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Study explores ‘harrowing’ safety risks mobile app-based delivery workers face

Photo: Masha Zolotukhina/iStockphoto

New York — About half of mobile app-based bicycle delivery workers in New York City say they’ve been involved in a crash or other incident while on the job, according to the results of a recent survey.

From December through April, researchers from Los Deliveristas Unidos, the Worker’s Justice Project and The Worker Institute at Cornell University surveyed 500 adult couriers from around the city. They found that 49% of the respondents had experienced a crash or some other type of incident. The most common was being hit by someone opening a vehicle door. The incidents often occurred, according to the delivery workers, because of vehicles improperly parked in bike lanes. Of the respondents who needed medical care, 75% said they had to pay for the expense on their own.

Other findings:

  • Only 55 respondents said they were instructed by an app to take the city’s commercial bicyclist safety training course. Employers are required to confirm that bicyclists have completed the course.
  • 18% indicated they didn’t receive safety equipment, although businesses that use bicycles for commercial purposes are required to provide it.

“Businesses like restaurants or delivery companies that use bicycle workers as employees are required in New York City to provide reflective vests, helmets, a bell, lights, reflectors on the wheels, good [brakes] and a business ID card,” the survey report states.

More than half of the respondents reported having their bike stolen while working, with 30% of them saying they were physically assaulted during the theft. Additionally, 83% said they’ve been denied access to a bathroom at a restaurant in which they were picking up an order to deliver, and 30% said they’ve never had access to any public restroom.


“Lack of bathroom access can lead to serious long-term health problems, which doctors call ‘Taxi Driver Syndrome,’” the report states. “The syndrome is associated with higher incidence of genital and urinary organ diseases and cancers due to long-term driving stress.”

Ileen DeVault, professor of labor history at Cornell and academic director of The Worker Institute, said in a press release: “This report reveals the harrowing world these workers live in. They face danger everywhere – on the busy streets; in constant exposure to health threats; through low wages that trap their families in poverty; and through discrimination and unfair treatment by many ‘employers,’ restaurant owners and customers. This report is a starting place for desperately needed reform.”

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