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Courier service calling it quits

Triangle bikes yield to workers' comp

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

By Lillian Thomas, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The big-basketed bicycles of Triangle Messenger Service will stop rolling at the end of the month.

Triangle has told all its employees that it will close its doors as of March 29. Founder and President Bill Jones said he had reached an agreement yesterday to sell the business to 1st Courier/Dynamex, a Dallas-based national delivery company that has been operating out of a Manchester office in Pittsburgh for several years.

Triangle, which runs the largest bike messenger service in Pittsburgh, employs about 65 people in its South Side office, including office workers, dispatchers, 25 bike messengers and about 20 vehicle messengers.

Employees were notified last week of the closing.

Jones, who started Triangle in 1983, said the doubling of the rate he must pay for workers' compensation forced his decision to sell the company.

"I decided about a month or so ago because workers' comp has crippled my business," he said.

The carriers paid claims and then steeply raised his rates rather than going after others involved in accidents, he said. The rates he would have to pay would represent 19 percent of each worker's wages.

His company also was affected by the recession, he said -- business dropped 8 or 9 percent over the last year -- but that was not the deciding factor.

"We would have weathered that," he said. Until the higher workers' comp rates came, the company was not in financial difficulty.

"I'm still a solvent company now, but if I tried to hold on, I'd be going belly up," he said. "I would have liked to have had a little more control over my exit from the business. It's hard to work 19 years and then have to scramble like this. We have a whole lot of clients affected."

Triangle makes 750 to 800 deliveries a day and invoices about 1,300 clients a month, he said. He said he is trying to help clients make other arrangements and hopes that Dynamex can begin taking over.

However, Dynamex doesn't intend to continue with bike deliveries. Despite Triangle's dominance in the market, Dynamex was interested in the truck-delivery end, Jones said.

Dynamex plans to use walking messengers for Downtown and other short-distance deliveries, but will not take over the bike side of the business. Some of the Triangle messengers are exploring the possibility of starting their own bicycle messenger business, Jones said.

Ralph Embree, the regional vice president of Dynamex, didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Jones would not divulge the terms of the agreement or the sale price.

The gap left by Triangle's departure will be substantial, said Martin Carney of Jet Messenger, an Uptown-based competitor in the bike business.

Carney, a co-founder, estimated Jet now has about a quarter of the bike messenger business, and Triangle has about 70 percent. He said his company is gearing up to take on the business that Triangle's exit will create.

"We are planning to expand dramatically," said Carney.

"Jet is a major competitor -- they're going to be probably pretty busy on April 1," Jones said.

Jet is already being deluged with calls from Triangle clients seeking to set up accounts because they've heard through word-of-mouth that Triangle is closing, Carney said. Many Downtown businesses have come to depend on the bike messengers to ferry advertising art and other items that can't be faxed or e-mailed, he said.

When Jones started his service 19 years ago, "a lot of folks thought I was a little goofy for trying to run bikes around the city," he said.

"Now a lot of folks are scrambling to keep bikes on the streets."

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