Transport for London study of couriers
23.09.08 by Buffalo Bill
Titled ‘Understanding Road Safety Issues for Courier and Food
Delivery Riders and Delivery Businesses in London’1 and published by the London Road Safety Unit, which is part of TfL, this is only the 2nd ‘proper’ bit research into London’s couriers that I have ever seen2. Although it was published at the end of 2007, I have not seen until now. Given that I have corresponded with Chris Lines, head of the LRSU, a number of times, I am slightly surprised that no-one at the LRSU thought to draw it to my attention before.
Anyway, it covers both the food delivery and courier business, and deals with what they call Powered Two-wheelers (P2W for short), or what you and I call motor-bikes and scooters, as well as cyclists. They estimate that there are around 550 bicycle messengers and couriers working in London, which sounds more or less right. In 2003, the London Bicycle Messenger Association estimated 400, based on what the riders knew. The TfL study is based on telephone interviews of 55 courier companies, and the totals have been extrapolated. They also estimated that of 680 companies offering courier services in London, only 133 actually have bikes (P2W or bicycles).
There’s an awful lot of data in the report, but I am slightly concerned by the accuracy of that data for one reason. When asked how many incidents has resulted in injuries to a rider in the last 12 months, 49% of the courier companies said there had been none! That is simply not credible. Any company with more than 20 riders (including P2W and bicycles) would be having at least one A MONTH, never mind a year. I base this statement on 21 years experience in the business. I work for a company with 40 riders, and I reckon that 2 of our riders at least suffer some sort of injury a month.
As careful readers of Moving Target will recall, in 2002, a Harvard Medical School study of injury rates amongst Boston bicycle messengers3 determined that the rate of injury requiring time off work amongst the sample group was more than 13 times the U.S. average, and more than three times higher than the next highest, workers in the meat-packing industry. Ben Fincham’s research for the 2006 paper included some data on injury rates, and showed similar rates of injury amongst London couriers. The crucial difference is that whereas the LRSU study data was based on information given by the companies, the other 2 were based on rider interviews.
1 Available as a PDF here.
2 The first is Ben Fincham’s study, published in 2006, entitled ‘Generally speaking people are in it for the cycling and the beer’: Bicycle couriers, subculture and enjoyment
3 Dennerlein, Meeker (6 February 2002). Occupational Injuries Among Boston Bicycle Messengers . Harvard School of Public Health.