After algorithm shift, Uber Eats couriers without cars report dwindling wages

J. Cooper mourns the days when bike messengers were a commonplace in Chicago. Up until the 2010s, the city’s streets were jam-packed with a ragtag coalition of sweaty cyclists racing from office to office. These workers were so important to the workforce that former Mayor Richard M. Daley declared October 9, 2007 as Bicycle Messenger Appreciation Day.

Today, Cooper, who has been delivering his bike for Uber Eats for nearly three years, struggles to feel a similar sense of appreciation.

Months ago, Cooper noticed that the number of deliveries assigned to him by Uber Eats had decreased, especially during peak hours like lunch and dinner. After speaking to colleagues who reported similar delays, but only when the delivery method was cycling or walking, Cooper began to wonder if a change to the app’s algorithm was behind the switch.

It wasn’t an unfounded suspicion. In May, a spokesman confirmed a change in the routing of orders to couriers.

“We have not phased out couriers who deliver on foot, nor do we have any plans,” Uber Eats told Fortune in a statement. “We simply encourage couriers to cycle whenever possible to ensure the most reliable delivery times for consumers.”

That statement reportedly mirrored an email in April, in which the company told couriers: “We are changing the way courier ride requests are sent. (Hint: Wheels > Feet.)”

Now, Cooper believes Uber Eats has changed its algorithm yet again to prioritize couriers who deliver by car over those who deliver by bike.

“The algorithm change has destroyed the profits of cyclists and walkers,” he told Salon Food. “I realized a long time ago that Uber prefers cars… Can you imagine sitting on a bike and giving a car shorter distances than you do?”

Mike Hammond, another Chicago-based Uber Eats courier who delivers on his bike, also suspects an algorithm shift after seeing his “profits plummet.” Plus, it’s getting harder and harder to turn a profit from this type of gig work, he says.

“Vendores in these apps aren’t employees, and their pay is the sum of all the trips they make in a day,” Hammond told Salon. “The reality is the app sends you $2 offers 90% of the time.”

He continued, “This means that in order to really make money, you have to be very selective about the orders you take and wait for an order that makes financial sense. At the end of the day, you often make less than minimum wage.”

Reached by email, a spokesman for Salon said Uber Eats had dispatched couriers to deliver on foot a notice of a change aimed at prioritizing the worker with the “most efficient delivery time” in the interest of a reliable service.

According to Uber Eats, couriers are assigned orders based on a variety of factors: the courier’s mode of transport; the pick-up and drop-off location; as well as how many other couriers are currently available.

While the spokesperson said the change was not intended to prioritize one mode of transport over another, they did not respond to inquiries about the potential impact the move would have on bike couriers.

Separately, concerns about a change in Uber Eats’ algorithm negatively impacting bike messengers have been raised by numerous Reddit users, who report that they do gig work for the company. Despite being online for hours, workers described a drop in profits after not receiving orders in a July 7 post titled “Real talk, is the bike algorithm dead?”

“Mostly dead in Dallas,” reported one user. “I think the priority [was] swapped and bikes get the leftovers.”

Another person echoed this sentiment: “Yes, 100% seems to be it. I have started to work [by] Bike in May, literally back-to-back orders all day non-stop. . . Since the Walker [announcement] literally lucky enough to make $30-$50 in April after 8-10 hours of work.”

“I’m a college student and could make $400 a week if I’m picky about what I accept,” wrote another. “Now there aren’t even any orders to take anymore lol. Thank God I’m not our only income.”

This shift in Uber Eats came at a time when many gig workers were feeling the brunt of rising gas prices. While the company has introduced per-journey or per-order surcharges, the option for couriers to pick up orders by bike or on foot has struck some as a viable alternative, especially in more densely populated cities.

Hammond attempted this transition after gasoline prices started to rise and Uber Eats lowered the base fee in its market to $2.

“The plan was to cycle during the day and ride at night,” he said, “but it’s difficult to make a profit in this market right now either way.”

According to Hammond, he just can’t get traction for bike orders, which is hard to swallow as it’s becoming increasingly expensive to fill up his car. This development leaves bike-only couriers like Cooper feeling unmoored.

“Right now I’m not looking for other bike work, and what is there besides grocery delivery?” said Cooper. “The ‘bike mode’ isn’t very conducive to delivering groceries or packages, and the old bike courier jobs don’t seem to exist anymore. It’s sad that when delivery apps first came out, they were completely bike-centric. ”

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from Salon’s archive After algorithm shift, Uber Eats couriers without cars report dwindling wages

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