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UberEats changed its app, and now walking couriers are out of luck

May 7, 2022, 12:00 PM UTC

When delivery worker Jeff Guerrero logged onto the UberEats app recently, he noticed a change. His phone would usually be constantly ringing with order requests, but not that day. 

“Two-hours-and-a-half passed by and I wasn’t getting any deliveries,” Guerrero told Fortune. “I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’” 

But when he switched his app to show he was willing to deliver orders by bike instead of by foot, the usual rhythm of orders resumed.

Guerrero, who delivers full time in New York City, called UberEats customer service more than five times and was told it was likely a glitch in the app and that he should reset his phone. As of Thursday, Guerrero was still making less than what he usually did two weeks ago. Instead of earning the usual $500 to $600 for 60 to 75 deliveries, last week, he said he made $320 to $370 working nearly double the hours he used to.

The lag in orders is caused by a change to the UberEats algorithm, Guerrero thinks. Although he said he lacks proof, he’s noticed that delivery drivers are getting priority, with the orders they don’t want pushed to bikers. He said he believes the orders that the other two groups reject are passed to delivery walkers.

A spokesperson for UberEats said that the company is not phasing out walking couriers on its app, but that it recently made a change to how orders are routed to couriers based on who has the quickest delivery time. The spokesperson said that the change takes into account the location of each courier. 

“We have not phased out couriers who deliver on foot, and we have no plans to,” an UberEats spokesperson said in a statement to Fortune. “We are simply encouraging couriers to bike when possible to ensure the most reliable delivery times for consumers.”

An email from the company sent to couriers on April 8 said, “We’re changing the way courier trip requests are sent. (Hint: wheels > feet.)” The company said it has also provided delivery workers with information about biking and discounted bike rental options across the country—at least one of which is UberEats own partnership with bike rental company Zoomo. After a $150 refundable deposit and a free week, the Zoomo bike rentals start at $49 weekly with an additional $12 per week “theft protection” charge, according to the company’s website.

Yet, UberEats delivery workers who spoke to Fortune say that the changes to the app have been poorly communicated. And some workers, including three who spoke to Fortune, said they either don’t want to ride a bike or that they feel unsafe riding one in their city.

Guerrero, 31, preferred delivering food by foot because he said he used to make more money delivering multiple orders over shorter distances. But because his order volume has declined, he’s started renting an electric bike through the UberEats and Zoomo program for $66 a week to get more orders.

A 59-year-old walking courier named Lila, who requested her last name not be used for fear of retaliation by UberEats, said renting a bike isn’t an option for her because she doesn’t feel safe biking in New York City where she lives and works. 

Lila said she works as a presentation and graphic designer on contract, but delivers for UberEats on the side to make extra money for her mom. Yet, for the last four weeks in walker mode, she has only gotten four order requests, she said. Repeated calls to customer support got Lila nowhere, she said.

“Over and over and over again, the same thing: uninstall your app, power down, reinstall it, make sure you have the right version. You know, they’re telling me all this stuff and there’s still nothing going on in the walkers mode at all,” Lila told Fortune.

Frustrated, Lila did a test on her own to see if there was a difference in the frequency of orders between walking and biking modes.

Logged in as a biker recently for more than four hours, she received 52 order requests. Some were for distances as short as 0.3 to 0.7 miles that she said she could have covered as a walker.

When she switched to walking mode, she said she got zero requests. Now, she said she is considering dropping the app, because the scarcity of orders makes working for UberEats not worth the effort.

Patrick Dayrit, an 18-year-old college student in New York City who delivers for UberEats part-time by foot, said although he’s not worried about his own financial situation after a drop in orders, he thinks the changes will hurt many walking delivery workers who depend on the app for their income.

A spokesperson for UberEats said walking trips are just a small fraction of its deliveries and that most walking deliveries are in densely populated areas. 

Dayrit started a Change.org petition that has so far garnered 201 signatures asking UberEats to go back to its previous system for walkers and bikers, who he said have also experienced a drop in the number of order requests they receive. 

“They have families to support and it’s just really concerning how Uber is just taking that away for them and leaving them with no other option,” Dayrit said.

Because order requests are now so low, Guerrero said he has no choice but to double the hours he works for UberEats to make the same money. He applied to deliver for DoorDash, one of UberEats delivery competitors, but said there is a waiting list to be accepted.

For now, he’ll continue delivering on his e-bike while he waits to see if anything changes. 

“If you’re deciding to make changes that affect our livelihood, at least notify us,” Guerrero  said. “Treat us like people.”

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