Bicycle couriers get mobilised
The Flemish government is to lend a helping hand to the growing industry of bicycle couriers across Flanders in an effort to cut costs, reduce emissions and give support to a thrusting new business sector. Mobility minister Hilde Crevits said last week that the government’s own administration would do all it could to put work in the couriers’ hands.
Flemish government pledges support for two-wheeled alternative
Bicycle couriers currently operate in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven, Hasselt, Kapellen and Aalst. According to a study produced for Flanders Logistics and the mobility ministry, the industry is continually developing and has changed greatly over the last decade in both structure and activity. “There seems to be a movement under way internationally, and certainly also in Flanders, whereby bicycle messengers are becoming more professional and taking on larger volumes of work,” the report said. “The sector’s once rather amateurish organisation is gradually evolving to meet the current high expectations of the logistics sector. But couriers have yet to deal with one advantage their competitors have over them: The amount of work remains limited.”
Some courier companies are linked to larger, more varied logistics companies; others work solely with bike messengers. One of the oldest, Flits, located in Ghent, has been going since 1999 and also operates a bicycle taxi and rental business.
Most bike courier companies are strictly local, although two companies in Antwerp and Brussels work together. One in Ghent uses couriers who are part of a social inclusion programme, while another in Leuven even takes on international deliveries.
The companies told the report’s authors that they had no trouble finding suitable couriers, but the problem with employment is the rapid fluctuations in the demand for their business. The market is quite small at present; courier firms blame this in part on the lack of knowledge of their services among the general and business public, compared to cities like London and New York, where bicycle messengers are a permanent fixture on the streets.
The Flemish government is now ready to help with both of those problems: visibility of the service and stability of business. “The results of the research help us a great deal,” minister Crevits said. “There is real growth potential for bicycle couriers in Flanders; they offer all sorts of advantages because they are a simple, quick and environmentally friendly way of getting around. But now the problems have also been brought to light. Bike messengers are not well enough known. A more professional approach can only improve things for them. They need a helping hand. The Flemish government is now looking into ways it can itself set a good example. The Flemish association for cities and municipalities will do the same.”
What that means is that the government, together with Unizo, the organisation that represents the self-employed, will cooperate to help professionalise the couriers and to bring their services to the attention of other parts of the business world. That could take the form of IT and administrative support, communications through various media, consultation on the setting up of a sector federation and possibly even the creation of a central contact point for businesses looking to use courier services.
Crevits is also inviting her colleagues to look within their own services to determine which document streams might be suitable for handling by bicycle couriers. A survey has already begun to log the delivery addresses and number of packages to determine where couriers could come into play.
“Given the ever-increasing amount of traffic and the decision by some towns to make their centres traffic-free, there is certainly room for growth,” said Crevits. “Too often people think of deliveries as small packages brought in vans. The bicycle courier can be a sustainable alternative.