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Demand for food delivery has skyrocketed. So have complaints about some drivers

A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers
Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers 鈥 and increasing alarm 鈥 in big cities where scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto pedestrian-filled sidewalks as their drivers race to drop off salads and sandwiches.

Officials in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., have started cracking down on delivery companies by issuing warning letters, seizing illegally registered or driven vehicles, and launching special street patrols to enforce speed limits. The pushback is not limited to the U.S.: There have also been a series of crackdowns in London and other British cities.

For their part, the delivery companies have pledged to work with city officials to ensure that all of their drivers operate both legally and safely.

In a letter this week to food delivery companies DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber, Boston officials cited an 鈥渁larming increase in unlawful and dangerous operation of motorcycles, mopeds and motorized scooters鈥 that they said put the drivers, other motorists and pedestrians 鈥渋n imminent danger.鈥

The letter alleged that some drivers were operating unregistered vehicles and breaking traffic laws, and warned of an imminent crackdown on the vehicles. It also demanded that the companies explain how they can ensure their drivers are operating safely. The Massachusetts State Police said they identified dozens of mopeds and scooters that were improperly registered or being operated by unlicensed drivers. Fourteen illegal mopeds and scooters were seized Wednesday in one Boston neighborhood alone.

In New York City, authorities have seized 13,000 scooters and mopeds so far this year; on Wednesday, they crushed more than 200 illegal mopeds and other delivery vehicles. Authorities in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, launched a program Wednesday called Operation Ride Right to ensure drivers of two-wheeled vehicles are complying with the law. Since it began, authorities have made five arrests and impounded 17 mopeds.

鈥淭hey have terrorized many of our pedestrians, particularly our senior and older adults,鈥 New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday at an event in which motorized two-wheeled delivery vehicles were destroyed. 鈥淩iders who think the rules don鈥檛 apply to them, they鈥檙e going to see an aggressive enforcement policy that鈥檚 in place.鈥

When food delivery services had their major resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic, most drivers used cars to deliver their fare. That led to increased traffic congestion, prompting a shift to motorcycles and other two-wheeled modes of transportation.

The drivers, many of them immigrants from Latin American countries but also from West Africa and South Asia, say they are just trying to earn a living and are providing a service that gets customers their food fast.

鈥淲e鈥檙e not all bad,鈥 said Luis L贸pez, a delivery driver from the Dominican Republic who spoke to The Associated Press on Friday from his motorcycle in an area of multiple fast-food restaurants near the Boston Public Library. 鈥淲e come to work, to earn a living, pay the rent and send something to our families.鈥

L贸pez, who came to the U.S. about three years ago, acknowledged that some drivers are unlicensed or driving unregistered vehicles, and he鈥檚 seen them running red lights and onto sidewalks, menacing pedestrians. Some people are so reckless that they鈥檙e also putting other delivery drivers at risk, he said.

He said he was among a group of 10 delivery drivers outside a Chick-fil-A on Thursday night when a police officer approached them with a flyer describing how to register their scooters and mopeds. The whole group agreed to do just that.

鈥淲e have to respect the law,鈥 he said, speaking in Spanish. 鈥淲e are going to respect the law so that they let us work here.鈥

Drivers of motorized two-wheeled vehicles are coming under much more scrutiny than was faced years ago by other gig workers in cars, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, because they can more easily violate traffic laws, said Hilary Robinson, an associate professor of law and sociology at Northeastern University.

The switch to the vehicles 鈥渋s really an attempt to make low-wage, high-risk labor available so that all of us can have cheap goods and services,鈥 Robinson said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 perhaps one of the reasons why people are starting to realize that there really is no such thing as a free lunch.鈥

William Medina, a delivery worker in New York who is also an organizing leader with the Los Deliveristas Unidos Campaign, blames the delivery companies.

鈥淭his is a problem that started because the companies force you to complete the deliveries from far distances,鈥 he said in a telephone interview Friday. Medina started out delivering food on a bicycle, switched to an electric bike, and now is using a moped to make the longer trips.

鈥淚f you have to complete the delivery 6 miles, 7 miles, you have to complete it,鈥 he said.

Among those advocating for tougher enforcement in Boston is City Councilor Edward Flynn, who said on Facebook that it 鈥渃an no longer be the Wild West on the streets of Boston.鈥

鈥淓veryone using city roads needs to abide by the rules of the road. If you鈥檙e able to go 25 mph like a car 鈥 you should be licensed, registered, and carry liability insurance in the event of an accident and injury,鈥 he wrote.

Some Boston residents are supportive of tougher action against the scooters.

鈥淚 get frustrated when they don鈥檛 follow the traffic laws,鈥 said Anne Kirby, a 25-year-old student having lunch in a Boston neighborhood within a few hundred feet of several scooters. 鈥淚 feel like I almost get hit every day when they go through the crosswalk when it鈥檚 not their turn to go.鈥

But Jaia Samuel, a 25-year-old hospital worker from Boston, was more conflicted. She said she agreed that delivery scooters can be dangerous, but she also acknowledged that she relies heavily on delivery services for her food.

鈥淚 do think it鈥檚 unsafe to an extent, the weaving in between cars and the not stopping for red lights,鈥 she said. 鈥淏ut I feel like everybody should be able to make a living, so who am I to say anything? It would be unfortunate for me. I would be taking a hit with the crackdown on them. I order a lot of Uber Eats, DoorDash.鈥

Three major food delivery services have pledged to work with officials and neighborhood advocates to address the problem.

鈥淭he overwhelming majority of Dashers do the right thing and like all drivers must follow the rules of the road. If they don鈥檛, then they face consequences 鈥 just like anyone else,鈥 DoorDash said in a statement Wednesday.

Grubhub said its employees already agree to obey all local traffic laws. 鈥淲hile enforcement of the law is best handled by the police, we take safety seriously and will take action to address any reports of unsafe driving,鈥 the company said in a statement Thursday.

Michael Casey, The Associated Press



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