Ride Like Hell

In the 2012 movie Premium Rush a bike delivery driver races through the noisy streets of New York. The movie poster advertised the action-packed story that includes corrupt police and human traffickers with the slogan Ride Like Hell. Walking through a big city today, one can find something similar: Food delivery drivers working for one of the large food delivery companies such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

These riders are obviously not criminals like Ride like Hell’s protagonist. But as The Times reported in 2016, the slogan Ride Like Hell may just be as fitting. Back then, UK Deliveroo riders received criticism for having dangerous driving styles and unsafe bikes. But why are they all in a hurry? And why are they allowed to work with unsafe equipment?

The rushing-by turquoise boxes have become a common sight in cities today
A Changing Business Model

When it was founded six years ago, Deliveroo established itself as a student-friendly employer. They offer flexible work hours that can ideally be determined by the riders themselves. The first few years, riders received hourly wages, and extras for completed deliveries.

More recently, Deliveroo riders have a down on their employer. But ‘employer’ might not even be the proper term. Deliveroo gradually cuts contract workers and instead employs freelancers. In the Netherlands this began in 2017.  The new system forces riders to buy and manage their own equipment, to pay insurance for themselves, and to manage their paperwork. Furthermore, riders are having a harder time to collectively voice complaints or fight for better wages.

The freelancer system leaves riders on their own. Does it lead to more freedom or more exploitation?

This year, a Dutch court ruled that Deliveroo’s ‘freelancers’ are to be considered employees. Deliveroo wants to appeal against the ruling, so as of now, the freelancer system is still intact. Riders have to pay for all their work-related expenses, get paid per completed delivery, and are in competition with other riders.

Listen: A rider shares a friend’s story

This competition comes from the fact that riders with a good work statistic are more likely to receive the working shifts they choose. This incentivizes riders to do as many deliveries in as little time as possible. Ride Like Hell comes back to mind.

Problems in Practice

The stress put on riders through the freelancer system is visible. Last year, the AD reported on a snackbar in The Hague that stopped working with Deliveroo. The restaurant complained that the riders were rude to workers and customers as they were only thinking in terms of “time is money”. Riders had repeatedly quit the restaurant when finding out that they had to wait a few minutes for an order to be completed. It was left to the snackbar to find a replacement for the riders, and to get the food to the customer.

Listen: A snackbar worker recounts her bad experiences with riders

The riders’ behaviour makes sense given the pay-per-delivery system. In their efforts to make as many deliveries as possible, riders strategically adapt their behaviour. This is most visible in city centres, or areas with many restaurants. Riders gather here as they are most likely to receive new deliveries, being closer to the restaurants.

The changed behaviour of riders has created ‘grey areas’: zones where few restaurants are, and where for that reason few riders go. The above mentioned snackbar is among the disadvantaged, being located in one such area. This and the issues with riders were reasons enough for the owner to quit the service altogether. Nowadays they work with a dutch contractor who does their food deliveries.