“There aren’t enough hours in the day”: a self-employed private courier, on the Christmas delivery round

So. Many. Parcels. Image: Getty.

This festive season the new sport seems to be courier bashing. The latest installment comes from the Daily Telegraph, under the headline “Delivery drivers using ‘Sorry we missed you’ notes to get out of Christmas rounds, Which? survey finds”. As usual the story is twisted and distorted, and several bits of it don’t make sense if you are a self-employed courier trying to make a living developing parcels.

The Which? survey finds that 9 per cent of people have had calling cards pushed through the door, even while they were in. But it is unlikely that many of these notes were left by someone who made no effort to knock on the door or ring the bell. Unless the courier is paid by the hour, which few are, we do not get paid for posting a card and running away: we don’t get paid for a failed attempt, only for the successful delivery.

So if we’ve managed to make it to the house, why wouldn’t we complete the job, save ourselves a return visit, and get paid? Most couriers have, however, experienced the strange phenomenon in which a customer can’t hear you hammering on the door, but can, somehow, hear a piece of paper falling on their doormat.

The second finding, of customers being told by email or text that a delivery was attempted when no-one was seen or heard, is also easily explained. This is due to a glitch in some carriers’ notification systems which says a delivery was attempted, whenever it’s been carried forward to the next day for any reason whatsoever. The carriers don’t exactly broadcast the existence of this glitch, but it’s also not a secret: the tiniest amount of digging by either Which? or the Telegraph could have turned up this nugget. We couriers are trying to work with our carriers to get this system fault rectified.

Since Black Friday delivery numbers have been extremely high. I have been supporting my colleagues in neighbouring rounds. I also worked the following two Sundays: many of my customers have expressed surprise at seeing me on unusual days or at unusual times.

At this time of year I deliver between 100 and 150 parcels a day; some couriers have over 200. At those rates, you are left with less than a couple of minutes at each house, which doesn’t leave much time for knocking on neighbours doors trying to find the one person who is in, and who is sometimes getting quite grumpy because they have a hall full of parcels for neighbours who ordered things to be sent to houses that they knew would be unoccupied during working hours.

Stories about what happens to couriers under those pressures, and couriers who make honest mistakes when making decent attempts at safe place deliveries, are to be found in local newspapers up and down the country. I don’t condone couriers who dump parcels on doorsteps, over gates or otherwise cut corners; but any criticism of misdeliveries should take the demands placed upon us into account.

We do our best to get your parcels to you when we receive them; but with numbers as high as they are at the moment often there aren’t enough hours in the day. Carrying a parcel forward without visiting a property is not done lightly. One day I had so many that I worked from before 8am until 9pm but only managed two thirds of the parcels assigned to me and, yes, that meant some people didn’t get their next day deliveries. It pained me to have to throw in the towel, but there was nothing I could have done. The next day I made my best efforts to catch up and many customers greeted me with, “Did you call yesterday, cause I was in.” They had all received those misleading emails that we couriers so, so love.

It is hurtful that the press do not take a more responsible and balanced attitude to reporting on these issues. But perhaps to do so would be more dog bites man than man bites dog.


America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.