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Interviews Riders

Berlin and Copenhagen

I found three delivery riders that were willing to participate in the interviews. All of them work for different companies and in different cities, so their profiles differ in some points, allowing us to get a broader insight into their jobs. They are going to be presented here briefly, before getting into the different aspects we spoke about. All interviews were conducted in a semi-structured way and lasted approximately 30 minutes. They were conducted via zoom due to distance and the corona regulations.

Max*

Living in Berlin and working 30hs/week for Lieferando since November 2020 after he lost his job as a barista due to the lockdown. He is employed directly by Lieferando and gets an hourly wage. He replied to my request in a facebook group of Lieferando riders in Berlin.

Kate

Student living in Copenhagen and working part-time (10hs/week) for Wolt since November 2020. Wolt riders are self-employed and get paid per delivery. I knew Kate from before and she also agreed to tracking her delivery route and filming her journey through the city during one shift.

Fabian*

Student living in Berlin and working 10hs/week for Flaschenpost (a beverage supplier that delivers by car). He has worked there for 1,5 months, but was employed by Durstexpress for half a year before. Durstexpress was recently bought by Flaschenpost. I made contact with Fabian through a common friend.

*: fictitious names, both felt more comfortable not having their real names on the website. For Max in part because suspects that his employer might scan facebook groups or other platforms for information about the riders.

In the first part of the report I am going to focus on the different social interactions riders have along their way, with colleagues, restaurant workers and customers. Also the relationship with their employer is described here. The second part focuses more about how delivery workers navigate the urban environment.

Social Interactions

Max and Kate both reported that their employers are providing them with the necessary working materials like the backpack and jacket - however as usual in the sector they have to bring their own phone and bike to work (Lieferando provides some bikes, but this requires starting from one of their hubs and not just anywhere in the city; also, there have been reports about safety deficiencies in this context). While the companies are approachable and provide support during shifts they “lack the human touch” (Max) - he reports that he has never seen any of his supervisors.

“The affiliation to the company is just a visual one, most of the time we do not know each other”

The more traditional logistics firm Flaschenpost that Fabian works for provides all necessary equipment to their employees, most importantly the car and the tablet with their software for route planning and handling the deliveries. Also the ties between colleagues are somewhat closer compared to the food delivery companies, because workers all return to the same warehouse throughout their shifts. He describes a helpful and friendly atmosphere between colleagues. Kate and Max on the other hand do not really know any of their colleagues, their interaction is limited to the occasional small talk when waiting to pick up an order in front of a restaurant. As Max puts it: “The affiliation to the company is just a visual one, most of the time we do not know each other”, referring to the jackets in flashy colors that make the riders easily identifiable in the streets. This comes to no surprise: Lieferando has a high turnover with the average rider staying for eight months before leaving the company again (according to Max). There are also facebook groups for communication for both Lieferando and Wolt riders in the respective cities, but they are not really active. Max points out the risk of the employer spying on the riders and the potential to get in trouble when criticizing the company.

People like Kate and Max who work for food delivery companies also have contact with the restaurants preparing the food. Both say that the experience with them differs. There are friendly people who sometimes offer them drinks or food while waiting, allow them to access the bathroom and take care of preparing the order on time. On the other hand, there are some who are rather resentful towards the riders, because for them they represent the big companies which after all take between 8-30% of the total price as a commission for handling the order and/or delivery. Max points out this particular “in-between position” riders have, which is not unproblematic. While the restaurants are in need of the delivery service (even more during lockdown), they also regard the riders as representing the big companies which are the ultimate winners (financially) in the situation and in a way divide the chefs and waiters from their customers.

Most of the customers receive the food directly, but do not wear a mask.

The customers also show very different behaviours, ranging from friendly greetings and a good tip to avoiding eye contact, not talking at all or addressing the rider as “Lieferando” (as happened to Max). Generally speaking, the interaction is mostly very short, because the riders have their next order already waiting and at the moment Corona regulations call for limiting social encounters. Kate reports that Wolt askes customers and riders to stick to “no contact” deliveries (food being placed outside the door) which further limits interaction between them. Nevertheless, in the experience of the interviewees most of the customers receive the food directly, but do not wear a mask in this situation. The riders do not understand this behaviour and regard it to be “totally crazy” (Max) and disrespectful in the current situation, given the fact that they are traveling around the city and getting in contact with many people during their shift. Another interesting aspect of customer interaction are the differences in tipping culture. Kate reported that because of the lacking “cash culture” in Denmark she almost never gets tips. People have the possibility to tip via the app, but only before the actual delivery at the moment of ordering, so most of them do not, because they do not know yet how the service is going to be. On the other hand, Max and Fabian, both working in Berlin, say that they receive tips most of the time and usually in cash. All three say that people normally expect them to deliver to their doorstep and only very rarely does somebody meet them halfway on the stairs or help carry the food or even heavier crades (in Fabian’s case). But since “the whole point of ordering is the convenience” (Kate), they are not much bothered by it.

Navigating the city

Fabian who works for Flaschenpost and delivers the drinks by car obviously has a different experience than Kate and Max who deliver by bike. At Flaschenpost they use a software that puts together the different orders in an efficient way and through a connection with GoogleMaps also suggests the route to go. In Fabian’s experience this works well and the way suggested by the app is fast and suitable. He described finding a place to park the van as pretty challenging and often he has to park in second row or places where he is not meant to, causing obstructions for other road users or pedestrians. Sometimes people react aggressively because of this, but mostly they are understanding, because they know it is not going to last long and also because Flaschenposts uses vans and not big delivery trucks, as Fabian suggests. After finishing one tour that lasts about two hours he returns to the warehouse to unload the returned empty bottles and pick up the next delivery. Flaschenpost currently has three or four warehouses in Berlin, covering different parts of the city. Fabian reported that in the morning they deliver mostly to major customers like offices and other companies, whereas the afternoon and weekend are more frequented by private customers. This obviously influences which part of the city he has to go to. Asked about what he enjoys about the job, Fabian mentioned driving by car and getting around in the city as the parts he enjoyed the most.

Max brings his own bike to work, because he is a passionate biker and prefers to start working right at his doorstep.

Kate and Max share similar experiences navigating the city by bike that differs from Fabian’s job in a more traditional logistics setting delivering by car. Kate uses an e-bike which she says makes her work much easier compared to the beginning when she used a normal bike. Max brings his own bike to work, because he is a passionate biker and prefers to start working right at his doorstep and not going to a hub to pick up a Lieferando bike. Both explained that their respective company provides the riders with so-called “hot spot maps” in which locations with a high density in restaurants are indicated. When waiting for an order, riders are required to approach one of the hot spots. Once they get on, the app shows them the way to the restaurant and the customer's address through a connection with GoogleMaps.

Max, who works 30hs/week reported a total of 891km and 329 orders delivered in the month of march.

Max said that with Lieferando, riders get assigned their orders and can not decline them up to a total distance of 10km. Only for orders with a journey over 10km are they allowed to cancel it through the shift support. Wolt riders do not have this maximum limit, but cancelling an order is also only possible through getting in touch with the company's support. Max, who works 30hs/week reported a total of 891km and 329 orders delivered in the month of march, which equals 2,6km distance per delivery. Since customers do not always live in the same delivery perimeter of a certain hotspot area, it sometimes happens that riders are being “absorbed” by a different area during their shift. Max explains:

Especially when this happens in the peripheral areas this sucks. You may only have one MacDonalds there and you get stuck in this loophole and keep going back and forth between customers and the same restaurant for the entire shift.”

Both riders say that they usually do not have long waiting times in between orders and personally can not detect peak hours: “this is something you would ask Lieferando” (Max). Their employers have customer data on all deliveries and also the route of the riders since delivery time, speed and ratings are tracked through the app. Both have slightly different experiences when it comes to the actual ride through the city. Because of Copenhagen’s great biking infrastructure, Kate explained that she feels safe on the road and that navigating through the city is pretty easy. Max on the other hand complained about the GoogleMaps service not being well adapted for cyclists and how he sometimes has to drive on the sidewalk or the road, because a path for cyclists is non-existent or the surface is in bad condition:

You can use these ways when you commute to work sometime, but not working 30 hours a week. That will break your bike after some weeks.”

Whenever he has to drive on the sidewalk, he tries not to bother pedestrians too much and adapts to their speed. However, some of them react aggressively, do not move and almost voluntarily have him bump into them: “When I wear my work clothes and people recognize me as a delivery driver they are more aggressive and unfriendly compared to when I cycle in my “civilian” clothes.” Max understands this reaction in a way, because by now there are so many delivery riders and they are very visible because of the flashy colours they wear, that people get annoyed by them.

Concluding remarks

The interviews with the three delivery riders working in different European cities gave important insights into their working routines. Despite some local peculiarities, e.g. regarding tipping and differences due to the delivery vehicle, there were also common experiences in respect to social interactions with co-workers and customers as well as navigating the city. Asked how they evaluate their job overall, Fabian and Kate, said that they value the flexible working hours and appreciate the low entry barriers, but do not see this job as a long-term option. For them it is just an easy way to make some money besides their studies and since they only work part-time the negative aspects of the job seem not to bother them that much.  Max and Fabian both expressed their passion for driving around the city by bike/car and discovering new areas during their job. Max also said that this job was just easy to get after he was laid off during the lockdown last fall and he is satisfied with the payment he recieves for the 30 hours he works per week. Yet, referring to the high turnover Lieferando has, it seemed like he also has no aspiration to stay in the delivery business longer than needed and would rather return to his job as a barista.

These final points are important to keep in mind, because despite the negative aspects and implications platform work and delivery services may have in the long-run, for the individual rider it can also be a viable option, especially when there are no other jobs available or because the flexibility is desired. On the other hand, none of the three interviewees considered this as a long-term option, exactly because of the problematic aspects outlined above.