Demand for food delivery has skyrocketed. So have complaints about some drivers (2024)

BOSTON (AP) — A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers — and increasing alarm — 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 “alarming increase in unlawful and dangerous operation of motorcycles, mopeds and motorized scooters” that they said put the drivers, other motorists and pedestrians “in imminent danger.”

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.


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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.

“They have terrorized many of our pedestrians, particularly our senior and older adults,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday at an event in which motorized two-wheeled delivery vehicles were destroyed. “Riders who think the rules don’t apply to them, they’re going to see an aggressive enforcement policy that’s in place.”

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.

“We’re not all bad,” said Luis López, 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. “We come to work, to earn a living, pay the rent and send something to our families.”

López, who came to the U.S. about three years ago, acknowledged that some drivers are unlicensed or driving unregistered vehicles, and he’s seen them running red lights and onto sidewalks, menacing pedestrians. Some people are so reckless that they’re 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.

“We have to respect the law,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “We are going to respect the law so that they let us work here.”

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 “is really an attempt to make low-wage, high-risk labor available so that all of us can have cheap goods and services,” Robinson said. “It’s perhaps one of the reasons why people are starting to realize that there really is no such thing as a free lunch.”

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

“This is a problem that started because the companies force you to complete the deliveries from far distances,” 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.

“If you have to complete the delivery 6 miles, 7 miles, you have to complete it,” he said.

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

“Everyone using city roads needs to abide by the rules of the road. If you’re able to go 25 mph like a car — you should be licensed, registered, and carry liability insurance in the event of an accident and injury,” he wrote.

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

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

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.

“I do think it’s unsafe to an extent, the weaving in between cars and the not stopping for red lights,” she said. “But 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.”

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

“The overwhelming majority of Dashers do the right thing and like all drivers must follow the rules of the road. If they don’t, then they face consequences — just like anyone else,” DoorDash said in a statement Wednesday.

Grubhub said its employees already agree to obey all local traffic laws. “While 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,” the company said in a statement Thursday.


Associated Press writers Michael Warren in Decatur, Georgia, and Lisa J. Adams Wagner in Evans, Georgia, contributed to this report.

Demand for food delivery has skyrocketed. So have complaints about some drivers (2024)


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