“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.


Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.

What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.