VERMONT - When United Parcel Service started out in 1907, the messenger service made deliveries via bicycle. This holiday season, the company is borrowing a page from its people-powered past. Since the last week of November, distribution centers in Rutland, White River Junction, Barre and Burlington have been augmenting their motorized fleets with mountain bikes pulling lightweight flatbed trailers that can hold upwards of 100 pounds each. Seasonally employed riders make deliveries in flatter sections of towns.
Burlington was the first distribution center in Vermont to revert to two-wheeled travel, says center manager Les Titus. "I think it started in the southern states, where they've been doing it for over 20 years," he says. Burlington UPS has perfected the process over the past couple of holiday seasons. This year it's mobilized five bikes, which feed off its regular brown trucks. Knobby tires and front and rear fenders help to fend off foul weather.
The back-to-bikes move reduces the burden on year-round delivery vans, and saves UPS from having to run temporary vehicles to handle the holiday rush.
Doon Hinderckyx, owner of Green Mountain Bikes, provided refurbished bikes for $150 a pop to the Rutland distribution center. The self-described "Biking Viking," who has run his bike shop out of his Rochester home for 20 years, sees it as an opportunity to make bikes a more visible alternative to motor vehicles. "Maybe it will inspire someone to get rid of their car," he suggests.
"They're basic, beater commuter bikes - nothing fancy," says Hinderckyx. UPS "started with six, then they wanted eight, then 13," he says. "I've been working flat-out just to get them ready."
Shelley Lutz, who works at the Rutland center and is an avid cyclist, says she convinced her manager to do business with Green Mountain Bikes when she heard he was planning to buy new bikes from Wal-Mart. Lutz also applauds her employer's eco-awareness. "Even if you can get these riders to do 50 stops," she says, "that's 50 less stops the trucks have to do, and we don't have to put another package car on the road."
Not every package is suitable for delivery by bike, Lutz adds. "We're not going to make a bike person haul around some big Pottery Barn box."
Rutland UPS rider Jordan Bemis, 27, says that hauling 60 to 80 packages a day is getting him "healthy quick." He also takes pride in his unusual task. Another plus the: "surprised look on peoples' faces" when he pedals up to a house.