The Safety and Life of a Delivery Rider

Over the years I’ve kept a close eye on the way motorcycle delivery services were managed, and the evil phenomenon that developed alongside the boom of this industry. As quickly as the demand for food delivery increased the risk to rider increased, and so did the resulting casualties and fatalities.

Life has become cheap, cheaper than a pizza. These are the signs to an end – good or bad!

Here I address questions put to me by Kimon de Greef, a freelance journalist for the New York Times, and I conduct a few interviews with the guys running a daily gauntlet for survival in a very demanding industry.

Scooter delivery services appear to have increased substantially in South Africa with the advent of apps like Uber Eats and Mr D. From the perspective of rider safety, and first-hand experience, I have my concerns.

It is true that job creation through this trend increased a bucket filled with opportunities on all sides of the pool. Fact is that money from the consumer is the dictator here, and the delivery rider is a mere object or means to an end.

My biggest concern is that an R100 food item has more value than the life carrying it. More time is spent producing this item and fulfilling the order than spent on ensuring the delivery method is good and safe.

The food outlet/franchise owner and service provider have an order to complete, a pressing obligation to meet the demand of the consumer. The rider is under pressure to deliver this item on time and in good condition in order to satisfy both the food outlet, service provider and consumer.

The rider faces pressure from all different and dynamic angles, to safely transport this valuable item and not get hurt or killed in the process. A process repeated 24-7-365!

In past articles, I touched on where certain companies express an inconsiderate attitude toward the lives of those who deliver their food items. Major delivery companies in SA exploit their workers in the name of profit.

I’ve had first-hand experience with this issue. Although they were issued with helmets and gloves, the riders were expected to deliver food items wearing normal shoes, normal pants, short-sleeve shirts, and another item around the neck to form part of their corporate brand and uniform. None of these items, except for the helmet and gloves will ever prevent any or serious injury.

Certain outlets have a delivery time and if the food item is not delivered in edible condition in that time period, the client has the right to get the item for free. The cost of that food item is then deducted off the riders pay.

Now I ask you, why is a R100 food item more valuable than the life carrying it? Why do these outlets spend so little on protecting a vital delivery component? Why can these outlets not source, through local manufacturers and importers, proper riding kit and incorporate their brand accordingly? We have the technology – they have the money!

They spend millions on setting up a franchise outlet, but way too little is spent on the folks who deliver their valuable food item to the consumer.

This is a serious matter of exploitation, and it has to be addressed!

In my opinion, the minimum that companies could or should be doing to promote rider safety is:

This will be a big pill to swallow by most, but in a perfect world companies can:

  • Ensure contractor employed riders are fully licensed
  • Subsidise or pay for proper rider training
  • Outfit employed riders with proper riding kit
  • Inspect the riding kit of both employed and contract riders on a regular basis
  • Inspect the motorcycle/scooter of each rider on a regular basis
    (involve local dealers to participate on inspections and servicing)
  • Subsidise medical or life insurance policies on each rider
  • Ask local riding school instructors to give monthly safety talks
  • Form a labour union to represent delivery riders and their rights to a safer work experience

There is a vast amount folks can do to save a life; it is a decision to take that step or ignore it and put food before life.

It is a known fact that many delivery riders have been involved in minor incidents and collisions nationally?

Looking at our crash stats from 2018 to date in 2019 (the last year), figures are frightening. There is no decrease in crashes. As the demand for food and small item delivery increases, so does risk to the rider.

On average and reported to us, there are 7 delivery rider incidents in South Africa every day. In the last 12 months, we collected data from nearly 400 delivery rider crashes, 56 of which were fatal who died on the scene. A further 16 died in hospital as a result of the crash, or not. These figures are from our main centres only as outlying towns and rural areas rely on local government EMS providers, resulting in loss of valuable data due to poor communication and administration systems.

It is not uncommon for “gig apps” like Uber to operate in South Africa, amid high unemployment and with extremely unsafe roads, only to pass responsibility for road safety almost entirely onto their drivers.

I’m not against the concept or business model, but my reservations are how little life is valued in the process. Job opportunities are created by this business model, and riders choose to expose themselves to the risk accompanied by this type of service delivery. Some can afford to kit up and train up, others are not able to, but it is an opportunity to earn an income and provide for his/her family.

Business owners have no responsibility to contracted riders, something that rests with the rider or employer of the rider. How do we take the safety of this vital component to the next level? By holding employers accountable and setting penalties in place to riders who do not conform to standards and regulations for professional service delivery.

Our roads and traffic conditions are not safe, but if you are a little fish in a pond with big fish, it’s best you learn how to swim with vigilance and anticipation to survive. But there are times when the whole experience and need for money can become so overwhelming, that it consumes you blindly.

In the end, motorcycle safety will remain the responsibility of the person at risk – the Rider!