Uber Eats delivery people are doing “quests” for more money. But are they putting more than money at risk?

How many deliveries can you make in an hour? How about a day? Three days?

For many workers in the food delivery industry, these types of challenges are part of the job, with some companies offering bonuses for completing the tasks offered.

But a court case in Japan has raised questions about a system that can incentivize workers to do more and go faster after a fatal accident in the Japanese capital.

In April last year, a bike courier working for Uber Eats allegedly collided with a 78-year-old man, killing him. At the time of the crash, the courier was in the middle of a “quest” – Uber Eats’ term for its delivery challenge system.

The 28-year-old told the court: “I thought I would keep going until I reached the point where I could receive an award.” Japanese media reported.

Against the watch

According to a 2021 report on Uber Eats in Japan, couriers working for the delivery service can earn a bonus of around 3,500 yen (€27) for making 30 deliveries, and up to 17,000 yen (€131) for make 90 deliveries in four days.

Missing the target means no bonus.

“If you get paid extra based on the number of deliveries you make within a limited time frame, the risk of an accident increases because the delivery person naturally rushes to make as many deliveries as possible,” attorney Hironori said. Niwa in Japan. Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

“It is undeniable that the Uber Eats system caused the accident, and I think this case raises alarm bells about a system that prioritizes profit over safety,” Niwa added.

‘Accept every command’

Niels van Doorn, an assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam and principal investigator of a platform labor survey project, told Euronews Next that quests and similar incentive programs can be a way for companies to make their self-employed riders work longer.

“They offer gamified incentives like quests to keep their riders – who are freelancers and technically able to log in and out at any time, while being free to decline orders – logged into the app for as long as possible and have them accept every order that comes their way,” van Doorn said via email.

The financial incentives on offer can make delivery for work platforms like Uber Eats a high-stakes game where a big payout is far from certain, van Doorn said.

“When you’re on a quest, you’re there to earn it: you’re less likely to examine the payout/distance ratio and you’ll just accept the incoming command because completing it brings you closer to your goal,” he said. declared.

Meanwhile, as individual orders you accept may have lower payouts, you may be able to pay the bonus out of your own pocket – at least in part.”

Are quests optional?

Being “in to win” can have other consequences.

In 2020, volunteers Uber Eats Union in Japan interviewed workers deliver for the company accidents that occurred while they were logged into the app.

Of 32 accident reports received between January and March of that year, 74% of them occurred while couriers were making deliveries to customers.

A change in survey methodology meant that not all contributors were asked about quests, but of the 15 who were, 73% said they were on a quest when their accident happened.

Uber Eats did not respond to an upcoming Euronews request for comment, but in response to similar stories in other countries, the company has already highlighted the fact that participation in quests is completely optional for couriers.

But for van Doorn, the proposed choice is not right.

“While runners are technically free to choose when to log in and go on a quest, the bills they have to pay and the food they and their families need to eat and stay alive are all the urgent necessities present that will inform such freedom of choice,” he said.

“When you present a person in need of cash with the opportunity to ostensibly do more, then that person will be inclined to take it – especially when presented as a game-like proposition” .

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