Amazon trials bike messengers for super-quick deliveries

Mail order mega-corp experiments with dispatching parcels the old-fashioned way

Mail order mammoth Amazon may have grabbed headlines with talk of using radio-controlled airborne drones to deliver packages, but it's also been testing a far more down-to-earth delivery system: bike couriers.

Amazon's aim is to get goods to customers within an hour or so with a planned new service called Amazon Prime Now. According to a Wall Street Journal source familiar with the trials, couriers from at least three New York City companies have been involved.

Riders have been dispatched from Amazon's new Manhattan base near the Empire State Building with instructions to ride to an address within an alloted time, take a picture of the building and return to base.

Since messengers will be waiting at the base between jobs, Amazon has reportedly built a lounge with table football, pool and air hockey; an arcade; and other amenities for riders waiting between deliveries. Riders are paid around $15 an hour and work eight-hour shifts.

Amazon Prime Now already has bike-borne competition in the Big Apple. According to VentureBeat, taxi-on-demand service Uber began its own cycling delivery service in April. However, unlike Amazon, Uber isn't selling the goods it delivers, or making purchases on a customer's behalf. It's effectively an app-powered incarnation of the traditional courier service.

But in some areas of New York and San Francisco another start-up, WunWun, is offering bike courier purchase and delivery of, well, pretty much everything that can be carried by bike. And delivery is free, though WunWun urges you to tip generously.

Regulatory issues may have stymied its plans for airborne parcel delivery, and Amazon has yet to explain how it proposes to get round the rules about flying radio-controlled aircraft near buildings for its Cambridge drone delivery trial, but the good old bicycle still looks like the best way of getting small items quickly across congested cities.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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