Why having a Bicycle Messenger Association is Important with a capital 'I'
11.04.06 by Buffalo Bill
The LBMA is having an open meeting at the end of the month. I hope that this will lead to a re-energization of our local Bicycle Messenger Association. I believe that London messengers stand to benefit from having a messenger association, even if I am well aware that organising messengers is like herding cats. Even though I am no longer able to take an active role in the LBMA, I support any efforts to organise London messengers, and whatever my failings as chair may have been, being chosen to serve and represent the bicycle messengers of London will always one of, if not the, proudest moment of my life.
Why is organising important? To coin yet another cliche, the streets are a fickle mistress and the life of a bicycle messenger is precarious. Here’s some London bicycle messengers that have not been able to work for a week or more because of injury since the re-launch of Moving Target: Simone, Timi, Tofu, Selim. That’s just the one’s that I can think of.
When I was chair of the LBMA, I guesstimated that the current London bicycle messenger population is around 400 working cycle couriers. That means that in 6 or so months 1% have been incapacitated, that I know about. I am sure that all the Londoners, working cyclists or not, can think of at least 2 more that I haven’t mentioned. I guess the true figure would be at least 40, or 10%, who have been unable to work for a week or more as the result of injury. This is roughly the figure predicted by the Harvard School of Public Health report on rates of injury amongst Boston bicycle messengers.
As it says in the report, that means that being a bicycle messenger is the most dangerous occupationin the USA, messengers suffering 3 times the rate of work-place injury of the next group, meat-packers. In the UK, I have heard that oil rig divers have the highest rate of occupational injury. I have never seen any credible statistical comparisons. I believe that the rate of injury amongst motorcycle couriers is probably greater than amongst London cycle couriers. But again, I have not seen a credible statistical comparison. But I do know that Dr Ben Fincham’s paper, ‘Bicycle couriers in the ‘new’ economy’ included some statistical analysis of injuries rates amongst London bicycle messengers, and found similar rates of injury to the Boston study.
All this means that being a London bicycle messenger is a dirty, tiring, dangerous job which is not at all well-rewarded. But no-one is quite sure how dangerous it really is. And, apart from the Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund, no-one is currently doing anything to support injured London bicycle messengers. The LBMA could do both of those things and a whole lot more. That’s why I think that having a Bicycle Messenger Association in London is important.