What we can do as customers to make food delivery riders' jobs safer

Andy Boreham
There are some small things we can do, as customers, to make life for delivery riders safer and easier until the industry starts to value their safety, and their sanity.
Andy Boreham

A shocking exposé into China’s food delivery culture, based on six months of investigations, has caused an uproar and may signal fundamental changes for the country’s most dangerous profession. But instead of waiting for the powers that be to react, there are some things we can do as customers to make life a little safer and easier for delivery riders.

“Delivery Riders: Stuck in the System” (link in Chinese), an investigative report by People (a Chinese magazine, not to be confused with its US counterpart), went viral quickly this week. It would be fair to say that people are mad.

What we can do as customers to make food delivery riders jobs safer
Andy Boreham / SHINE

What did the report show?

In a nutshell, the report illustrated just how food delivery riders are pushed to deliver meals in a shorter and shorter time frame, all at the behest of algorithms that often fail to take into account real-life situations, very regularly send riders on dangerous routes (against traffic, down footpaths, and even on highways), and penalize them by up to 50 percent when meals are even one second late.

On top of that, the system constantly assesses a rider’s on-time performance and assigns a ranking, which will affect whether he is even assigned work. When negative rankings build up, a rider’s entire team can be penalized, adding peer pressure to the mix.

This all means that riders are constantly putting their own safety after the need to deliver meals on time, resulting in one delivery rider being injured or killed every 2.5 days on average in Shanghai alone. 

Xiong Chongjun, a traffic police officer in Shenzhen, told People that the first reaction of food delivery riders who have accidents is to check whether their deliveries have been damaged, and then to call customers and explain the situation in the hope that they won’t receive negative feedback. 

“Personal safety is never their priority,” Xiong said. “Delivering meals to customers on time is their focus.”

What can you do?

When Ele.me announced, following the release of the report, that they’d create a new feature allowing customers to signal they don’t mind waiting an extra five or 10 minutes, customers angrily pointed out the onus should not be on the customer to keep delivery riders safe. 

But there are still some small things we can do to make life for delivery riders safer and easier until the industry starts to value their safety, and their sanity.

Dreaded elevators

Many delivery riders interviewed as part of People’s report noted that elevators are often the bane of their existence, pushing deliveries into the dreaded “overtime” territory, meaning frustrating pay cuts and possibly less work assigned. They noted office buildings and hospitals among the top culprits, with some having to wait up to 20 minutes for an elevator during the lunch hour.

If you order a delivery to your office, consider arriving downstairs beforehand so that your delivery guy can get to his next job at a cooler pace. 

Let him pass

Anyone who lives in Shanghai knows the sight of blue and yellow food delivery guys dashing left and right, especially around mealtimes. If you see a food delivery guy rushing toward you on an escalator or into a door, consider standing back and letting him go first. 

Don’t leave him waiting

Some office buildings in Shanghai ban food delivery riders from entering at all, forcing them to wait for customers outside on the street. Every day when I leave my building at lunchtime, I see a pack of anxious delivery guys lined up at the gate, hands filled with orders. Be a considerate person and don’t make them wait. Calculate the time it takes you to get downstairs (it takes longer than you’d think!) and then make a rendezvous with your delivery rider by keeping an eye on when he’ll arrive inside the app. 

Give him 5 stars

As pointed out in People’s report, customer reviews and complaints make up a huge part of a delivery rider’s rating, and his ability to be assigned jobs by the algorithm. If you receive good service, take a minute out of your day to give your delivery rider a good review. You can even use the app to give him a tip — in Meituan, the app I use, the tipping amounts are food related, with a bottle of water (2 yuan), a chicken drumstick (5 yuan) and a hamburger (10 yuan) as common amounts. 

‘Trouble foods’

Three “trouble foods” were listed in the report as particularly problematic for delivery riders based on their complexity and time of preparation — these foods often leave delivery riders waiting longer than normal to collect. They are grilled fish, stewed soups and barbeque. Consider not ordering these foods on delivery apps if you can help it.

Slow merchants

Delivery riders are right at the bottom of the food delivery chain, with one of the players they’re often held ransom by being restaurant owners, particularly those who are routinely slow in preparing and handing over orders. The report highlighted that restaurant owners can directly complain about delivery riders in the apps, negatively affecting their income, while delivery riders have no facility whatsoever to complain about restaurants who routinely go overtime. If you have a favorite meal that is often delivered late, consider not ordering takeout from there, especially if it involves any of the above “trouble foods.”

Hopefully the big players, Ele.me and Meituan, will feel the pressure of the public following this heart-wrenching insight into just how dangerous being a food delivery rider is, but until then I’m happy to make a few small sacrifices, even if it removes just a tiny bit of stress from one hard worker’s day. Are you?

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