Delivery workers reinvent the wheel

A Lebanese man transports watermelons on his scooter in the suburbs of Beirut.

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: There's a tough road ahead in Lebanon in more ways that one. The country just elected a new president and feuding political leaders are trying to work though a new power-sharing agreement.

But the peace came at a price for those who rely on the wheels of commerce. Last week, scooters, mopeds and motorcycles were banned. Officials decided the scooters were being used by young men to taunt their political opponents.

As Ben Gilbert reports from Beirut, delivery workers were forced to reinvent the wheel.


Ben Gilbert: In Beirut, nearly every young guy drives a moped or a motorized scooter. One of them is Jamal Jarbou, my 25-year-old translator. We made an appointment to meet at 11 a.m. Saturday morning and he's the kind of guy who's always early... except this day.

Jamal had to take a taxi and got stuck in traffic because the Lebanese Army impounded his scooter last week. The same thing happened to thousands of other scooter owners and riders, causing a huge problem for Lebanon's service-based, scooter-reliant neighborhood economies.

Scooter boys deliver everything in Beirut. They zip and zigzag through miles of traffic-clogged streets, bearing groceries, DVDs, dry cleaning, alcohol and, of course, Domino's Pizza.

Mohammed Mohanna: Maximum thirty minute, maximum!

Local branch manager Mohammed Mohanna repeats Domino's "You got 30 minutes" company slogan, but 30 minutes wasn't happening. The scooter ban forced Domino's to use a car to deliver to Beirut's gridlocked neighborhoods. Last week, sales plummeted by 60 percent.

Mohanna: We couldn't deliver to people because the order would take one to two hours and people won't wait this time.

For local deliveries, Domino's, like many other fast food joints, replaced their scooters with bicycles. Outside the store, Domino's employee Fadi At-at was just back from a delivery:

Gilbert: It's hot today, huh?

Fadi At-at: Hot today!

Fadi was drenched. He appeared to be around 275 pounds. He sat atop a blue and white ladies mountain bike that was a bit too small for him. He looked humiliated, but as of today, Fadi regained his honor and is back on his motorcycle.

Due to complaints from scooter-reliant service industry owners, the Lebanese government eased the ban on Sunday. Now, businesses like Dominoes can use their scooters until 12 midnight.

In Beirut, I'm Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.

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