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Berkeley Cancels Pedal Express Contract Despite Protests By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday May 03, 2005

A Berkeley-based bike messenger cooperative appears to be the latest organization to suffer from Berkeley’s budgetary woes. 

Hoping to save nearly $30,000 on its mailroom expenses, the city last month terminated its contract with Pedal Express to deliver inter-office mail to outlying city offices. The cooperative, formed in 1994 to haul packages up to 1,000 pounds, will continue to deliver commission packets for the city. 

Although the cut is miniscule compared to reductions scheduled for other organizations and programs as the city seeks to close an $8.9 million structural deficit, environmentalists, opposed to using cars for inter-office deliveries, have rallied behind the cooperative. 

“They’re not polluting the air and they’re not congesting the streets with cars,” said Marcy Greenhut of the city’s Transportation Commission. Councilmembers Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington have also both lobbied City Manager Phil Kamlarz to reconsider the cut. 

Facing a deficit in its mailroom fund of more than $30,000, Kamlarz said the city had no choice but to cut costs. “It was either going to be a mailroom person or Pedal Express,” he said. 

For Pedal Express the cut is potentially devastating. “We’re shrinking because of this,” said Barbara Murphy, a member of the five-person cooperative that counted on Berkeley inter-office deliveries for about a quarter of its business. Murphy added that Pedal Express also delivers inter-office mail for Emeryville and commission packets for Albany. 

One month before Berkeley terminated its contract, Pedal Express, at the city’s request, bid to run the city’s mailroom operations. Murphy said that the cooperative’s bids, which ran from $80,000 to $108,000, a year were rejected by the city in favor of keeping the mailroom staffed with city employees.  

Currently the mail clerk, classified as a Central Services Aide, makes roughly $40,000, according the city’s salary schedule posted on its website. There is also a half-time clerk at the mailroom. In the past year, Murphy said, Pedal Express had billed the city $26,000 to deliver inter-office mail to outlying offices. 

Kamlarz said the mailroom fund, funded by postage fees charged by the city to its departments, has been in the red for the past several years. “The costs are higher than they should be,” he said. 

Berkeley contracted with Pedal Express in 1994 to deliver commission packets. In 1998, when the city dispersed several of its departments while City Hall underwent a seismic retrofit, the cooperative began delivering interoffice mail. 

But with the consolidation of numerous departments into 1947 Center St. last year, Pedal Express has seen its business with the city decline, Murphy said. Until the city terminated its inter-office delivery contract last month, she said, Pedal Express delivered mail to outlying city offices like the Marina and corporation yard, while the city’s mail clerk delivered mail between downtown offices. 

Under the new system, the mail clerk, stationed at 1947 Center St., will deliver mail by car to outlying city offices. Kamlarz said he expected the mail clerk to deliver mail by foot to downtown offices, but Murphy said that has not been the standard practice. 

“He has always requested a car and has always received a car,” she said. “He even drives to the high school to pick up mail. We told the city that if they were going to be cutting Pedal Express, we’d like to see him have a less detrimental way of getting around.”