Wheeling and dealing

During work hours, University student Leah Fischer packs around pizza, blueprints, newspapers and court documents.

Published January 24, 2008 by Daily Emerald 
By: Trevor Davis

During work hours, University student Leah Fischer packs around pizza, blueprints, newspapers and court documents.

She chats to architects, lawyers and corporate executives.

To do so, she needs to be able to ride a bicycle up to 50 miles in an eight-hour period.

Fischer works for Eugene-based Pedalers Express, a courier and delivery service that operates under arm of the non-profit group Center for Appropriate Transport. The organization also builds bicycles that can carry large loads, and the group even hosts an alternative school that is registered with the Oregon Department of Education. CAT is hoping to expand its delivery service as the price of fuel continues to rise.

Although courier services are typically based in larger metro areas such as Portland or Seattle, Pedalers Express is staying healthy with Eugene's reputation as a bicycle-friendly area.

CAT founder Jan VanderTuin compares Pedalers Express to the post office but with two exceptions: Deliveries are made on bicycle, and he says they're made quicker.

makes "rush deliveries" – usually documents – and "loads," which are typically

publications or packages. Loads are carried in a box attached to the bicycle.

Bicyclists for Ped Ex deliver just about anything, including food from restaurants, hummingbird food and pharmaceutical company supplies, VanderTuin said.

He started CAT in 1990. He first moved to New York City after a trip to Europe, then to Eugene, where he started building bicycles capable of carrying large loads. The bicycles are now used by courier services across the country.

"I wanted to build the bikes, and I knew Eugene is known as the builders' paradise," VanderTuin said.

Ped Ex makes deliveries within the Eugene-Springfield area, from Beltline Road in Eugene all the way east to 10th Street in Springfield. Ped Ex also delivers north to Cal Young Road and south to 29th Avenue in Eugene.

"People never believe how far we can go," VanderTuin said, adding that bicyclists can ride up to 50 miles in a day.

"It's great training," VanderTuin said. "We've had people work for us who are athletes and are wanting to stay in shape or train."

Up to five bicyclists work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Ped Ex.

Fischer said she found a job there when she went to CAT to get her kickstand fixed and heard they were hiring.

"I'm obsessed with bicycles, so that worked out well," Fischer said, adding she enjoys her job. "I deliver to people in offices all day and think, 'Gosh, I'm sure glad that my job lets me be outdoors,' and I'm doing what I want while these people are sitting indoors."

The only downside, Fischer said, is that she sometimes encounters drivers who don't know the rules of the road. Under Oregon law, bicycles operate under the same laws as vehicles.

"Sometimes people driving cars treat you like you don't know what you're doing," Fischer said.

With rising fuel costs, Ped Ex is hoping to persuade more companies to use its services instead of other delivery services that use vehicles.

"A lot of time when people have a box, they use a van or truck to carry it, but that doesn't make much sense in an urban area," VanderTuin said. "We can get around town faster than a lot of vehicles."

Courier services that use bicycles are sometimes able to make quicker deliveries than vehicle-based services.

"They offer a mode of delivery that is not only more time sensitive, but largely unaffected by traffic, parking or weather conditions – not to mention the lower environmental impact," said Joel Metz, a member of the International Federation of Bike Messenger Associations.

Most courier services are based in metro areas, Metz said.

Eugene, however, has a large enough population to support a courier service, VanderTuin said.

"Obviously it does help that Eugene is a bicycle town, though," he added.

Smaller cities across the country are seeing more bicycle-based services because of environmental concerns, Metz said.

VanderTuin said the timing is right for growth.

"I think the weirdest part is getting people to realize what's possible with human power," he said.