Deliveries by Air?

Feb. 26, 2004

If the pizza operator Tim Lockwood drives for gave him a company delivery car, he'd say, "Halleluiah to that!"

Not that Lockwood's personal car is bad: it's regularly maintained, runs well and he benefits from the tax deductions.

But it's still his vehicle, his responsibility—a hassle that comes with the job, one he'd love to make his boss's problem.

"I'd accept a reasonable pay cut in exchange for not having to drive my own vehicle," said Lockwood, treasurer of the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers, and who delivers for an independent operator near Nashville, Tenn. "That's assuming the owner would maintain the insurance on the vehicle, the oil changes, the breaks and tires ... it would be great."

But probably not likely. Lockwood knows a busy delivery store would require an average 10 vehicles in its fleet for busy nights, and on slower nights perhaps half those cars would be used, making them idle investments.

Some operators, like Picurro Pizzeria in Tucson, Ariz., and Hot Lips Pizza in Portland, Ore., have addressed this issue by supplying partial company fleets. Operators Peter Picurro and David Yudkin both wanted company-branded vehicles on the street that were environmentally friendly (Picurro owns a handful of Honda Hybrids, Yudkin some gas-sipping Toyota Echos). And though they've not taken the full-fleet plunge, they at least wanted to offer some options to drivers.

"It's hard enough to attract drivers anyway," Yudkin said in a 2002 interview with PizzaMarketplace. "It's my business, so I ought to take at least some of the responsibility."

Fact is, pizza delivery in the U.S. is expensive (though it's marketed as "free," wink, wink) to both operators and delivery drivers. Related insurance costs—especially non-owned auto coverage—continue to

Domino's Cyoro-Q car is in test in Japan. The vehicle was made in the likeness of a popular Japanese toy.

skyrocket, and out-of-pocket expenses for maintenance and gas suck hundreds of dollars every month from drivers' wallets.

Could alternative vehicles be a solution?

Scooters, Roller Blades, Bicycles

In the U.S. and Australia, nearly all pizza operations use cars and trucks for delivery, but in the UK, more four-wheelers see action than other vehicles, according to Bernadette Eddisford, spokesperson for Domino's Pizza UK.

"Stores that tend to use mopeds are the stores that are based in larger cities—those with traffic congestion problems," Eddisford said in an e-mail. "The bottom line, however, is that our choice of delivery vehicle is not usually our choice! More often than not, the local planning authority will determine the type of vehicle that Domino's Pizza stores must use. (They) are responsible for granting permission for us to open new stores" and can choose "vehicles that are in line with local traffic control plans."

Throughout Asia, in pizza delivery operations, scooters rule because they're perfect for navigating tight and crowded streets.

"The bikes are very efficient," Scott Wilson, general manager of 120-store The Pizza Company, based in Bangkok, Thailand, wrote in an e-mail. "They have fairly low running costs and are able to get through the traffic jams. Cars would take three to four times longer to deliver."

Laurie Russell, worldwide marketing director for Pizza Hut International said communities with "more vertical development" are ideal for scooters. High population concentrations make for very busy but geographically small delivery areas where drivers often can park on sidewalks rather than fight for parking spots.

Particularly in Southeast Asia, Russell said, scooters are primary transportation mode of the populace, and pizza drivers tend to use their own rides for work. "That's not the case every time, but it's more commonplace" than company ownership.

Wilson said all Pizza Co. drivers use their own scooters.

Without a doubt, scooters cost less than autos and are much cheaper to operate. Insurance per driver in

A Pizza Hut hot box mounted to the back of a delivery scooter.

Thailand is about $140 (nearly a tenth the cost in the U.S.), wrote Wilson, and outfitting a scooter with a special hot box, heat pads and pouches is about $100—about the price of one heated core bag used in the U.S.

Scooters do have their drawbacks, however, said Wilson. "The issues that we are working on are improving bike safety and visibility and developing ways to ensure the pizza 'travels' well; it is subjected to more movement in the box (on a scooter) than in a car."

The safety issue, as it does in the U.S., cuts both ways in the Orient, Pizza Hut's Russell said. "They're trained to follow the local laws, but with the traffic scenarios in some places, I can't tell if there even are lanes. Being from (the U.S.) and traveling to those cities, ... it's looks a lot different."

Lockwood said he'd use a scooter in the right delivery market.

"If you're a tight urban market where the delivery area's just a few square blocks, or in a college town, that would be awesome," he said. "But if you've got a 10-mile delivery radius, that could be a problem."

Dealing with inclement weather also poses a challenge, Lockwood said, as does a scooter's speed and power.

"There's a safety issue if you have to get onto the road and you only have a top speed of 25 (mph); that's not practical," he said, adding that drivers must be able to negotiate traffic at the speed of other vehicles. "It's dangerous if you can't go as fast as everybody else."

Air apparent?

In the always-cramped streets of Tokyo, Domino's operators are experimenting with a single-passenger car called the Cyoro-Q—essentially a shrunken, electric-powered Volkswagen-Bug-look-alike modeled after a popular Japanese toy of the same name.

No word on how many cars Domino's has purchased, what they cost or how they perform as delivery vehicles.

Even more futuristic is a Hoverboard prototype under consideration by Domino's UK. According to the company's Web site, the device was built by Airboard Europe as potential replacement to scooters. The electric-powered Hoverboard floats less than half an inch (1 cm) off the ground on a

Domino's Hoverboard, made by Airboard Europe.

cushion of air and glides over hard services, including ice.

"Airboard Europe," the release reads, "is confident that in the not too distant future they will be able to" fly above pedestrians' heads. "If we increase the Hoverboard's lift by five inches a year, then by the year 2020 we could be eight feet off the ground."

While Hoverboards and Cyoro-Q's clearly peg the "wow" meter, whether they serve the bottom line is another matter. But sometimes, as Eddisford implied, generating positive attention and market awareness is worth the cost of trying something new.

Practically and realistically, both experiments address environmental concerns such as smog production in busy urban markets. Not only does Domino's want to do the right thing with "cleaner" vehicles, the company suspects that governments in its major urban markets will toughen clean air standards over time. Increased restrictions, therefore, could signal the end of scooter use, because of their oil-burning two-cycle engines.

"In the meantime, our stores are already using 'alternative' modes of transport for deliveries close to stores," Eddisford said. Those include "bicycle, skateboard, rollerblades ... and, most efficient, environmentally friendly of all, feet!"

In eco-friendly Corvallis, Ore., one pizza operation is ahead of the no-emissions curve—though behind the tech curve by choice. Carl and Christine Mildner, owners of the Pizza Peddler & Noshery, deliver their food by bicycle. According to the Corvallis Gazette-Times, three delivery cyclists can service 80 percent of the 45,000 residents in a timely fashion. The Mildners spent about $1,000 on two bikes and three two-wheeled trailers (one delivery rider uses his own bike).

Mildner told the Gazette-Times that delivery runs are limited to 10 minutes in one direction to ensure pizzas arrive hot. Turnaround times, rider Matt Rosen told the Gazette-Times, are faster than most think. "It's just as fast as driving a car."

Topics: Domino's Pizza , Operations Management , Pizza Hut

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