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When a Bike Company Put a TV on Its Box, Shipping Damages Went Down (2017) (bicycling.com)
586 points by edward 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 261 comments

I've always been curious about the shipping process. I have met or know 7 people who work/worked at the shipping hub in my city. I always ask them how the packages are handled. Every one of them said that they (and all of their coworkers) handle all packages on a scale ranging from rough to purposefully damaging. One guy told me how he targets boxes marked Fragile for extra abuse when he's exhausted/angry/having a bad day.

I predict that a package being treated delicately throughout the entirety of it's route would be the outlier. Every package is at some point flung across a room/truck. The only question is if it is going to hit another box or a much harder surface.

this is all anecdotal, but seems to fit with the stat that roughly 10% of all packages in the United States are damaged during shipping.[0]

[0]: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/adriana-dunn/one-in-10-ecomme... -- couldn't find a direct link to the case study.

This does not surprise me much. I think it comes down to incentives. The package handlers only have a certain amount of time per package. There are few if any consequences for being rough, and it saves time, so of course the package handlers end up being rough.

This isn't the only time you see this sort of selfish behavior from delivery companies. As a cyclist I commonly encounter delivery trucks parked in the bike lane. This is a common problem: http://upshatescyclists.com/

If you call UPS or Fedex you'll often hear things like "This shouldn't happen." But the drivers are basically incentivized to break the law, regardless of "company policy". They don't have much time per package, so if blocking a bike lane saves them 10 seconds, they don't care if it is really dangerous for others.

Given this knowledge, I hypothesized that an effective way to make a delivery driver avoid the bike lane would be to slow them down if they park in the bike lane. I did once try to block a UPS driver from exiting their vehicle as a test. I recall that I said something like "You're blocking me, so I'm blocking you. You can park over there if you want a legal spot."

It wasn't the worst reaction I've seen from a UPS driver, but it was among the worst. Not recommended, but if enough cyclists did this then I suspect delivery drivers would start to avoid the bike lane.

the drivers are basically incentivized to break the law

When a delivery company has a line item in its budget to cover parking tickets as a cost of doing business, it's already decided at the corporate level to disregard the law in favor of making a profit.

I remember how a few years ago a company paid a speeding ticket for one of the workers, and was promptly fined itself for contempt of court. Judge summoned the manager who approved the expense to court, gave him an earful, and told them in no uncertain terms that if they tried that again, contempt of court fines would go up until they stopped this. The ideas was the whole point of the ticket was to punish the driver, so if a company removes the punishment, they were actively sabotaging a legal punishment.

How the fuck can you expect people to drive 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and never get a fine?

It's not the driving, it's the parking. You're asking people to find a parking spot in the middle of the city hundreds of times a day, and no shit the spots just don't exist. Either they break the law or the packages don't get delivered.

Some cities have dedicated package delivery spots which help, but that's far from universal and sometimes regular drivers will abuse them. Also, they may not be located near the location the package needs to be delivered.

The people writing, enforcing and interpreting the laws don't care if the law is unfair or impossible to reasonably comply with. That is miles outside the scope of what they do.

Laws that penalize behavior that normal people frequently engage in don't get changed until the people who write the laws get bitten by them (which rarely happens for reasons outside the scope of this comment).

By being careful? It's their fucking job!

How the fuck can you expect people to drive 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and never get a fine?

I drove for Uber 11 hours a day six days a week for 10 months and never got a fine.

Suppose we don't expect that. Does it change who should pay the fine?

That's cute, but wrong. Even the most law-abiding delivery company is going to end up with some parking tickets, so it makes sense to budget for them.

You may as well decry the budgeting for legal as saying the company wants to break the law.

> Even the most law-abiding delivery company is going to end up with some parking tickets

Why? If you don’t park illegally you don’t get tickets. They aren’t random or accidental.

Shit happens; signs are confusing, drivers make mistakes, cops make mistakes. And that may be a once in a lifetime event for a regular driver, but when you have thousands of drivers parking dozens of times a day, "once in a lifetime" becomes "once a week".

Except very special and rare situations, the driver should be personally liable for a ticket even if on the job. Traffic laws apply to individual drivers and not vehicle owners or contractors.

Parking tickets are not moving violations, and are typically assigned to the car, not to the driver, for obvious reasons.

I have a friend who works as a driver (merchandising, not delivery) and he personally pays for his parking tickets. This is in the UK though, maybe things are different in the US.

My brother-in-law lives in LA, and parks there every day. He honestly tries not to get parking tickets, but he's been towed once or twice because the street wasn't clear. I know he isn't intentionally trying to break the law. I also got a parking ticket when visiting once. I very carefully looked at the signs, there were 2 other cars on that side of the street. I parked there, and went into visit thinking I was fine. I got back to a parking ticket, and looked at the sign again, and had Monday/Tuesday mixed up. I didn't intend to break the law. It is accidental.

I get the impression LA and others do this on purpose as a revenue tactic.

Last I looked up, the city of LA makes somewhere around 200 million a year on parking fines alone. There's tons of places in LA where it appears safe to park, but then you come back to find a ticket on your windshield because there's a sign way off in the distance and obscured by a tree. Parking enforcement "officers" are specifically told to never make exceptions, and their little ticket machines are designed so that, once your license plate is entered, the action can't be undone and they are forced to complete the ticket in order to continue doing their job.

> Why? If you don’t park illegally you don’t get tickets.

Incorrect; if you don't park illegally, you are less likely to be ticketed each time you park.

On an individual scale, this might result in never getting a ticket, on a large delivery company’s scale, it's pretty much guaranteed not to.

In a crowded urban neighborhood, there is not going to be anywhere for a delivery vehicle to legally stop. Unless the delivery company refuses to service the area, it’s going to do some double parking.

Downtowns address this problem with yellow commercial loading zones but those don’t really exist in residential neighborhoods.

Ye. Service vehicles usually are exempted from the actual parking rules in practice. A sewage utility vehicle wont get ticketed if it has a pipe going down a adjacent drain and has the wheels on the sidewalk etc.

Walking from a free parking spot to the delivery location is not included in the price. Unless all delivery companies are forced to follow the parking laws (for real) at the same time they will just go out of business.

The problem is that the end user don't know what quality of delivery they will get, so they choose the cheapest, and there is a race to the bottom, like flight tickets.

When comparing prices the end user doesn't know that they might be beaten off the plane by security to make room for a business class late arrival end user, so the risk is not priced in correctly ...

Surely that sewage pump operator obtained a permit to block the street that day?

A permit doesn’t change the level of inconvenience for other road users.

The companies could also hire a second person to actually run the deliveries inside while the driver makes sure not to block traffic.

It'll cost more than the current situation, sure, but it is an option.

This happens during busy times of year, like Christmas.

Then, the delivery trucks shouldn't be parking there. Clear a spot and turn it into commercial parking only, i say. They're doing this right now on Polk street and it's so much safer for bicyclists on the portions that have this now.

A short detour on a sidewalk or grass/dirt shoulder doesn't seem that dangerous to me. Does it happen much that there's no room on the right and the cyclist has to go around the left of the truck?

There's a couple reasons that this dangerous enough that converting some street parking to commercial load/unload is a better solution:

1. There's no quick conversion in the middle of the street. It's a curb, which would require hopping, which is nearly impossible for an ebike and a dangerously unstable maneuver anyway.

2. There are cars blocking visibility with the sidewalk. If you hop onto it, you might strike a pedestrian you didn't see. Perhaps a short one, such as a child, who are unpredictable anyway.

3. Going to the right of the truck is a great way to get doored in the 0" of clearance between the truck and other parked cars. If it's the truck, enjoy your guaranteed head injury from the truck door 3 feet off the ground.

4. Biking on the sidewalk is illegal in many cities. So is parking in the bike lane, for that matter. Expecting one party to break the law because of a failure to enforce a separate law is unreasonable.

Would you do this to every block in the Sunset?

Yes. Why not? Add more busses and trams. Sunset houses have garages, many driveways, much of which is stuffed with junk and undriven cars. Perhaps they are supersaturated with cars?

The "no cars in the city" philosophy is not one without challenges or setbacks - getting rid of parking in sunset would suck, but it would motivate the creation of more and better public transit, which is a better solution than cars by nearly all marks.

The N is reliably overcrowded, and transportation funding measures are reliably passing. Is the problem really a lack of demand?

If you can't operate legally, that doesn't mean you get to break the law, that means you stop operating.

So start having internet retailers and takeout restaurants say “we don’t serve your street because it has a bike lane” and see how the long the bike lane lasts.

Yes, that is what should happen.

More likely than getting rid of the bike lane, the laws surrounding it will be amended to allow deliveries.

> there is not going to be anywhere for a delivery vehicle to legally stop

So they shouldn’t stop there then. Deliver the last mile on foot or using a cart. If it’s too large for that I guess you can get some kind of permit like they do for construction.

If you park millions of trucks perfectly legally across the country, you will almost certainly get erroneous tickets. Traffic wardens are not infallible - that's why we have traffic court.

Mistakes happen. My grandparents got one because the sign was a good 50m away (a long way for a disabled driver) and looked like it was referring to another part of the road, and my mother got one when she stopped for 20s to pick me up from somewhere (yes there was a sign, but she hadn't even been stopped long enough to read it).

Parking violations usually don't require proof of intent. So unless you believe people never make mistakes and are always fully knowledgeable about parking rules, then tickets are sometimes random (or at least capricious) and accidental.

The GP was talking about a delivery company budgeting for tickets. All the answers to the parent miss the point. The discussion is on a large scale with a significant amount of tickets. If it's a hundred tickets for 1,000 drivers a year, that's a few thousand bucks for a multi-million dollar salary. Doesn't something like that run under miscellaneous and isn't explicitly budgeted for?

If they don't budget it, then is shows that they don't care about parking tickets at all, they just pay whatever. Budgeting it shows they are tracking tickets which is a necessary component of reducing ticket counts.

Rhetoric is fun; it's easy to prove both a proposition and its opposite.

You should watch a few episodes of caught in providence on youtube. Shows how traffic tickets can be given out wrongly or some laws are simply too hard to follow.

I used to work for a delivery company on the software side. Our drivers were responsible for paying their own tickets, and there’d still be one or two a month.

> You may as well decry the budgeting for legal as saying the company wants to break the law.

The only reason to have a lawyer is because you broke the law, got it.

Sure, but nothing precludes it from actually being the case that they really do operate that way. They can even mount your defense! It's perfect.

"You may as well decry the budgeting for legal as saying the company wants to break the law."

Why? Doing everything correctly and within the law costs money.

Don't the parking tickets have to be paid by the driver though, and not the company? FedEx doesn't even own their delivery trucks, the drivers do.

Parking tickets are against the registered owner. Moving violations are against the driver.

So in the cases where the drivers don't own the delivery vehicles, just deduct the fines from whoever was driving it at the time of the ticket.

I admittedly have no idea how these situations are handled by accounting, but that seems like it would be the solution to me.

The solution is the company just pays the ticket. End of story.

The solution should be repeat offenses equals harsher consequences.

You are still blaming the laborer for management's policies re (not) allocating sufficient time for correct work.

Or the city's completely insufficient parking situation.

But yes, the company looks at this like so:

* Option 1. Park in front of the building (illegally) and deliver the package. 2% chance of getting a $200 parking ticket.

* Option 2. Driver finds a legal spot, average time: 15 minutes. Add 20 minutes of walking time to the delivery. Requirement: 8x more delivery vehicles required to service the city.

Option 1 is much cheaper.

It depends on the company. The one I worked for (although not as a driver) the drivers were responsible for all tickets, traffic or parking. Other companies will swallow the cost, sometimes to a ridiculous degree, such as the London borough where Tesco racked up £75,000 worth of parking tickets in a year for delivery trucks dropping at their branches. https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/environment/75-000-parking-fi...

In Manhattan every UPS driver gets tickets except when buildings have commercial parking. Nobody cares. They hire a law firm to settle on $0.25/$1 and it’s done. Meter maid makes quota, lawyers paid, city gets money.

And GDP increases. Beautiful.

Every company is required by GAAP to estimate and accrue legal liability they encounter in the course of doing business. You've managed to turn actually following the law into a conspiracy to violate it.

This is also completely planned for by the cities, who rely on that very substantial parking ticket income.

If the city wanted to make delivering parcels legally and safe for bicyclists practical, it could. But that would mean drastically lower income. So it doesn't.

So make their parking tickets more expensive.

What successful company doesn't disregard relevant laws when the returns outweigh the penalties?

It's obvious, this is how businesses operate.

That's how people operate, not just businesses.

Some people, this depends hugely on the culture/upbringing of the individual. For-profit corporations on the other hand are arguably psychopathic by definition.

Sure, there are certainly exceptions. About 10%

Honestly, I think the truck drivers are also a victim of this system. They have to deliver what's handled to them in a tight schedule. Often breaking some rules and sometimes being rude on trafic is the way they found to meet the requirements and don't get punished.

I'm shure they could avoid doing a lot of those things, but blaming and punishing the truck driver is not fair.

I recognize this and am sympathetic. Ultimately changes need to come from management.

But parking in the bike lane is not necessary a large fraction of the time. I always point out a convenient alternative parking spot when talking to drivers parked in the bike lane. It's not uncommon that the alternative spot is really no worse than the bike lane for the delivery driver. The problem seems to be that many drivers don't consider more than the most obvious parking spot, and that often ends up being the bike lane.

Also, don't underestimate the number of delivery drivers who hate cyclists and intentionally block the bike lane. Having talked to dozens of delivery drivers I can say some of them seem to genuinely hate cyclists.

I can’t imagine a world where I’ve spoken with dozens of delivery drivers.

If you cycle for transportation, you'll readily encounter delivery truck drivers parked in your lane. If you drive you probably aren't paying attention to this problem and underestimate its frequency.

How do you block a UPS driver from getting out of his truck with just a bicycle?

I stood directly in front of the side door with my bike in front of me, leaving perhaps a 1 or 2 foot gap between my bike and the delivery vehicle. I only blocked their typical exit, i.e., the exit bordering the sidewalk. The driver could have walked into traffic. They expect me to go into traffic, so it seems only fair for them to have to exit that way. Funny thing was that the driver seemed uninterested in exiting that way...

As I recall the driver went through the small gap I left, though not without getting fairly irritated.


Please don't do this here.

Bike vs. car flamewars are surprisingly close to the nastiest things we see here. Not to mention tedious.

That's vandalism. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Like you never do stuff that others think is wrong...

Live and let live.

The drivers deliver the shit you buy online.


And you’ve never rolled through a stop sign?

No, I haven't.

Just as deflating the tire illegal.

Imagine there's no bike lane and you ride on the street, or when you wanna ride more relaxed, you ride on the sidewalk.

It's not a problem either way if everybody is somewhat relaxed. But with your mindset, everyone's against everyone.


It just riddles me.

If you were in a car, you would be the type of person that honks at cyclist because in their mindset, it's illegal.

> or when you wanna ride more relaxed, you ride on the sidewalk.

Common misconception. Riding on the sidewalk is considerably more dangerous than riding in the street. While you are less likely to be hit from behind, you are much more likely to be hit by drivers turning.

> If you were in a car, you would be the type of person that honks at cyclist because in their mindset, it's illegal.

The difference is that blocking the bike lane is typically illegal (and dangerous to cyclists), and riding a bike on the road is typically legal (and at most irritating to drivers). The two are not equivalent.

Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal in almost every state and country. Riding a bicycle in the street is never illegal. I think you should learn the rules before you tell people that they should risk their lives for your convenience.

> Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal in almost every state

It's illegal in 8 states; unclear in 18; even if it was illegal in all of those it would be a slim majority, not “almost every state”.


Riding a bicycle is illegal on some roads, especially the highway (unless it's the only reasonable road, such as though a canyon).

That being said, far too many assume it's illegal to ride on the road, and "share the road" signs don't seem to effectively correct that misconception. I've even heard of drivers telling cyclists to ride on the sidewalk when they're already riding in a bike lane...

That being said, and as others have stated, riding on the sidewalk is not illegal in many areas, though it's less safe in most.

If you're suggesting that somebody slash a truck tire, you should know that's a good way to get maimed.

>slash a truck tire

Said nothing about slashing, that's permanent damage.

can't wait for self-driving vehicles

Then we can complain about anti-cyclist algorithmic bias when autonomous delivery vehicles still park in bike lanes.

I guarantee more cyclists break the law than delivery drivers. Would you suggest I immediately pull my truck in front of every cyclist I see blow through a stop sign?

No. Brake checking people is dangerous and illegal. What I did is neither.

Any neighborhood with fully saturated street parking should probably just be off limits to delivery businesses, since every transaction is going to involve an illegal stop. If your street has a bike lane, Amazon should be fined for accepting your order. Bike lanes and delivery/pickup/drop off are fundamentally incompatible street uses and that’s not going to be solved by ticketing one violation at a time.

> One guy gleefully told me how he targets boxes marked Fragile for extra abuse!

A close friend who owns a UPS franchise warned me of this behavior and advised against placing any indication of fragility on the box. If I recall the threshold correctly, $1,000+ declared-value packages are identified and set aside in a separate group within the store. When a driver comes by to pick up daily packages, the store clerk alerts the driver of which, if any, have been declared and these are individually handled with the sort of care that a customer would generally expect. The regular drivers that service his store appear to take the high-value thing quite seriously, but I do wonder how far down the logistic chain that level of seriousness propagates.

You pay a premium for that high value declaration which means what you are really paying is a premium to have your package not kicked. This is like the airlines who have unbundled seat size and the right to bring a carry-on.

In complete agreement. I was fortunate enough to a have friend who waived those costs for me.

The takeway is that, anecdotally, the UPS $1,000 threshold appears to genuinely change behavior; anything less is pragmatically just another package subject to careless/willful transport abuse.

Sounds rough, but it fair. You can package your item properly to be safe it the world (costs time and money, depending on fragility), or pay for gentle handling. Similar to how you can carry your own umbrella in the rain, or pay someone to carry an umbrella for you.

I don't want to pay an extra $10 for every shipment.

Wouldn't it be a great way to make some money? If you know they target fragile boxes, and you get insurance on it under $1,000, you're guaranteed a payout! As a bonus, right some politically charged messages on it or troll-y statements.

That idea was a story arc in a "Seinfeld" episode (for USPS).

For more detail, it's "The Package" episode, Season 8, Episode 5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Package_(Seinfeld)

It's also the episode with the "boudoir" photographs of George taken by Kramer, for the benefit of the photo development clerk, who he thinks slipped in a suggestive photo of herself in the photos she gave him of his last roll of film. You may have seen the images of George posing before even if you're not a Seinfeld fan. It's a pretty memetic set of images. People have done oil paintings of them, lol. Here's a screenshot example (mildly NSFW, male in only boxer shorts): http://www.inpapasbasement.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Ge...

They won't payout unless you can provide proof of the value of the item damaged.

Just don't try this trick if sending things overseas. The recipient won't appreciate the customs bill (20% in the UK).

You can put any value on the parcel and it won't matter in the slightest. You can declare the value to be $1M and it has no bearing on the final customs charge paid. Chinese shops have been sending everything declared as "gift" with $1 value and customs officials don't give a shit - the parcel is opened and the official makes an assessment on the worth of the item - if it roughly matches what the shipping document says, that's what they send you an invoice for. If it doesn't, they ask for supporting documentation(receipts of what you paid for the item) and then calculate customs charge off that.

You are completely wrong. Customs officials in most countries do not open packages, they use the customs sticker declared value. (Source: I actually receive international packages regularly. I've had one opened package.)

The courier/post office will generally validate that that sticker matches the value you told them for insurance purposes either way.

Well, clearly your custom officials are different than mine then. I've received thousands of international parcels(mostly from asia) and yes, parcels are definitely opened(I know this because many times I had to personally drive to the nearest customs office and they would bring out the stuff they took out of my parcels for inspection).

Of course you can choose to not believe me, but I was explicitly told that the "value" field is completely ignored especially on any post from China, because 99% of the time it's just nonsense and pretty much everything arrives as a "gift"(I once had a brand new Asus laptop worth about $800 that was declared with value of $15, contents: "electronic cables" and "gift" - the customs officers wanted to see receipts of all payments I made for it before releasing it).

>>The courier/post office will generally validate that that sticker matches the value you told them for insurance purposes either way.

Now this seems completely bogus. I've also sent thousands of packages and no one has ever "validated" if what I am sending is actually worth as much as I put on the declaration. As long as it wasn't illegal to send it in the post no one cared.

If your packages are really being opened as often as you say then you are likely on some sort of list. Having received "thousands" (!) of packages from Asia might have something to do with it - that is well into what most people would consider commercial quantities and they have possibly flagged you as potentially running some sort of unlicensed import operation.

I can confirm that in my country (Australia) packages are rarely opened and if they are, it's seldom for duty assessment but checking for contraband of whatever nature. Even if they do flag you for a duty check they don't need to open the package - they do have x-rays, you know. Try and declare a $10,000 drone as a package of t-shirts worth $5 and the officer doesn't need to open the box to reject your "estimate". That said, most sites of any repute worth upholding will print the real value on the declaration, non-negotiable.

Completely untrue.

Customs officials in Norway will generally charge the customs fee on the declared value, but if something looks off - a huge, heavy box with a $1 declaration, for example, they can and do open it to verify the contents.

Last I checked UPS Ground charges $0.90 per $100 of declared value (first $100 is included for free) (FedEx Ground is $1 per $100; first $100 is also included for free).

so basically it's a $9 fee if you want "decent" treatment for your packages.

No, it's 0.9% of value beyond $100, not $9.

He's saying insure a e.g. $200 package as if it was actually $1000. Just pay in excess of the items value in order to get UPS to treat it appropriately.

That fits my limited experience in that industry. A TV on the box certainly doesn't protect it against abuse.

When I was a teenager (around 1990 I think) I had a very short (surprisingly well-paying for a teenager) summer job unloading trucks at a warehouse. The first truck contained Atari monitors. One guy showed how it's done: remove the bottom box, and the rest comes tumbling after. Stack them on a pallet, race them through the warehouse on a forklift, take a tight turn so they all fall off again, etc.

My main takeaway was not to buy an Atari monitor that summer.

That explains why my Atari box had a triangular hole in the middle and a crushed keyboard.

Well, he sounds like a sociopath.

You know these people, so do you have any insight as to why they did this?

Is it envy? “Screw this guy getting his fancy TV that I don’t have.” If not, what?

It seems needlessly cruel. I assume these are good people?

I've worked on multiple shipping and loading docks. If you haven't had this type of work experience it would be difficult to understand that the entire line is one big connected system. If just one person stalls their part of the process, the other pieces both upstream and downstream are affected. And believe me, everyone on the line instantly knows who is falling behind and you'll begin to feel the eyes on you immediately. If the issue is not resolved quickly, the entire line might need to stop, which is rule #1 that you don't ever do. Sometimes you just get behind and realizing you need to catch up quickly, 0 fucks are given. If you're stacking and shipping a pallet every couple minutes then you're not going to care about a single case or two being damaged. Is the box torn open because you threw it? Fine, turn it around on the pallet so no one can see the tear - problem solved. Is the supervisor riding you for being too slow? Fine, I'll show them who's slow, because it isn't me - look how fast I can do my job (without caring about what gets broken). Your job isn't to care what happens to these thousands of mystery boxes you're handling each day, it's just to get them out the damn door on time.

The mood issue is real as well and it's less about personal feelings in general and more driven by how you're being treated at work. Any shift in the normal routine can set the mood of the entire warehouse and in return lead people into not caring. It could be announced mandatory overtime or even something as simple as removing something from the break room. Retaliatory action isn't seen as an inconvenience against the customer, it's a middle finger to corporate. You treat us like shit and we're going to make you feel it too, proxied through customer complaints about broken or missing items. Some individuals do go off the rails and it's usually related to some sort of perceived slight against them by the company. A lot of these could have been squashed if the manager didn't throw up their arms and say there was nothing they could do about it; take it up with HR. Most of the time if someone in corporate had just listened to the issue and let the employee get it off their chest, that would have been enough to calm the anger. What many white collar employees in the front office don't realize is how seriously some small and inconsequential issues can matter to blue collar laborers. This could go on and on about blue vs. white collar relations and management practices, but the point is that it's not about the customer so much as it is about internal politics and maintaining the status quo.

I can corroborate most of this. Basically it's a stressful job, with low pay, weird hours, and very high turnover. Some people handle the stress better than others. Generally when people leave, it's because they burn out, or reach some kind of "last straw" moment, or get physically injured (often the back, from lifting improperly and/or too fast). The company doesn't care, they're just using you up and they'll hire a new one when you leave.

"Fragile" and other special instructions printed on the box are kind of insulting if you think about it. On the one hand, I'm a "professional" doing this for a living, so it's not like I need instruction from your I've-never-loaded-a-truck ass. And on the other hand, do I look like I have time to give your precious package special attention and follow your additional instructions for how it should be handled? It will be handled like all the rest. Maybe worse now that you pissed me off.

My pet peeve was the packing. If you've done a proper job of packing, i.e. fulfilling your responsibility to secure your stuff, you quickly find you don't need to proclaim "Fragile" on the outside. But if you don't pack well, and then write "Fragile" on it, you're kind of trying to transfer your responsibilities to me, and deserve a lesson.

This was judgmental young me talking, by the way. It's been a while since I did this. But speaking of judgment I also should mention the ultimate worthlessness of most of what people went to the trouble to ship. I handled a lot of B2B stuff, such as a region's worth of cigarette advertising for all the (insert name of convenience store chain here) in that region. Invariably marked "Fragile."

Wow. Thanks, and GP, for the insight.

Just another example of how we all need to consider the lives, emotions, situations, feelings of others before jumping to conclusions. Life is never as simple as it may seem.

That all makes sense, but it doesn't explain why shipping workers would be EXTRA careless with items marked fragile. I would expect equal carelessness with all packages.

I believe it does: "Retaliatory action isn't seen as an inconvenience against the customer, it's a middle finger to corporate. You treat us like shit and we're going to make you feel it too, proxied through customer complaints about broken or missing items"

As a customer, if my box arrives smashed I am angry. If my box arrives smashed with a "Fragile" sign printed on it, I feel insulted. I guess in the second case the complaint is going to be worse and the reputation of the shipping company damaged even more ("They can't even deliver a 'fragile' parcel properly")

I feel another poster addressed that very well here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19010217

I especially agree with their point around properly packaging items.

I don't think that Atari was a gleam in the founders' eyes when I last worked on a loading dock. Probably the most complicated devices we schlepped were irons or coffee makers. I do remember rough handling of stuff, but it was stuff that would stand it--paper goods or canned soda.

Having said that, I can see how physical exhaustion and stress would lead to careless handling of goods.

Working at a large brown shipping company, I've never seen anyone go out of their way to mistreat packages marked as fragile (or anyone talk about doing it).

That said, it's policy not to treat packages marked 'fragile' differently. Boxes get reused a lot, and a sticker like that has very little correlation with it actually being fragile. (60lb box of bolts? Fragile! 2' by 4' mirror that shatters from a 1 ft drop? Not fragile!)

For bicycles in particular, the issue IMO is that they're typically packed terribly, while being large and awkward enough to be handled with all the other large and heavy (70-150 lbs) stuff.

Damages will occur, it's just a matter of statistical frequency at a scale of 20 million packages per day handled by 100,000+ employees. Frequently, the damage won't even be discovered until delivery, and then there's no easy way to attribute the damage properly. That means aside from particularly egregious stuff where it's obvious you screwed up (say, laying a 55" TV flat and dropping a 30 lb box on it) you have to go way up the management chain to find anyone who cares. At a lower level, easily measured metrics like process rate are far more important.

If everyone in management you ever interacted with only measured your performance by LOC written, how much time would you spend refactoring?

I edited my comment because "gleeful" was misleading. All of them said that the primary reason for the rough treatment of packages was because they're trying to keep up with production and that they're incentives (bonuses) are volume base. It's a demanding job in a very fast paced environment. The people also have their managers coming by to periodically yell at them to "pick up the pace" or other more colorful language.

The guy who said he purposely damages things was burnt out from working there for 5+ years. It brought out a side in him that I didn't know existed honestly. I was pretty shocked when he told me about it. Outside of work, he was extremely chill and fun to be around.

I work as a postman. People don't really send letters any more, so a large and increasing percentage is packages. Many (most?) of my coworkers hate their jobs, and their lives, and are deliberately rough with packages, especially if they look expensive.

"I'm unhappy with my life so I'm going to make other people unhappy too."

How about these people do something with their incredibly valuable short lives other than being miserable? Unless you're in chronic pain of some kind, being alive is a gift. It's a treasure. Every moment is precious.

Because they are stuck doing a stressful job with probably low pay or poor hours to make ends meet?

Yeah, and why don't depressed people just cheer up? Seriously it's not hard...

I think we can all agree this is something completely different.

Which element of each do you think is being compared?

Because they have bills and changing jobs is hard.

Have you ever been hungry?

I'd rather have my packages broken than my local carrier going postal. I can always get a replacement from the company if my package is busted up.

Research shows that relieving aggression like that or yelling actually increases it over time.

That’s not nessisarily relevant. If you flip the fuck out 5 days in your life it’s not going to escalate much, but it might prevent a postal episode.

That said if it’s a weekly habit that’s another story.

Iunno, delivering what amounts to be presents has gotta be more pleasant than bills.

Just a guess regarding shipping, but a general observation that probably applies there as well: appearing significantly more careful than average will make you seem weak to your peers.

On top of that they would hate you for demonstrating that it could be done better, like being the guy who does not drive n over posted speed limit (n varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but is a positive number almost everywhere). And bosses probably expect speed and care, in that order, but that isn't the main mechanism.

It’s easier to be rough than to be gentle, so if there are no consequences to being rough, that’s naturally how it’ll end up.

That's not always true. It might seem like it is easier to be careless, but if we're talking about any item over just a couple pounds in weight, you're going to hurt yourself being careless as opposed to being cautious.

There is a monumental difference between throwing 20lb packages all day vs. picking them up and setting them down. Your body will tell you that it's just not sustainable in the long run if you want to live without persistent pain. You can very easily learn this by observing anyone who's done the job for more than a year or two - they might look like they're being lazy but they are really just trying not to hurt themselves. You might throw one or two in anger, but repeatedly throwing packages for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 48 weeks will make you regret it. There is nothing more painful and hopeless on the job than a mechanical injury you feel in every single box you move. You learn to do it without hurting yourself and this almost never involves being careless with the package. The consequences might not come from being reprimanded about broken items, but it will come in the form of injury and pain.

I'd say being "careless" means dropping that 60-80lb package to the floor instead of gingerly doing a squat with it, even 10 of those a day and your back will thank you unless you have impeccable form. "Use existing equipment" - perhaps a familiar phrase, one that protects your joints but not necessarily the packages.

In the parent comments, it seems like the package handlers are being deliberately rough, i.e. putting in extra work, to ruin these packages.

I did not intend it that way. They handle something on the order of thousands of packages per shift. They aren't putting in extra work to be rough with even most of them.

> Every one of them said that they (and all of their coworkers) handle all packages on a scale ranging from rough to purposefully damaging. One guy told me how he targets boxes marked Fragile for extra abuse when he's exhausted/angry/having a bad day.

But it does look like at least some are worth the extra effort to damage?

I'd imagine it's some combination of:

- terrible pay - long hours - silly computerised targets

It's difficult to care about your job if your job doesn't care about you.

Go work as a package handler at UPS/Fedex/etc for a few weeks and then you'll understand.

Makes me wonder whether it might actually save money to pay those people better.

A bonus based on damage/late customer reports on boxes that passed through the facility is more likely to work than simply increasing base. Put everyone’s (extra) cash on the line and aligned with customer outcomes.

Sort of a tragedy-of-the-commons bonus, then? Individual employees have the power to block bonuses, but not the power to ensure that they are not blocked, under this plan.

More likely a community policing of the commons. It’s not like Joe is secretly taking a package into the men’s room and smashing it. He’s doing it in full view and awareness of his co-workers in all likelihood. “Hey Joe, stop that, you’re killing our bonus!”

I'm willing to bet UPS has calculated this.


Redirecting frustration over 20th-century working conditions, now doubt.

If you treat people like a replaceable cog in a machine, they'll meet your expectations.

Just the other day a videotaped balcony delivery by a german Hermes driver went viral (he climbs the van throwing it from the street onto the 2nd floor balcony, successful on 3rd attempt). This has sparked the same discussions and Hermes now faces some really bad PR and is searching for the culprit.


If this had been filmed in Britain, I guarantee you that the person filming it would have given a sarcastic cheer when the parcel finally landed on the balcony. We're a strange little island.

If you listen closely, there's female commentary in the video - albeit german.

I sometimes prepare my shipments as a kid preparing for bullies at school. Be ready for some abuse, everyone is tested. But don't look overly protected and don't just mark yourself fragile. That's "asking for it".

Back in the day, I used to work at General Electric in the warehouse unloading and re-building pallets of GE lightbulbs for 8 hours straight.

One of my coworkers there was this guy who liked to play ska music really loud. His buddy that he talked to used to be really violent with the boxes- chucking some of them hard on purpose, trying to get some of the product to break.

Similar story happened in school as ta, if a student did something bad or annoyed the TAs, they would Target the student and give a bad or zero grade on problems that can not give a back/white answer. This is usually on marking final exams because few students will review the marking and thus few if any consequences will happen.

Much like UPS targeting boxes, this is 100% not OK, and as a professor, if I found out my TAs were doing this, they would quickly find themselves someplace between "disciplined" and "fired".

I assume you are a responsible professor. From my experience, most professors if not every only cares about their research. Teaching is like a job not giving them any positive feedback, so why they care? And TA-ship is usually paid by school meaning no professor can fire TAs.

This is sadly common, but I'd like to assure you there are many of us who are interested in pedagogy, and measure our long-term success on the success and learning of our students.

Right,If you can found it.

Are they not anonymous? You might be able to recognise it by the work, but at my university, marking was done by people sufficiently far from teaching individual students to ensure that is not the case.

I've observed something similar with suitcase handling at airports, where they are thrown around and piled up like it's typically done with bags of rice for example.

The odd thing about this is that it can be much more work to handle things roughly.

One time I was waiting for a flight and watching the activity out the window, and the guy who was transferring bags from the little truck-train onto the ramp that slides them up into the airliner was throwing each bag into the air and onto the ramp.

It was clear that it would have taken much less effort to just set each bag onto the ramp - wouldn't even have to be gentle, just don't go the extra effort of throwing them in the air.

But I guess treating them gently wouldn't have offered the same satisfaction.

My favorite from checking guns a few times is that I notice that the only thing they don't toss is the guns (which are obvious because they're marked and padlocked unlike anything else). Guns are set aside, loaded last, unloaded first, and moved carefully. Everything else, tossed.

I thought the same until one day my checked gun turned up missing and the airline not care about it any more than any other lost luggage and it turned up about 3 hours later having been misrouted to different airlines luggage area.

Treating the bags gently takes more time and effort. For starters you don't know heavy the bag is, so first you have to figure that out, and you have to spend effort managing its downward trajectory. It's more wear on the joints and body to handle it carefully than to just throw each bag with good form.

I don't know what I'm talking about, so treat that with a grain of salt, but it's plausible.

It's the other way around, less wear if you are careful. Tossing around puts more strain on your joints.

"You don't pay me enough to care"

I used to work for a logistics firm and when one of the warehouse staff got called out for mishandling goods that was often the response.

The biggest issue there wasn't goods in transit, it was the actual packing process. Warehouse staff would pack mobile phones in to big plastic totes which would be taken to retail stores. They were on the clock so they would throw the phones in to the totes from wherever they were standing. Stores wouldn't accept phones in damaged boxes even if the contents were Okay.

The company fitted WiFi shock sensors to all the packing totes. All this did was increase the number of "fk you and fk your job" resignations.

I've often wondered about what you would discover if you were to send accelerometers through various channels, over various distances, and inside of various packages. A database of carrier/packaging/haul distance/acceleration history tuples would be a valuable B2B product for many manufacturers.

This sort of thing already exists, albeit in a low-tech method, using ball bearings or coloured gels. For example: https://spotsee.io/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/tiltwatch-plus...

Clever, although with an accelerometer you may also keep track of which stretch of the journey they get handled the roughest.

More importantly, that advertises its presence to the handlers

that's pretty ingenious!

For very sensitive freight (read NMR magnets) they already fix tiltmeters and accelerometers to the shipping crate, together with instructions to note excursions on the bill of lading when the item arrives. The superconducting wire in a modern magnet is exceedingly brittle. The various postal services do that, too, I remember seeing a documentary about the Royal Mail.

ITER had a lot of specific shipments they did from member nations where they basically put some concrete in a box with the full range of sensor hardware and sent it to the site, explicitly to make sure that they actually could move the components.

The artist Walead Beshty used the hazards of the shipping system to create art. He would ship glass boxes through Fedex and the damaged result would become art.


In our increasingly IPed world where every copyright seemingly has to be enforced. Who would own the copyright in this instance? The postman? They 'created' it, they weren't instructed to make the piece. Surely postman 1 could sue postman 2 for damaging their 'art'?

I suppose you could argue the 'artist' is akin to a photographer?

But what if another artist joined fedex specifically to 'create' art. Which artist would take precedence? If one broke a box to create art, and one wanted the same box breaking to create art???

I don’t know if I break your car windows and the unique shape increases the value of the car do I have any claim to the added value?

Good one. And it's not a single shipment. He's doing it for years. :)


Popular Mechanics did something like that back in 2010: https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/reviews/a6284/wh...

If they do that, they should definitely send some of the packages via Hermes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gcc9ZUz69c

The only thing I'd send through Hermes is a crash test dummy, it's a cheap way to find out if it'll stand up to a 60mph head on crash with a concrete mass.

If it survives Hermes it's tough enough.

This is a very neat idea. I wonder if transport companies already do this to their own packages as a form of auditing and optimizing their own services. Or if they do it to other companies as a comparison metric.

As a 3rd party, you would need large N data points to have actionable information. It might be that collecting the data points costs more than what they are worth.

If you're a company with multiple locations and you send items between those locations then it shouldn't be too expensive to put some tracking technology inside to collect travel information.

That's basically what http://www.cargosense.com/services.html does. I remember Rich Kilmer presenting a beacon a couple years ago that does GPS/accelerometer/temperature/whatnot to monitor packages.

You would discover business proprietary information that FedEx and UPS certainly must be collecting every day in their supply chains already today.

There are rumours that B&O did this with one of the boxes for their TVs. Supposedly it spiked when the box missing a slide in the Copenhagen sorting facility a feel 4 meter, hitting a concrete floor.

Shipping costs might increase

What matters is total cost, which decreases. Shipping cost could be 0 at any time if the cost of the bike contains it.

My innovative shipping startup will ship your package for free! The recipient will never see it, but at least we’re cheaper than FedEx.

Who pays the bill when a product arrives damaged? Shipping costs might go up but insurance or returns could go down as well.

Boeing does this with their seats in the factory too, they put a picture of a Lamborghini on the seats since they cost the same.

EDIT: Yes, it's hard to believe a seat costs the same as a Lamborghini, that's exactly why they put the picture on it. This is mainly for the first class seats, though rows apparently cost about the same too.

Only certain high-end business/first seats I assume? I can't believe a standard economy seat costs $200,000+

The commenter above could have been saying the seats cost the same as Lamborghini seats, which is plausible, or that it costs the same to print a picture of a Lamborghini onto the packaging as it does to print a picture of an airplane seat, which is true. There are many plausible ways to interpret their statement as being correct, but I don't think they're saying any airline seats cost $200k.

No, the first class airplane seats costs $250k each.


Also it looks like a row of non-first class seats can also cost about the same: https://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/travel/inside-the-dreamli...

ok, that's pretty intense.

Thompson Aerospace in NI make front-of-cabin seats and they charter freighter aircraft to deliver them rather than relying on shipping companies

I think the implication is that it's a seat for a Lambo. A plane seat is a lot smaller than a whole car.


For some perspective a Boeing 747 costs $357,000,000 they have a seating capacity of 416.

416 x $200,000 is only $83,200,000 so...honestly...I could see it.

It's hard to say how much anything actually costs in aviation because no one pays list price and are outfitted per the buyers' specs (why airlines all have their own in cabin look). Discounts are usually north of 50% off "list". Economy style seats don't have a lot going on and definitely don't cost the same as a Lambo.

You can even buy your own if you want to be uncomfortable in your own home:


> Economy style seats don't have a lot going on

Actually they do. The drive to make thinner and lighter seats means lots of exotic materials can go into them. If the seats include in-flight entertainment devices, that'll increase the cost too. Plus the seats still have to be certified to the same stringent safety standards as the first-class seats.

Of course the claim was that a row of economy seats costs about what one first-class seat does. I think that's believable.

You could very much imagine that the cumulative cost in project disruption and inspections if a row of seats arrives damaged and then fails safety checks would easily exceed the cost of a Lamborghini.

True. I wasn't saying for sure that was the price. I just wouldn't be too surprised if it ended up averaging out somewhere around there between economy and first class seats. Things you wouldn't expect can be weirdly high priced. Aircraft are just one of those things I could see just about everything being more expensive than you'd think. If only because there's less manufacturers specializing in aircraft parts and the companies buying them tend to be those that have enough money to be buying parts for aircraft.

That $357m is actually the cost of the plane with no fit out. Just a big empty skin.

It doesn't include engines or avionics?

Engines are typically bought from the engine manufacturer. The bigger ones cost tens of millions of dollars each.

I was referring to the quoted price and asking whether that price point includes engines and/or avionics.

Given that the airplane manufacturers typically aren't the ones selling the engines (or the required maintenance) the list price is for the airframe itself. I believe Chrichton touches on this in his book, Airframe.

I heard about also over 10 years ago, some airplane maintenance companys print things like cars and houses on spare parts, so people know about what they cost.

I've given up being able to receive certain items via mail where I live in NYC. Amazon only ships via UPS. They smashed two $300 humidifiers in a row by bouncing them around on their sides despite the box clearly labeled to only move while upright. I'm still waiting to get a refund on one of them weeks later. They managed to break both tripods I ordered as well. I kept the second as gluing the broken bit is easier than dealing with yet another return.

The effect of this trick will diminish quickly when everyone copies it. I wonder why this bike company was eager to reveal their trick if it was so effective. Perhaps the free advertisements they gets from news reports are more worthwhile?

Once this trick becomes widely know then TV manufacturers will see a spike in damaged goods after they've benefited for so long.

Not to mention all the TVs damaged by disappointed bike thieves.

You still need to ship things that would make sense to fit in such a big box. It's obviously the free advertising.

This reminds me of a company "Atheist Shoes". That had to put just "Shoes" on their boxes because it greatly reduced delivery problems in US (no effect in europe).

I still don't understand why there has never been a push to hold carriers responsible for the goods they damage. Could you imagine dropping your car off to be repaired at your dealer/mechanic and being held responsible for anything they broke?

Manufacturers and retailers should push to hold UPS/FedEx/etc. responsible if damages are above a certain metric. (If they do already, it's clearly not good enough.) The 20% damage rate for this bike company is insane.

I wonder if another dimension got negatively affected, such as theft (porch pirates or the like).

TV thieves will be disappointed, but may become fit.


My karma points aren't enough for me to be able to downvote. But here's a verbal downvote.

And here's an upvote to help get you to the point where you can downvote posts like these.

Completely unnecessary racist comment. Removing just that one word would have made it acceptable.

The king snake called, it wants its strategy back.

This is a clever trick, but like the king snake's mimicry of the venomous coral snake, the long term result will surely be reduced efficacy of the markings on the bonafide item.

Almost exactly the same threads too, including mentioning of Boeing aircraft seats.

-1 to bycicling.com for not linking to the vendor's website. It always bugs me when the best things about the web over print isn't used appropriately...


Our hard drives for mainframes used to come with glass tube force exceeded indicators and ,'tipped in transit' markers. Five cent gizmos which meant you could refuse to accept or RMA.

I was very upset to find a spinning disk hard drive that I bought off a respectable forum was shipped in a padded envelope. Not even the bubble kind, but this kind: https://www.uline.com/BL_1542/Uline-Kraft-Self-Seal-Padded-M...

It still worked fine.

You can buy these to put on your shipments. Provides a g-force indicator if the shipment has been dropped.


Kinda ironic considering how much force a HDD at rest can sustain...let alone tipping.

Hard disks these days are much tougher than the ones used for old school mainframes, or for that matter just old school hard disks. Back in the day there was a command to park the drive heads so they wouldn’t bounce around during transit.

"Someone" put this up on HN 2 years ago....


We had 7 42" 4k monitors delivered and all 7 were damaged. I'm glad we were on the end of the bell curve. :D

Seven times? I would get mad as hell after the third one and go fetch it myself.

No, the 7 were delivered together.

I had a large electrics/computer supplier tell me they would no longer sell my company TV's due to the fact that so many that were shipped in the southeast US arrived damaged and had to be returned. This is one of those think outside the box things that don't scale.

In the early days of Apple when they first started shipping computers to Japan they were getting transported in refrigerated trucks. The transport company saw the logo and just assumed it was fruit.

I’ve lost the source for this, I believe it was in the book “Apple Confidential 2.0”

Why not including an Arduino-logger with accelerometer, tilt-sensor and clock/timestamp. This way you could figure out where in the transport the rough handling is happening.

Well, duh. If I have a finite amount of time I'm going to treat an electronic glass sandwich with more care than a box with a steel frame in it.

Another way to interpret this is, the bike company cheaped out on proper packaging for the bikes in the first place.

It makes sense for them to do this, from a selfish perspective, but this is an iconic example of why we can’t have good things. If more shippers do this, handlers will just ignore the caution signs.

Handlers are already ignoring the caution signs, though, just not for (at least) one product, TVs.

Psychologist have found that people will cheat least in controlled tests when someone is watching. Even if the person can't audit them.

EVEN if no one is watching and it's just a picture of an eye.

I've heard only item not tossed/thrown around at FedEx/UPS/etc is any box labeled as hazardous material.

Every other boxes are treated equally, tossed/thrown.

I wonder what are the % of damage from Online Shopping. Online Retailing is basically moving the cost of High Rentals to shipping / delivery.


high quality, expensive bikes are usually designed to withstand a good amount of physical abuse and dynamic loads under a 90kg rider. i wonder what kind of damage they sustained. bent spokes? brake/shift levers?

A lightweight frame is extremely strong under the loads for which it is designed (weight on the seat and bars transferred down through the wheels), but often exceedingly weak in other types of stress (E.g. an impact to the side of a tube). Especially carbon fiber.

My last bike came damaged. The box with the steel frame suffered a minor hit I didn't even notice it until after my shop reported the damage. Bent the right rear dropout less than two millimeters, dropouts are where the wheel axle connects to the frame. This prevented the rear tire from inserting and had bent the location of the rear derailleur mount.

Repairing wouldn't necessarily be safe and would definitely invalidate the warranty, luckily the company I bought it from sent me a new frame after I gave them proof of shipping damage.

This kind of thing weirds me out to be honest. I've had this kind of conversation with serious cyclists before where I've been told that it's impossible for cyclists to ride on the footpath in places because the uneven cement slabs would damage {some part of the bike I don't remember or care}. You're here telling me that a 2mm twist in part of the frame is a serious problem for attaching the rear wheel, and that it would be "unsafe" to have a skilled technician fix it (presumably by just twisting it back?).

What kind of piss-poor engineering is going into high end bikes? $400 bikes don't have this problem. I've legit thrown (albeit cautiously to make sure it doesn't bounce) my bike over a 1m drop on it's side several times and it's fine other than the kickstand being a little bent.

I'd never spend $1500+ on a bike that can't handle a 2mm deviation in the rear fork. Over the lifespan of the bike it's /definitely/ gonna have some part of it deviated by 2mm through normal wear and tear, so if that's gonna break it beyond safe repair then that's a pretty useless bike. Am I the crazy one here?

It's quite hard to damage a dropout with the wheels mounted if not by way of a major crash.

But the rear triangle of a bike remains pretty weak in shipping as the rear axle is not in place.

Isn't that something that could be solved by shipping it with a 50c piece of metal between the bars during shipping as a surrogate for the wheel axle? Given the list prices, seems like they could stretch to that, and it'd be more reliable than hoping the delivery man will be more gentle because he thinks it's a TV box.

yeah, with proper supports in the right places, none of these shenanigans/hacks would be needed.

It came with some cheap plastic covers on the dropouts, nothing structural. That's a good thing to look for in future purchases though.

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