Cascadian Courier Collective pedals through changes in delivery business

Where are all the delivery bikers in Portland?

This is a question I asked myself upon returning from my recent trip to New York and several European cities where bike delivery riders inundate the streets, carrying large insulated bags on their backs or bike racks with food in tow. I hadn’t thought of it much before, but after my trip, Portland’s lack of bicycle delivery riders was striking to me. During the pandemic, food delivery rose massively in popularity, and it’s not going away anytime soon. So how can we make sure more of these trips are taking place by bike?

Portland is home to several companies that specialize in delivering goods by bike, including freight haulers B-Line Urban Delivery (which we recently featured on the BikePortland podcast), catering carriers Portland Pedal Power and food delivery company Cascadian Courier Collective PDX (CCC PDX). CCC PDX is the organization doing the work closest to the bike deliveries I witnessed in other cities, so I decided to ask them for a local bike delivery status update.

“There are a lot of really great local restaurant owners who are frustrated dealing with apps and see the value in working with a local company.”

– Ponce Christie, CCC PDX founder

Cascadian Courier Collective (the other CCC)

CCC PDX began in Eugene a decade ago and started operations in Portland in 2017. But the company grew substantially during the pandemic, when demand for home deliveries skyrocketed and created a new need for delivery by bike. According to owner Ponce Christie, customers and business owners using delivery apps like Uber Eats and Grubhub discovered the limitations of these services, which charge high fees to both consumers and restaurants.

The fees got so out of control that the City of Portland placed a temporary cap on what third-party apps could charge restaurants — 10% of the total order cost — but this rule was not always heeded. In January, Portland City Council approved a permanent fee cap of 15% of a food delivery order total. But CCC PDX can do you one better: Christie said they’ve always had a fee of 10% and they have no plans to raise it.

“All the sudden, everybody was trying out delivery apps for the first time and finding out how awful they are,” Christie told BikePortland on a phone call earlier this week. “I think our business increased by something like 1000%, which is obviously very crazy because we’re a small business. It was difficult to adapt to.”

But they did adapt, hiring dozens of new couriers and cultivating relationships with restaurants who like its local vibe, low fees and eco-friendly approach to food delivery.

“There are a lot of really great local restaurant owners who are frustrated dealing with apps and see the value in working with a local company,” Christie said. “And in general, our customers are pretty loyal. Once they find out about us, they seem to be pretty stoked on the idea, and are down to come back and try again.”

“If I was delivering with a car, all the money I made would just go back into the car.”

– Zak, CCC employee

Out for delivery

Yesterday afternoon I rode around northeast Portland with Zak, who’s been doing bike delivery with CCC PDX for about six months. The job was to deliver packages from the meal kit company Farm to Fit to people’s residences, and Zak upgraded from the standard road bike he takes on smaller deliveries to one of CCC’s Bullitt cargo bikes in order to fit everything. The bike didn’t have an electric assist, but Zak impressively maneuvered it up through the busy streets in the Hollywood neighborhood and then up the Alameda Ridge, dropping off packages as we went.

For many of the same reasons a bike is a great tool for everyday transportation, it’s also a very practical delivery device. You can avoid traffic and the time-consuming hassle of finding parking outside the restaurants and delivery residences. It’s also enjoyable to bike around all day: you get a lot of exercise and can connect with your community. But I think the most convincing reason to deliver by bike instead of car is that you get to keep more of the money you make when you don’t have to pay for gas or car maintenance.

“It’s been nice not paying attention to gas prices for the last six months,” Zak told me. “If I was delivering with a car, all the money I made would just go back into the car.”

It was fun to ride around with Zak, although I have to admit I didn’t envy his position of carrying so much stuff around, especially on a non-electric bike. But Zak was in good spirits the whole time.

“I haven’t had a lot of jobs that I liked,” Zak said. “But I really like doing this one.”

I asked my roommate Patrick Riley, who used to drive for DoorDash, about his time delivering, and he had quite a different perspective.

“It’s not an enjoyable job,” Patrick said. “Most of it is trying to figure out where to park and going somewhere else and figuring out where to park there.”

“I think it’s wrong to be able to order food from a place five-plus miles away anytime you want at the click of a button because the app says it’s convenient.”

The cost of convenience

One of the core beliefs within CCC’s business philosophy is that people don’t always need everything immediately. But that’s a tricky business model in the age of Amazon Prime’s same-day deliveries and 20-minute Uber Eats wait times. People aren’t used to waiting anymore. But Christie pointed out that when you’re delivering within a mile or two, going by bike can often be faster than taking a car.

“I think a lot of people’s argument against bike delivery is that it takes so long. But most of the time, it takes about the same amount of time for us to do the delivery as it would in a car,” he said.

With CCC, Christie also wants to encourage people to look at the options closer to home, within reasonable range for bike delivery.

“I think it’s wrong to be able to order food from a place five-plus miles away anytime you want at the click of a button because the app says it’s convenient,” Christie said. “If you live in Portland, there are probably 20 other restaurants you could be supporting within a mile of you. That’s one of the great things about it here.”

While CCC hasn’t added e-bikes to their fleet, in cities like New York, the bike delivery industry is flourishing largely because of e-bikes (though this has caused contention after several inexpensive e-bike batteries have unfortunately caught on fire while charging in apartment complexes). If more people had access to e-bikes in Portland, I think it would open up the career path to people who are less enthusiastic about pedaling a heavy cargo bike full of packages up Portland’s steepest hills. Perhaps if an e-bike rebate bill is passed in Oregon, we’ll enter a new era of bike couriers?

A peek inside CCC headquarters.

I would love to see a renewed culture of bike delivery in Portland. It would mean fewer cars on the streets (and fewer Uber Eats drivers parking in bike lanes, which I see on a fairly regular basis) and connecting with our amazing local restaurants would be a great way to reinvigorate Portland’s bike scene.

In order to encourage this, I think the most important step is to simply make it easier to bike around the city for any purpose — the places where bike delivery works the best around the world are also the places where biking is the most ubiquitous. And as the Portland Bureau of Transportation works on its 2040 Freight Plan, perhaps they can consider ways to incentivize last-mile and food delivery by bike.

For now, you can help support the movement by ordering from one of their partners on their website.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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mouse
mouse
1 year ago

The CCC link is incorrect. Here is the correct link: https://www.pdxccc.com/

Dusty
Dusty
1 year ago

I love that there’s a CCC for bike delivery, but they should change their name. As they have an owner, THE CCC IS NOT A COLLECTIVE.

There’s a bunch of capitalist businesses using the terminology of democratic businesses (The Collective luxury apartments, Ripe Cooperative restaurant, The People’s Yoga studio, Upstart Collective desk spaces). This is what might be called “left-washing”.

Ponce Christie
1 year ago
Reply to  Dusty

Hey I totally hear you, we are working towards being a full collective but because of our size and the difficulty involved with setting up a true collective bwe currently operate as a worker/member managed LLC. You can rest assured the the owner (me) is not profiting off of the work of the riders. Currently the money we make goes to cover operating expenses and rider pay.

The end goal for me is and always has been to remove myself from a position of ownership and have the couriers run the show, currently that is not feasible.

I totally understand your concerns. And share them

Dusty
Dusty
1 year ago
Reply to  Ponce Christie

That sounds good; but the company started a decade ago, yeah? If you’re not personally profiting from the CCC riders’ work, it seems like you might be in a really good position to transition to a true collective now before you’re living off of their labor.

I love that you are doing bike deliveries, but maybe it’s time to drop the term “collective” in your name until it is truly a democratic workplace? You could use “company” instead — it’s more accurate.

Ponce Christie
1 year ago
Reply to  Dusty

We’ve only been in Portland since 2017 (the Eugene branch is a different business all together, more of a sister company). I have not ever nor do I plan to be “living off of their labor” I am not sure what your background is or if you have experience running a business or a collective but I can assure you that they way we have it set up now is the best it can be for everyone involved.

I would also add that out legal name is P-Town Couriers LLC so if you would prefer that the C stands for company than feel free to interpret it that way.

If you have more concerns about the business I’d be happy to talk to you outside of the comment section of this article. You can email me at info@pdxccc.com I don’t feel like I have the space to give you the full reasoning for why we do it this way here.

Dusty
Dusty
1 year ago
Reply to  Ponce Christie

I’m thrilled your LLC is operating in Portland as competition against the car delivery services and wish y’all the greatest success. I don’t question and know nothing about your corporation’s ethics or profit distribution; I’m turned off by how your firm and other “normal” businesses use the language of revolutionary democratic businesses/movements. I appreciate your aspirations and look forward to when you make the transition to a real collective, as you say you mean to. That’ll be cool!

maxD
maxD
1 year ago

Great write-up! It would be great to see more deliveries by bike. PBOT could be supporting this with better bike infrastructure including providing drop-off/delivery parking spaces and hardening bike lanes to prevent people from parking in them. The City could enforce parking/stopping rules, too. I have seen Ubers and delivery drivers just pop on their hazards and block buses, streetcars and bikes- they are so obnoxious.

PTB
PTB
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

But they’re just grabbing an order! It’s only gonna be a second! Can’t you just go around?!

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  PTB

By “go around” do you mean merge into an adjacent traffic lane, drive around a vehicle in the bike lane that could pull out at any moment? No! This is an example of the “death by a thousand cuts” that is ruining our bike network. No one thing is a big deal, but taken together they are a big negative impact. Look the other way so people can drop off/pick up rides in a bike lane, or run in and pick up/drop off food. Then look the other way when people ignore the no turn on red, or the no left turn. Then we tolerate camps encroaching on sidewalks, bike lanes, paths, then people driving on the bike lanes/paths to get to the camps, then we look the other way when drivers start rolling through stop signs and then it is red lights. The list goes on, and the fact is the situation on the street is really different than pre-covid. Traffic is lot more unpredictable, laws are not being followed, and the result is there are a ton of close calls and accidents when biking. That is is not the way to increase bike share.

Addressing bike lane abuse by uber/delivery drivers would improve safety, attract new riders, and support bike delivery as an alternative

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

maxD, pretty sure that PTB was being sarcastic.

No! This is an example of the “death by a thousand cuts” that is ruining our bike network.

These cuts are biting deeper in the post-pandemic era. This morning I had to go around garbage bins, construction signs (in the bike lane), a construction truck, and some idjit looking at his phone. The entire point of a bike facility is to lessen the stress of dealing with inattentive/reckless driving and increasingly common road rage. Our bike lanes are failing their purpose.

PTB
PTB
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

I was absolutely being sarcastic. I routinely have to go around bike lane parkers at Rocio’s and the smoothie place there at 28th and Gladstone. It’s a weekly occurrence and it makes me lose my mind each time. Add in the stuff Soren listed and I too often end up more annoyed at my destination than one really ought to be. Feels like we’re really taking huge steps back the last few years.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  PTB

you got me!

nic.cota
nic.cota
1 year ago

Great write up. I think the same thing all the time: why aren’t there more bike deliveries, bike couriers, and pedicabs in Portland?

Even with these businesses (and I hope they find explosive growth) I still feel like there’s this weird divide between the at-large ‘business scene’ and the at-large ‘bike-scene’ in Portland. So much potential on both sides to really capitalize on what we’ve got going on here.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  nic.cota

Email and other tech advancements killed the bike messenger scene in Portland; it was never focused on food delivery, it was mostly an office support service.

Ponce Christie
1 year ago

A bit confused about the prominence of e-bikes in this article. Its not something I spoke about and I definitely never said I wanted to ”avoid setting a standard of speed” we spoke about bikes being faster and better than cars for short trips and about Portland dependence on coal power for electricity and how self driving electric cars/delivery drones won’t solve the problems of pollution and traffic. But definitely not about e-bikes and it feels like a strange thing to assume about how and why we do what we do. Especially when it’s presented as something I said and not y’alls personal beliefs.

Also I’m confused why it says 16 local spots when we have nearly 100 delivery partners.

Please fix

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Ponce Christie

Hi Ponce,

Thanks for pointing out that part about the e-bike trip times. We have deleted that from the story to avoid any further confusion or consternation. For the record, Taylor had that conversation with one of your employees and felt it was an interesting takeaway.

And we have fixed the link and reference to 16 local partners. That was my mistake because I added that line while editing the piece and didn’t realize CCC has a Eugene outlet and I was looking at their page on accident! Should be fixed now.

Zadg
Zadg
1 year ago
Reply to  Ponce Christie

Can confirm I found it weird, and counter to the human powered mission that CCC is on, that Ebikes were mentioned 3 or more times in this article.

Champs
Champs
1 year ago
Reply to  Ponce Christie

Time is money. You can save it once you step out the door with speed, or you can get a head start with A Bike That Just Works and never needs attention before you leave. Unfortunately, our economic zeitgeist demands the hare Instead of the tortoise.

I’m not completely disillusioned with capitalism, but its current brand, especially green-flavored, likes to define a problem narrowly, “solve” it expensively in a resource-intensive way, and hand-wave the collateral damage. This is how we get more reusable shopping bags and drinking straws than we know what to do with, electric cars preserving the status quo of sprawl, and of course e-bikes that are fundamentally just as much of a hassle to casual riders as “acoustic.” Neoliberalism isn’t the answer.

If you want to know why e-bikes are shoehorned into every conversation, the bike industry has average sales prices to increase and advocates know who butters their bread.

PTB
PTB
1 year ago

CCC is great and the riders are all incredibly nice people. Heads up though, I have had a hard time getting food here. I tried to get work lunch (was solo here, couldn’t close the store) from a spot just 2 miles from me and it couldn’t happen because I wasn’t in SouthEast, but instead Further SouthEast. Understandably one couldn’t, shouldn’t order from a spot in St. Johns and want it delivered here to inner SE, but if I can’t get something from a spot that is a 15 minute ride away, that’s pretty dang limited and not too useful. But maybe this was just a weird day and it’s not usually like this.

Ponce Christie
1 year ago
Reply to  PTB

Hey! Reach out to me on Instagram or by email, info@pdxccc.com I’d love to see what happened in this situation, some of our restaurants delivery areas are limited by their online ordering software that will sometimes only allow either a radius or a zip code we always do our best to make sure that our delivery areas for each restaurant make sense, I’d love to know more to see if we can fix it!

PTB
PTB
1 year ago
Reply to  Ponce Christie

Hey Ponce. It’s been a few months now since this happened, and honestly, it’s ok. It seemed like maybe a tech issue turning me down. Wasn’t trying to rip on CCC with my comment, just sharing an experience. We have used CCC to get lunch at other places and the service is always great. And like I said above, all the riders we’ve met are absolutely solid people.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

Sorry, but the reason there aren’t more bike delivery services has very little to do with the state of bike infrastructure in this city, precisely b/c delivery riders do not fall into the so-called ‘interested but concerned’ demographic. In other words they don’t need or want frilly greenways and the other trappings of bougie cyclists.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

frilly greenways

As if.

EP
EP
1 year ago

I like the picture of the Domino’s delivery trike in the Netherlands. One cool delivery method I’ve noticed in Portland is Domino delivery bikers with Domino branded bikes and gear. That’s positive advertising and it’s good to see a corporation get it. “A bike is often a better solution to traffic congestion and parking challenges.”

https://ir.dominos.com/news-releases/news-release-details/dominosr-launches-national-e-bike-program-pedal-powered-delivery

Jack
Jack
1 year ago

Thanks for a great write-up, Taylor. People online who are saying this article “throws shade” at CCC are looking for something that isn’t there… and as for the blurb on e-bikes, I missed whatever section was redacted, but personally I would l love to hear what employee of a “collective” had to say on the matter. Personally, I agree with Taylor’s observation that ebikes & eCargo bikes make this kind of work more accessible, not to mention easier on the body and way more time-efficient. Seems to this reader that there’s some kind of rift among CCC staff on where they stand with e-bikes… which is fine, people can have different opinions. But like, stop resisting what is quite possible the greatest tool to ever be invented for this exact purpose?