Deliveroo cyclists want priority for pedals

Deliveroo cyclists have been left scrambling for hours as motor delivery drivers get first priority. Rebecca Daly explores the impact of Deliveroo’s technology on their riders.

Photo taken by Jon Crel. Sourced from Flickr.

Food delivery service Deliveroo was launched in 2013 and now operates in 13 countries around the world. They work with over 35,000 restaurants and have more than 30,000 riders who make the service come together. 

The company is technology-centred in the sense that their business is based on the use of smartphones to place orders and to allow their riders to be offered them. 

To make this all possible, Deliveroo uses an algorithm named “Frank” after a character on American TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Launched in 2017, it allowed order times to be reduced significantly – by 20% to be exact. 

On the company’s website under a section named “Driven by technology,” they detail how this new technology meant that “riders are able to complete more deliveries per hour and increase their earnings, restaurants are able to increase their sales, and – of course – customers get their food even faster”. 

However, to what extent does this digital technology actually impact its riders? 

George, who did not want to reveal his real name, is originally from Brazil, but has been living in Inchicore, Dublin, for three years. He’s been a Deliveroo rider for two and a half years. 

For him, Deliveroo is the ideal job occupation. He said, “We are our own bosses and we work as many hours as we want.”

In 2019, a change came to the app which meant that the priority of drivers had shifted slightly, but with huge consequences. Deliveroo wrote to its riders by email saying, “You may have noticed that your self-service booking statistics now include a small priority for motorised vehicles.” 

The change in priority was brought in to support long-distance deliveries but affected the business of cyclists delivering for the company. However, George says that cyclists are actually the ones left with longer deliveries of 5 or 6 kilometres, rather than the cars or motorcyclists. 

Bicycle deliveries are excluded from the 11 am working time-slot and pushed to 3 pm or even 5 pm. This means that there are fewer hours left to choose from. 

Full-time delivery drivers like George have certainly “felt this problem of having few orders”. At the weekend, they get more orders because the app itself is busier, but this does not translate into weekdays. 

For example, George could get three or four orders done per hour on a busy day. On quieter days, this number drops to two per hour.

“We are making less and less orders on the bike because of this scheme. [Deliveroo] keep opening accounts and more accounts. They no longer have many orders for us on bikes,” he said. 

So, while “Frank” aims to optimise the number of deliveries for its riders, the app’s priority scheme seems to do the exact opposite for those who operate on bicycles – the original method of food delivery for the company. 

Instead of all of its delivery drivers benefitting from this 20% increase in order times, Deliveroo’s technology has actually hindered their cyclists.

The previous description of how this algorithm positively impacts riders is somewhat questionable as a result. Not all of their riders are able to complete more deliveries or increase their earnings because of how the app has been designed. 

*Deliveroo were contacted for comment about this issue but did not reply.

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