The Perilous Life of a Chinese Food Delivery Rider

  • Food delivery companies are well received in stock market this year.
  • Rider has become a dangerous job in China.
  • Internet users urge the society to treat riders better.

While most industries suffer from the Covid-19 this year, one keeps thriving: food delivery. However, more often than not, the winner of the game is the capital. The frontline workers are the ones who make it all great, not the ones to benefit from it. These days, an article called “Takeaway Riders, Stuck in the System” has sparked waves of discussions online.

Takeaway rider has become a dangerous job in Chinia.

After several years of competition, only two giants survived in the food delivery market in China: Meituan and Eleme. Both have been well received in the stock market this year, whereas the conflicts between the riders and the AI algorithms have worsened.

As Eleme rider, Zhu, remembers, someday in October 2019, two minutes disappeared. For an order of 2KM away, the maximum delivery time changed from 32 minutes to 30. In 2019, the average delivery time reduced by 10 minutes compared with 2016. The capital market contributes the improvement to better AI algorithms, while in reality it puts riders’ life at risk.

For riders, the delivery time is everything. Overtime means worse reviews, less incomes and even being fired. Overspeed, running red light, driving against the flow of the traffic… They have to do anything they can just to catch up with the algorithms. Statistics show that takeaway rider is becoming one of the most dangerous jobs in China. In Shanghai alone, one rider gets injured or dies every 2.5 days.

Riders can’t deliver late on rainy days.

AI algorithms give the optimal delivery solution right after an order is placed, which could be easily interrupted by rain. Riders love and hate rainy days, because there is a blurred line between more orders and too many orders.

When there are too many orders, it’s normal to deliver some orders late. By the end of the day, riders may deliver more orders while receive much less money, because each late order incurs a punishment.

A rider resting on the roadside.

Riders are trained to follow the optimal routes given by AI, which many times asks the riders to go through a wall or drive on a road only for cars.

AI takes for granted that riders can take the elevator whenever they want, while in reality, especially in hospital and skyscrapers, it might take them forever to get in one. Some buildings even forbid the entrance of riders.

Even worse, the expected delivery time shown on the client side is faster than that on the rider side. It means that sometimes even if the rider thinks he arrives on time, he still gets bad reviews because on the client’s phone it says the rider is late for a few minutes.

A mall denied the entrance of a rider.

Under huge social pressure, both giants have reacted. Meituan has announced that they will easy the delivery time for riders and adjust the punishment system. Eleme has added a new “will you wait for me 5 more minutes?” button on the order page.

If the client clicks yes, he can receive some coupons for future orders. On Weibo, people criticize the move by Eleme because it’s transferring the rider-AI conflict to that of rider-client. More actions by both companies and even from the government are expected to come out in the next days.

We’ve created algorithms to serve us better, yet now we’re being dominated by them.

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Just another attempt to show a more real China.

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