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Legacy of the Dabbawalla: The Most Effective Couriers in the World

By WeLoveCycling.com

Intuition, that’s the name of the game. To be an effective bike messenger, you need nerves of steel and catlike reflexes. Yet those who have fallen in love with this time-honored profession live for the rush and take great pride in their exceptional punctuality and reliability. Where do these brave riders get their inspiration?

Well one of the longest running, most well established bicycle couriering systems in the world might surprise you. With apps, digital trends, and drone delivery on the horizon, there is a group of hardworking delivery folks in India that are proving there’s just simply no replacement for good old human instinct.

Dabbawalla is a Hindi term for someone whose job it is to deliver a hot lunch from a worker’s house to their place of work. For more than 125 years, this network of approximately 5,000 largely illiterate rural workers have been delivering 200, 000 fresh meals every day. Prepared with love and care by wives and mothers across the city, the coordination of the meal delivery happens using nothing more that 3-4 crudely painted symbols.

Their punctuality rate is 99.99% with 200,000 lunches delivered every day

A cultural phenomenon rooted in love for food and family, the tradition of delivering a homemade lunch illuminates the subtle yet crucial responsibility of the role of the messenger. A wife knows, like no one else, what her husband enjoys for lunch, and what will help him get through a hard day’s work.

She trusts her dabbawalla to safely delivery the meal she has carefully prepared to his liking. The importance of trust, communication, and exceptional reliability are the hallmark qualities of all successful messengers and when looked at from this perspective, it is easy to see why there is so much pride associated with the title.

Having established themselves as a remarkably efficient system, the dabbawalla have become the subject of frequent analysis. With one estimate by Forbes claiming that they have a punctuality rate of 99.99%, these guys definitely beat new technical solutions like expensive chain-supply managed software. In a city full of congestion, and probably the most unpredictable traffic in the world, they pick up and deliver 200, 000 lunch boxes within only a couple of hours.

A teamwork mentality might also be credited for the incredible success rates. The dabbawalla are considered a collective and each member of the team gets paid equally. The system is a cooperation, so they jointly own the business and share the profit. Everyone is responsible for the final result, making the chain function in a pretty solid and predictable manner.

Following the notoriety they’ve received for their service, the dabbawalla have become a gold standard in terms of cycling delivery. Their approach to do what they do is representative of the whole culture that has developed around this profession. A pride that comes from offering speedy, professional, and low-carbon footprint customer service, the dabbawalla demonstrate that bike messaging is about working hard, working smart, and working together.