Although many are working from home, some people have been working throughout the emergency. We spoke to a bicycle messenger, a key worker on the frontlines of the COVID response.
One of the most distinctive sights throughout this seemingly never-ending quarantine period has been cyclists suddenly appearing in great numbers. The rappitenderos are most visible, with their gaudy orange bags, but among this rag-tag bunch of casual workers there are still plenty of professional messengers still working.
One of these is Mateo Cabrera of Rocket Couriers, who is still maintaining essential logistical services throughout the lockdown. It wasn’t easy in the first days, due to confusion over the rules, but then demand rose quickly. “Various clients we work with sell cleaning products, and they started to get a lot of orders given the situation and we already knew that the decree allowed us to work, depending on what we transported. This boosted our work enormously, right up to today.”
Of course, the new rules have meant big changes. “The team is equipped with facemasks and we comply with all the biosecurity standards to keep both our messengers and our clients safe. We keep at least two metres distance at all times and spend as little time as possible making pickups and drops. Before handling any packages we apply antibacterial gel.”
Although you see Rappi bags in many parks around Bogotá as they wait for work, Mateo’s team are working only on pre-orders. “We can be sure that our messengers are in the street for the shortest time possible, especially because they can make the deliveries so much quicker now. We’re working only on orders that are placed the day before, so we can organise the routes and riders much better”
The rules have been changing recently, and that’s reflected in what Mateo sees in the streets. “The changes in the decrees are much more permissive now, so people are going out and returning to their normal daily activities. People are treating the rules much more lightly.” That’s not necessarily a positive thing, as he explains: “I think it’s exposing more people to the virus and the only thing that it’ll achieve is making the quarantine and isolation last for longer.”
As the regulations relax, so the cars return to the streets. “Every day the traffic gets a little worse, now the streets are at about 70% of what they’ve always been. We’re starting to see traffic jams and congestion again, especially near the 68, Boyacá and Séptima.” It’s clear from his words that we are not far off returning to the chaos of before.
For now, though, things are good for Rocket Couriers. “My business and I have had work, sometimes too much, and that means that we can be calm. We’re generating income and paying the bills without too much worry. I’m hopeful that people are starting to see the bicycle messenger as a good way of making deliveries because of our efficiency, speed and commitment. Thanks to this situation, at last we’re becoming more visible, which before was a bit complicated.” Given how many other small businesses have suffered, it’s good to hear a positive story.
He isn’t impressed by the government’s measures to contain the virus. “For my part I haven’t seen that the government is interested in the welfare of messengers, nor of the food delivery workers like Rappi or Uber Eats.” As he points out, they’re doing an important job. “As key workers, we’re the ones that have moved around the city important items like food, cleaning equipment, medicine etc. We’re ghosts in the streets; the people everyone needs but no-one acknowledges.”