Toronto Bicycle Couriers; Free Enterprisers

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Via Toronto Observer:

Screen shot 2010-04-07 at 3.31.39 PMOn March 25, fully dressed in several layers of winter clothing, Dyer and five other bike couriers sat at the roundtable in downtown Toronto.

Some are members of the Toronto Bike Messenger Association (TOMBA), a non-profit organization set up for the benefit of 500 bike messengers. They’re planning an emergency fundraiser for May 1 and 2. Dyer explained the purpose of the Bike Messenger Emergency Fund.

“When we get hit, we get hit (and) we go down,” Dyer said. “The bike gets trashed. You lose a month’s pay … Then you get to fix your bike. All of a sudden you just spent two grand! That’s what the fund does. It helps you get back to work. It helps you pay the rent.”

Most couriers, 90 per cent of them, work as independent contractors. They incur the same risks that small business does. Dyer clarified that 90 per cent of messengers get paid on commission, per piece.

Courier Andrew Parker noted that Toronto bike messengers receive a standard commission of about 60 per cent of the rate charged by a courier company, but without employee benefits.

“As an independent contractor, (we’re not entitled to) benefits, unemployment insurance or sick leave pay,” Parker said.

Like small business, bike messengers pay a wide variety of indirect costs. For example, 70-year-old courier Steve Beiko says he might consume six meals on a cold winter day.

“Food is our fuel,” he said.

TOMBA spokesperson Marli Epp explained that couriers work around the clock, in good weather and bad.

“If there is a blizzard and they close schools, we’re working on our bikes,” Epp said.

Full article here

And, if you simply can’t get enough bicycle courier action, here’s a documentary from 2001 on Toronto bicycle couriers:

Critical Mass Pt 2
Critical Mass Pt 3
Critical Mass Pt 4
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Critical Mass Pt 6
Critical Mass Pt 7