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Crucial Convenience

Burlington's newest bike messengers enable the lazy with door-to-door delivery


Zack Rouda and Harrison Hagan - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Zack Rouda and Harrison Hagan

When Dan Maldonado wakes up on Saturday mornings and wants a breakfast sandwich, he doesn’t make one himself. Instead, he calls up the guys at Crucial Couriers — Burlington’s new, and only, bike messenger business — and puts in an order for a Henry Street Deli egg and cheese. A few minutes later, a steaming hot meal appears right at his door.

Maldonado lives on South Williams Street, only about a half-mile from the deli. The 21-year-old could walk, bike or drive to get his breakfast, but why should he, when Crucial Couriers can do it for him? “It’s pure laziness on my part,” he says.

That’s the attitude Harrison Hagan and Zack Rouda are banking on. The Crucial co-conspirators say their target market is the college student population, and slothful people of any age.

Hagan, currently enrolled at the University of Vermont, and Rouda, a former UVM student, both hail from the Washington, D.C., area where cycle messenger services still thrive. Fearless riders with jaunty cycling caps and shipping-crate-sized bags on their backs weave through the D.C. traffic snarls with abandon. Hagan, who describes himself as an “avid biker,” thought the messenger biz would be a pretty sweet way to make some extra cash.

Hagan and Rouda, both 22, aren’t the first in Burlington to think cycle messengering would be fun. A handful of entrepreneurs have attempted to make bike courier businesses work in the area before Crucial Couriers. But, in a city with law offices and courthouses within walking distance of one another, they didn’t find a lot of business. Plus, there are those hills to contend with. Throw wintry weather into the mix, and two-wheeled messenger services have tended to drop pretty quickly.

So Hagan and Rouda took a different tack. Instead of ferrying documents and packages, they decided to target their own kind — students who can’t be bothered to get off the couch. “We realized there was no delivery service that catered to kids in dorms,” Hagan explains.

The pair wants to be the go-to delivery business not just for kids who can’t be troubled to go out for another bottle of Coke, but also for people who prefer to stay off the roads when winter storms make driving dicey. “We’re trying to aim at people in inclement weather who need something on a whim,” Hagan says.

The Crucial Couriers website says about all you need to know about the fledgling business: Do you need something taken somewhere crucially fast? Do you need some stuff brought places real crucially? We’ll take anything from anywhere and deliver it anywhere else! We will bring anything from anywhere and bring it to another place, crucially!

Technically, that “anything from anywhere” excludes cigarettes and alcohol, which the guys aren’t allowed to distribute, despite being of legal age to buy them. But customers who want noncontrolled substances — chips, soda, skin mags, etc. — simply call the dispatch line and place an order. Then Hagan and Rouda figure out where to get the goods. Since Burlington has no shortage of corner stores, they’re generally able to find what the customer is looking for without going out of their way, unless it’s late at night — then they hit up one of the 24-hour grocery stores.

Finally, one of them hops on his bike, picks up the order and delivers it. The order is usually at the customer’s door within 10 to 15 minutes, says Tom Stinchfield, a UVM student and regular customer of Crucial Couriers. “They’re extremely fast. That’s why I used them again,” he says. “It’s, like, so quick. It would probably take me longer to walk.”

Not only are Hagan and Rouda speedy, says regular customer Maldonado, but they get there when they say they’ll be there. And when you’ve got the munchies and you’re waiting on those Nectar’s fries or that burger from the Shopping Bag, timeliness is key.

Hagan and Rouda have worked out a fare system based on zones that is not unlike some big-city taxi services. If they do a delivery inside one zone, the fee is $2.50. For each additional zone they cross, the customer is charged $2.50. Currently, their territory is spread over 33 zones, from the South End to the New North End of Burlington, as well as Winooski.

For example, if a customer lives on School Street in the Old North End and wants a #18, no cilantro, from Pho Hong, the charge will be $2.50 plus the cost of the food. If a customer on Flynn Avenue in the South End wants the same takeout order, the courier will pass through seven zones, so the delivery cost will be $17.50 on top of the price of the meal.

But customers tend to keep their purchases local so the delivery price stays in check. Stinchfield’s first order was a bottle of tonic water and some ice cream — which could easily be purchased from a corner store near his North Willard Street apartment. Stinchfield says he’s never paid more than $5 for a delivery.

That may seem extravagant, but, for many college students, socializing time is at a higher premium than cash. As Stinchfield points out, sometimes you just don’t want to leave the house, or the party inside. In those situations, $2.50 seems a small price to pay for convenience.

Hagan and Rouda aren’t your average city cycle couriers. They don’t ride custom-built, fixed-geard bikes, and their messenger bags don’t sport blaring two-way radios. Instead, the pair zips around town on Raleigh Mojave 2.0s — entry-level mountain bikes. Not exactly messenger-chic, but they get the job done.

Plus, unlike other courier or grocery delivery businesses in the area that use cars, Hagan and Rouda’s pedal-powered enterprise is easy on the environment. “They’re cutting down on their carbon footprint, I guess,” Maldonado says.

And that’s really crucial.