Reflections on working as a Deliveroo Cyclist in London

I cycle for 6 hours a day. I enjoy the job. I essentially get £7 per hour to exercise and be under the sky— but living in London, £7 an hour won’t cut it if I’m planning to eat well and pay my rent.

Cycling is physical work and many people who try this job will probably struggle a bit, because it’s not really the cycling that’s hard.

The constant stopping and starting in a short time frames is what creates the struggle for some. Every restaurant, every property, and road has a different feel and if we want to survive we have to adjust. It’s easy to go into shut down mode and talk only when needed to because it’s the easiest way to avoid getting yourself into trouble and making sure we can keep our jobs.

Some of the restaurants we visit are in hard to reach places with a bicycle and it means cycling in large open spaces, on pavements or having to walk. There are a few resturants we pick up from inside Waterloo station for exmaple, which is not the easiest place to navigate during rush hour and its a missonin itself finding somewhere safe to put pur bikes.

If you happen to be in a tourist area or a busy location, swaying through people without disturbing the peace is both a skill and a challenge. I’m always extra cautious when I see children running about and I often make a joke or two with passers by who feel the need to stare at me. Some people don’t mind you parking up outside their building, others will verbally attack you, threaten you with fines and some will flirt with you. We develop patterns in knowing what people like and don’t like and knowing how to behave in different places soon becomes second nature, but every new place will have a new story and even within the patterns there will always be an anomaly.

There are times when I feel sociable and I’ll chat to the staff in the restaurant or with customers at their door. It’s the interaction with people that makes this job fun to do, though in the industries higher end restaurants, I am often quickly reminded that people in my line of work are not welcome in such an establishment, no matter how I interact — being a delivery person is enough to make sure I’m not in the line of sight of paying customers.

On the flip side, in the faster food establishments, we’ve got to a place where staff sometimes offer free food and drinks and invite us to come and eat when we’re off work at discounted prices, but even with discounts we can’t really afford it.

On another note, Deliveroo hardly interact with their workers. I’m still waiting for a reply to an email that I sent two weeks ago. This is normal. They may send emails about how lovely we all are and the host an occasional free lunch but most people who work for Deliveroo tend to be unsure how to interact with us if its not covered by some document or a script. Because we work alone with a smart phone application, the only time we have contact with anyone from Deliveroo is when there are very specific requests, which is usually due to some problem. For the drivers, there is very little time for socialising with anyone other than other drivers. So anytime another cyclist makes a visit to one of the Deliveroos’ offices or make contact with them by phone or email, word spread about whats new, only to find out later that what is said to one person hugely differs from what is said to another. So most of time, we’re in in a constant state of confusion about where we stand with Deliveroo, what our working hours are and what to do when x, y and z happens. The same question will get a different reponse almost every time.

Deliveroo will easily cut your hours, drop you from shifts or terminate your contract if they feel like it, especially now that they have updated the contract to let us know they can terminate us at any time for any reason. We’ve lost a few drivers in the area and none of them were given the ‘one weeks notice’ as stated by the contract. If you want special treatment you have to make a real effort to visit the offices to speak with staf and not everyone has the time to cycle to Tottenham court road or Angel to get the answers they need.

Being paid by the hour and working through contract means we can get cut off at any minute, and be left without work and no money. There is no job security and it’s probably the first time I’ve thought about such a thing. I could hop to another competitor like TakeEastEasy or Quiqup, but I actually like my job. There are even rumours about the new UberEats offering to pay us £100 to leave Deliveroo, and there are plenty of people who are willing to do that. At least if all fails, I can always give back the equipment and get back my £150 deposit, but why as a self-employed person should I have to part with money for branded equipment anyway?

Both Deliveroo and the customers expect food to be delivered within a half hour time frame, and we make sure we can do it. Nobody wants a bad record and competing with one another can make the time pass by faster, but the competition can sometimes make the road dangerous and after a while I realise that speeding around for an extra £1 is not worth risking my life. I would have to actually be a snail not be able to make it from A to B in half an hour.. unless unfortunately I get hit by a car, get my bike stolen or encounter a puncture. These things do happen.

Customers are charged £2.50 per delivery, yet we only get a pound. Considering Deliveroo at present takes 25% from restaurants, I think its unfair that we get so little. Raising our wages or the amount we get per delivery would unlikely damage their profits, and more money would probably create more of this Roo Community that they so obviously want to create.

Every pound I get from a customer at the door puts a literal smile on my face. To me it shows that they appreciate the service I provide, especially when mother nature takes it toll. As well prepared as we may be for England’s wonderful rain and its windy days, I can’t say it’s always a pleasure… but to know that someone recognises and appreciates that we’re doing it, that we’re a individual human being within some giant company really means a lot. That tip at the door, however big or small says “Hey you, thanks for coming here and bringing me food”.

The cyclist delivery job has opened a new market of work for young people. It’s a new type of job for students who want an extra income but may not want to work in a restaurant or in retail. That said, there is nothing wrong with someone wanting to do a job like this for many years to come, but unfortunately our pay reflects how society values us and if you want to survive then you might have to aim for something else. However, the idea that only a student would work as a delivery driver before moving on and up in the world is perhaps outdated. Some people genuinely just love riding on the road and being outside.

If I was paid well, I could imagine myself doing this for a long time, because I actually enjoy it, cycling around, being outside, exploring London and speaking to a variety of people from all around the world.

At the end of the day we provide a service that allows modern elements of our daily culture to function and our pay should reflect this growing phenomenon of the food delivery industry.