UAE: What is life like for the drivers who race against time to deliver hot meals?

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Dubai - Expedience and convenience are the two most powerful drivers behind the rise of meal delivery companies.


Suneeti Ahuja Kohli

Published: Fri 12 Mar 2021, 11:41 PM

Last updated: Sat 13 Mar 2021, 9:30 AM

By now, almost every household in the UAE — and around the world — has had the experience of ordering online or over the phone and getting food delivered right at the door. It was a Covid effect.

Expedience and convenience are the two most powerful drivers behind the rise of meal delivery companies, especially at a time when ordering food became the new dine-in. But spare a thought for the guys who deliver the food to your doorstep from your favourite restaurant or important couriers. Despite them meeting the pandemic with a pioneering spirit and being frontliners to an extent, many didn’t get any extra benefits.

“I started working for this food delivery company about nine months ago, and make around Dh3,500 per month by doing around 14 trips a day. We pay for our own petrol and Salik,” said the biker of a food delivery company, requesting not to be named.

Asked if there was something the company can do to ease their hardships, he said: “At our company, we are better placed than other food delivery guys. But I think a lot of us would appreciate getting health cover from the company irrespective of whether we are on their visa or not. I have my own health insurance, like many other riders.”

Bike food delivery guys in Dubai can choose from two models: fixed salary or work-on-commission basis. “If you have a bike, a driver’s licence, and your own visa, you can get a job as a food delivery agent. The company gives you a sim card that allows data use of 16GB a month and 700 minutes for calls. We pay Dh7.50 per trip on any given day, 12-hour shift, and one day-off,” said Hussain, a contractor who hires drivers for a food delivery company.

Asked if the drivers are given any training, he said: “They are already trained on driving, that’s how they get a licence. We just tell them how to use the app, accept orders, and read the instructions before delivering food.”

Depending on the company they work for, bike riders get between Dh7.50 and Dh10.25 per trip. Most bikers earn on commission basis and there is no base salary for this arrangement. Some contracts however allow fixed salaries and tie the riders to a specific restaurant.

On a monthly basis, a rider can earn between Dh3,000 to Dh5,000 a month, depending on the number of trips they make. Pre-pandemic, there was an extra stream through tips, but that has largely dried up because of Covid-19, as people prefer contactless deliveries.

Riders have to spend on their own for food, accommodation, fuel, Salik, and any fines they may incur, leaving them with a saving of about Dh1,500 to Dh3,500, which is usually remitted back home to take care of their families. “This is better than other jobs in terms of earning capacity,” said Kasim, who was previously employed with a security firm in Dubai, where he was making Dh900.

Asked if this is worth the effort considering the hazards involved, Kasim said: “I ride carefully. In the last six months, I have been in only one accident when I bumped into a car ahead of me. I wasn’t hurt, though. I had to pay Dh500 as fine, but that’s part of the job. I am able to send more back home. My company will start giving me a flight ticket for my home country when I complete two years with them. There is downtime for us during the day in this job — like I am chatting with you right now, I am not in a rush.

“During this time, I talk with my family, get online, watch videos. I am happy,” he signed off.

Customers care about riders’ safety more than on-time deliveries: Study

The onus of ensuring the safety of bike riders is on other motorists, quipped Vipul Goyal, during a stand-up comedy show in 2019. It was said in the context of roads and bike riders in India, but motorists from cities globally connect with this observation.

But do food delivery guys mounted on bikes — snaking through traffic — think the same? Not really. “I drive at 100-120kmph and I am usually on time everywhere,” said Nabeel, a young driver for a food delivery company. Asked if that is not dangerous on the roads here, he said: “You might think 100-120 is too high a speed, but on the roads of Dubai, it doesn’t feel like that.”

A lot of people often complain about the reckless behaviour of bike riders on the roads, said Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of RoadSafety UAE. “There is little concern about their own safety or that of others. It is really becoming a major issue.”

He added: “A lot of drivers think consumers do not care about their safety; all they want are their deliveries on time. But that is not the case. We have found through our surveys and research that people care about the safety of the drivers and would not mind a delay of a minute or two, which is usually the time the drivers save when they drive recklessly.”

RoadSafety suggestions

>Commercial licence for bike riders of food delivery companies

>Development of a specific curriculum for commercial bike riders

>Special training for bike riders on safety aspects, since most drivers drive recklessly or give a short shrift to basic road rules

>Installation of tracking devices and speed-monitoring devices on bikes, like it is in the case of taxis and trucks

>On-the-job training and refresher courses for drivers

‘E-vehicles can help bikers save time’

Another aspect worth exploring is the use of electronic vehicles, especially for commercial bikes. “We have some 15,000 bikes on the roads of Dubai every day,” said Adam Ridgway, founder and CEO of One Moto.

“These bikes are major producers air pollutants, spewing about 16,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the air. Replacing these with electric bikes can reduce air pollution, and also work in the best interests of the bikers.”

Switching to electric bikes can help drivers save around five hours a month, which can be used to boost productivity, Ridgway explained. “There is no need for refuelling, or servicing, which saves a lot of time for riders.”

He added: “These bikes can go up to 85kmph and can be retrofitted to adhere with the speed limits, keeping in mind the safety of the drivers. Right now, there are no limits to how fast some bike riders drive on the roads.”

As modern life is increasingly working like a pendulum swinging between work time and screen time, food-delivery companies are offering convenience to people. However, the safety of bike riders should be a concern of us all — the authorities, hiring companies and us consumers.

How to be extra nice to delivery guys

>Happy with the service? Give them tips, if you can

>Take the time to give a good star-rating or a positive review

>Build time buffers to avoid disappointments in case of delay

>Be patient and don’t forget to say ‘Thank You’ (sometimes, that’s all it takes to brighten up their day)

>Avoid giving bad ratings for minor issues. Instead, give your feedback directly to the delivery guys

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