Ohio capital still has a few bike couriers, despite e-filing

In this Wednesday, May 1, 2019, photo, bike courier Chuck Hootman, back, makes another run while Nate Ziccardi, right, and Kevin Cash, not pictured, wait for him to finish in Columbus, Ohio. Bike couriers once thrived in Columbus, with about 25 of them regularly coursing through the streets, delivering documents to and from attorneys and the courts, among other clients. But electronic filing has taken its toll, and now there are only 4 who do it full-time. (Courtney Hergesheimer/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

By KEN GORDON The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — When he answered a newspaper ad for a bicycle courier in 1999, Kevin Cash figured he was embarking on a short-lived adventure.
“I thought it would be something I would do for a year,” he said, “or not even that — maybe just for the winter and then I would get myself a real job.”
Twenty years later, Cash, 42, is still at it, making a living by zipping through traffic on a bicycle, picking up and delivering documents throughout downtown Columbus.
“It hooked me,” said the resident of the Milo-Grogan neighborhood. “The freedom of being outside, interacting with different people all day — it just checked off a lot of boxes.”
In the two decades since Cash got his job, though, much has changed. Like it did for canal-boat skippers and telegraph operators in bygone days, technology has greatly thinned the ranks of bike couriers.
When Cash got started, about two dozen cyclists made a full-time living plying the city streets. Now, there are only four.
“The fax machine didn’t kill the bike courier, and it wasn’t the internet, either,” said Chuck Hootman, 45, another one of the fab four. “It was the advent of electronic signatures. Once you could do online filings, it cut back on the need for a lot of bike messengers.”
But Hootman, a Victorian Village resident, quickly added that he did not want to portray the situation as a “sob story.” Like the others, he loves his job and considers himself fortunate to be able to do it into his 40s.
All four couriers, in fact, are in their 40s — Norm Hall of North Linden is 47 and Nate Ziccardi of the South Side is 43 — and they have a combined 81 years of experience. Three have college degrees, and the other, Hall, attended Ohio State University before joining the Peace Corps.
Like Cash, Hall said he values the uniqueness of his job.
“It’s the independence. You don’t have someone looking over your shoulder telling you how to go about your day,” he said. “That and the physical nature of it, I really like.”
The couriers take great pride in riding in all weather. They also say they have not been involved in any serious accidents and credit Columbus officials for adding bike lanes and making their jobs safer in recent years. Their biggest hazards, they say, are distracted drivers and jaywalking pedestrians who step off curbs unexpectedly.
It’s not a lucrative job, but the couriers do make a living. Hootman said the range for a run is between $15 and $45, and he might make 20 to 25 runs per day. Ziccardi said he made only about $12,000 when he first started in 1996 but that couriers can make $40,000 a year or more now.
Of the four, Hootman and Ziccardi are married; Hootman is the father of children ages 3 and 1.
At 11 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, Hootman and Ziccardi were hanging out at the group’s unofficial headquarters, Cafe Brioso on Gay Street. Both had already made multiple runs and were awaiting further calls.
The Columbus couriers said they do most of their work for downtown law firms. Ziccardi estimated that comprises about 85% of their business.
Even though, as Hootman said, the advent of electronic filings eliminated much of their business, some documents still require “hard filings” — actual physical copies — to be filed with various courts and government offices.
And these four are experts in navigating the system.
“We have a great deal of trust in the service they provide,” said Doyle Rausch, an attorney with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Peas. “They are subject-matter experts and they know how to get things done logistically, so they provide a lot of value.”
Rausch estimates that his firm alone requires couriers for 10 to 25 deliveries in a day.
Late in the day can get hectic, as clients often need documents delivered before courts close at 5 p.m.
On the recent Tuesday, both Hootman and Ziccardi had multiple late-day runs to the courthouses on South High Street. Both zipped in and out of elevators and greeted court clerks with an easy familiarity.
“I see them every day, and they’re awesome,” said Molly Gilbert, a deputy clerk at Franklin County Probate Court. “They’re very spirited, cool guys for sure, and they know what they’re doing.”
At about 3:30 p.m., Ziccardi emerged from Franklin County Municipal Court. He had at least three more pickups and deliveries scheduled before 5 p.m.
But it was a warm, sunny spring day. He was in shorts and a T-shirt, and the late-day rush did not seem to faze him.
“It’s the only job I’ve had that when I wake up, I’m not like, ‘Oh, God, I’ve got to go to work,'” he said. “And after 23 years, that feeling is still there.”
And then he zoomed off, headed south on High Street. In five seconds, he was out of sight.
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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com