Most wouldn’t assume that the life of a tip-dependent, perpetually harried food delivery courier is easy. But as evidenced by a New York Times writer’s 27 hours spent in the bike delivery business, documented in this weekend feature, it’s both incredibly difficult and almost entirely thankless.
As reporter Andy Newman quickly learns, bike couriers are tasked with purposely overworking themselves, many opting to set their meters for multiple delivery services at one time in order to make the kind of livable income that top companies like Uber Eats, Postmates, and DoorDash regularly promise their employees. And because the base wages are non-guaranteed in some cases and incredibly low in others, riders often depend on infrequent tips; in a follow-up column to his feature, Newman notes that “for almost two-thirds of my 43 deliveries, I got no tip. You may think the delivery fee takes care of the rider, but the apps’ pay structure leaves riders dependent on tips to make a living wage.”
Newman’s exploration of this particular corner of the ride-share ecosystem is essential reading, and will be all too familiar for anybody who’s been there. I’ve personally worked for multiple third-party delivery apps over the last few years in Chicago, and have likewise dealt with everything from the dramatic hourly pay reductions outlined in Newman’s feature to the regular, everyday hazards of trying to guide a bike through crowded city streets while carrying somebody’s food and trying to keep up with a pinging smartphone in order to make enough money to justify doing it at all. And that’s coming from the vantage of somebody who did/does it for supplementary income; I’ve had conversations with couriers who live on bike delivery specifically, and the average working hours they total in a given week would appall most people.
Also, if you’re shocked that people don’t tip, as some have been in response to Newman’s article, you really, really shouldn’t be. When you combine the portion of people who genuinely believe that the app covers the tip instead of the orderer, and the portion of people who just don’t tip for anything, you’ll realize that couriers are usually playing against the house. For much more on the unenviable work of bike couriers, read Newman’s feature at The New York Times.