The use of bicycle messengers: an option in the 2010 supply chain
Faculty of Applied Economics
Glasgow , 2010
European Transport Conference, Glasgow 11-13 October 2010
University of Antwerp
This paper deals with the use of bicycle messengers, also called bike couriers, in the modern 2010 supply chain. In the era where almost everybody - from policy makers to senior managers - is thinking about the environment, new innovative concepts are developed worldwide. Sustainability of business activities, environmentally friendly production methods, energy efficiency gains and related policies are hot topics. Targets to lower emissions are being set, policies are getting implemented. On the other hand, a number of solutions to improve efficiency and overall sustainability of the supply chain and overall business activities are already available in the market. Reinventing the wheel all over again might not be necessary. An large set of new concepts and more efficient process designs exist. One of the techniques, used for a very long time in the biggest cities of the United States, is the transport of freight by bike. This can be transport of post, parcels or freight with a low volume or low weight. Bike couriers are proven to be fast and reliable. Also in Europe some bike courier markets are reasonably well developed. In the Netherlands for example, the opportunities of bicycles to transport freight are relatively well known. In other countries, these opportunities are not common knowledge. Nevertheless, specific markets seem to exist for transporting by bike in urban contexts. The research question of this paper concerning bicycle messengers is whether these companies can be a viable alternative for fossil fuel powered transport, and if so, in what markets. We draw conclusions about the business model for these services and integrate encountered weaknesses and opportunities. First, the current cycling messenger market structure will be discussed. What is the (niche) market the bike messengers work in? Is the specific context of large importance? Can bike freight characteristics be identified? What does the price and cost structure of these companies look like, and what is their average scale? What is the balance of power between big (logistics) companies and bike messenger services? An application is made from a Belgian perspective, but lessons are drawn with an international focus. After identifying the market structure in the first part, a link is made towards other logistics companies. Is an integration of the services with bigger companies possible? Here, we think for example about integrators active worldwide. Other, facilitating issues encountered during the research will be highlighted in the last part. Is legislation influencing bike transport? And to what extent are bike messengers able to integrate in the worldwide transport network. Emerging trends in this area, will be looked at. The paper ends with a conclusion on the observations made, and with a number of policy recommendations.