Friday, December 28, 2012

UPS workers using bicycles along Central Coast


Tom Aller’s new job has him spinning his wheels.

Each workday morning throughout this holiday season, Aller puts on a brown uniform, loads a trailer with parcels, buckles on his helmet, and sets out upon his rounds delivering packages by bicycle for UPS.

“I absolutely love it. First of all, you’re outside and active. I love interacting with people in the neighborhood; the home base is great, and you’re getting exercise rain or shine, but around here it’s mostly shine,” Aller said.

The bicycle delivery program was pioneered in Santa Maria in 2008 to serve high-density areas during the heavy holiday delivery periods of November and December.

“We joke that we’re going back to our roots since UPS started in 1907 with a couple of kids on bikes,” said UPS Station Manager Michael King.

But the strategy has nothing to do with nostalgia.

“We use the bike service in areas where the stop density gets so thick it’s just not cost-effective to use the trucks. On a street where we would typically deliver to two or three houses, this time of year we’re delivering to eight or nine or 10 houses. There’s so much stop and go. In dense residential areas like Tom’s, it saves a ton of fuel,” King said.

Last year, the region’s program expanded to include eight cyclists. This year’s two-wheeled delivery team includes four cyclists in Santa Maria, three in Lompoc, one in the Santa Ynez Valley and two in the Five Cities, King said.

“We figured last year we saved about 14 to 20 gallons of fuel every day,” he said.

UPS adopted similar programs in San Luis Obispo before the trend started taking hold in other Southern California communities including Santa Barbara, Ventura, Newbury Park and other areas in the Los Angeles Basin.

“We shy away from it in hilly areas. We usually have people with experience on bikes, who like the job. It’s great exercise, and they get to work out of their homes in many instances,” King said.

Aller, formerly a television producer, audio-visual specialist installer and substitute teacher, said he’s ideal for the job that covers his neighborhood in the triangle from Lakeview Junior High to Kmart.

“I’m perfectly suited for this job; I’ve been riding bicycles since I was 5 years old. I’m going to be 57 in February, but I still get along pretty good,” he said.

In fact, he gets along well enough to load parcels into the 30-pound trailer that can carry up to 200 pounds of packages.

“I actually look forward to it. I’m getting in really tremendous shape doing this. It’s a six-hour-a-day workout on the bike. You get off, load up, deliver packets, reload and do it again,” he said.

He’s become a sort of celebrity in his neighborhood, made some new friends, and enjoys photo sessions with neighbors.

“As of last June, I was down and out. I was out of every job. The nice thing now is having a job. Seriously. I’m so happy to have a job and to be able to work my way out of the slump,” Aller said.

When the temporary gig comes to an end Monday, Aller said he’ll probably work in computer repair.

“I also want to keep riding. I don’t want to lose it. I could ride all day, but I wouldn’t know what it was like to ride a bike without towing a 100-pound load,” he said.

Freelance writer Jennifer Best  at

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