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January 04, 2011

The Big Idea

BY ANNA PATRICIA G. VALERIO Special Features Writer

Pedal for Profit

It was a venture that seemed destined for failure.


A biking business in a city where road kings roll on four wheels and cycling lanes are an alien concept might not have looked good on paper, but like any novel endeavor, its fate ultimately rested on good timing.

When Krie Lopez, the woman behind the environment-friendly line of disinfectants called Messy Bessy Organic Household Cleaners, needed to find an equally eco-friendly way to deliver her products to clients in 2008, her sister Candy Reyes, a member of outdoor sports group UP Mountaineers, suggested she use two-wheel transport—an idea that grew into Pedala, the country's first bike messenger service.

“Biking was suddenly becoming more popular as gas prices were rising, and people were becoming more and more conscious and concerned about the environment,” said Ms. Reyes. “Pedala gave them a way to directly contribute to the fight for cleaner air, while providing them an efficient service – fast, same-day delivery without the fumes, unaffected by traffic and gas price hikes.”

A portmanteau of the words “pedal” and “padala” (the Filipino term for ‘parcel’), the name was suggested by one of the founder’s friends, actor Gabe Mercado. “I thought it was a very cool name —very Filipino,” she said. “People responded well to it.”

The lack of a precedent in the country required Ms. Reyes to look to other countries for business models to follow. For one, she had a rather difficult time setting a pricing standard for her startup’s services. “Volumes are also very unpredictable, so having the right number of active riders in proportion to daily deliveries is part of our daily challenge,” added Ms. Reyes.

The carriers use their own bikes, so the initial capital was invested in waybills, bike jerseys, an easy-recall mobile number, and insurance for both the items and the riders. Seeing much potential in Pedala, fellow UP Mountaineer member Bernice Varona joined the business as a partner in June last year. “Because of our connections, we were able to meet bikers and find people who would want to be part of Pedala,” she said, adding that the firm has become a source of temporary employment for athletes who want to train for competitions.

It is the vast network they have built that has helped the pair to keep track not just of the items they deliver, but also the carriers they deploy. “It happened before that a biker was caught not using his bike to deliver, and we immediately fired him for that,” said Ms. Varona.

The duo has since been trying to iron out the kinks in Pedala’s daily operations. Routes are assigned to messengers according to their location, while requests are sent to them through text message. “Aside from having insurance for the packages, we also train the bikers before they start on how to care for the packages,” said Ms. Varona. “Clients usually indicate if their packages need special handling, and we also turn down jobs with items that we know will be prone to damage during the delivery.”

One must simply know their way around Metro Manila's cities to qualify as a Pedala bike messenger. “To ensure their trustworthiness, we require an NBI clearance—among other [documents]—before we interview them, and we do trial deliveries first before they become part of the team,” said Ms. Varona.

If there is a major road block that the startup has had to confront, it's the judgment that’s passed on what’s often regarded as a poor man’s transport. Many establishments, for example, deem the two-wheeled ride an eyesore and forbid bikers to park within their premises.

Messengers entering residential subdivisions aren’t that much better off, either, as security guards tend to get suspicious seeing them on a humble bicycle instead of a more official-looking delivery van.

It is these minor bumps that the pair hopes to work on as they pedal their way toward a more bike-friendly Manila. Currently busy with developing a city-wide campaign, both Ms. Reyes and Ms. Varona, with help from other cycling organizations, are looking to place more bike racks in establishments as well as allot more parking spaces for the two-wheeler in the metro. Ms. Reyes has pointed out that a single car slot alone can accommodate 10 to 12 bikes.

“There is so much to learn from other bike-friendly cities,” said Ms. Reyes. “Using bikes as transportation benefits not only the people cycling themselves by making them healthy [and] more physically fit, but also the city by making its air cleaner, and the traffic less congested.”

While the bike lanes that line the streets of Amsterdam, Berlin, and Copenhagen for their resident pedal-pushers may still be far off for Manila’s clogged roads, baby steps toward a more bike-friendly culture are already being taken in the capital. “Somehow, little by little, we are already making progress,” said Ms. Varona.

For details and inquiries, contact Pedala at 09206987777 or email pedalabikemessengers@gmail.com


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