially the smaller things,” he said.

“We work primarily with local companies looking to improve their carbon footprint or downtown logistics. For us, that would mean, say, a local food producer or another company that wants to get a product to downtown customers.”

Since his couriers are employees and not contractors, their numbers are also not included in the latest bicycle courier count, which the city said reached 103 in 2014.

Chris Thoreau, “chief executive pedaler” at the Vancouver Food Pedalers Cooperative, has a different model, focusing on delivering items produced in-house — they grow four kinds of veggies in an urban farm.

“Right now, we’re doing sunflower shoots, pea shoots, radish shoots and wheatgrass,” he said.

The co-op started in 2009 and now completes anywhere from 40 to 60 deliveries a week, with three dedicated bicycle-delivery people.

“To be honest, it just makes economic sense to be on a bike and going through the city — you’re travelling at the same rate as a vehicle on average anyways.”

But not everyone has had the same amount of luck with pedal-powered deliveries.

Daily Delivery co-founder Fez Rismani opened shop one year ago with his brother, at first only using electric scooters.

The cost was cheap — just $2 per month to recharge, he says — but growth was nearly impossible.

“For every extra two or three orders we had to buy a second and third scooter,” he said.

“So we kind of switched the model.”

Now, Daily Delivery has three electric scooters — but at the same time has hired about 35 contracted drivers, after realizing the limits a scooter can carry, and that two-wheeled vehicles in the cold and wet may not be as safe.

Their company completed orders for about 5,000 individual clients last year, delivering everything from food to make-up to outdoor recreational gear.

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