My memories of working in San Francisco are laced with images of bicycle messengers braving the steep hills and congested streets of the city’s Financial District. Most of the packages were legal documents that were too long to fax and too costly to send by other courier services. Over the past decade, however, the number of bike messengers in San Francisco has declined as the US Court system accepted electronic files of court documents. Other cities, however, are seeing a surge in bike messenger services, because of speed, cost, and environmental concerns.
One such example is Paris-based Cycl’air, established in 2008. Cycl’air’s services go beyond providing clients with an environmentally friendly courier service. Partnering with Action Carbone, a French non-profit that works with businesses to help them reduce their greenhouse gases and carbon footprint, Cycl’air developed an electronic device, Ecomobile, that uses software to monitor the amount of carbon not discharged into the atmosphere. Cycl’air gathers that data for each of its clients, which they can review on their monthly invoices.
With its fleet of Bad Boy Cannondale and Capo bikes, Cycl’air’s messengers can cross Paris in 30 minutes, reaching the outlying suburbs and La Defense, where many of France’s largest companies are headquartered. On average, the company’s messengers bike about 100km (62 miles) a day and 2000km (1200 miles) a month. In the first half of 2009 alone, Cycl’air estimated that its 3000 deliveries resulted in 11 tons of carbon dioxide not released into the atmosphere. Cycl’air touts the safety of its service, too, claiming that bicycle accident rates are lower than that of automobiles and motorcycles.
One such client benefiting from Cycl’air’s services is the Etam Group, a large French fashion company that incorporates the bike messenger’s deliveries into its sustainable development policies. Along with outlining its efforts to reduce waste and energy consumption, Etam measures the reduced environmental impact from hiring Cycl’air as a courier in its corporate responsibility reports.
Cycl’air is no fad: bicycle delivery had been the norm in Paris in the 1920s, but eventually motor vehicles became the courier of choice. As more companies want to demonstrate their interest in sustainability while reducing costs, more firms with a business model like Cycl’air will emerge. From Portland, Oregon to Copenhagen and even Beirut, Lebanon, look for bicycle couriers to catch on as a greener, leaner alternative for delivering documents and small packages. And hence just another step towards Paris’ embrace of sustainability.