Complaints About Drivers Rises Alongside Demand for Food Delivery

The demand has increased scooter, motorcycle and moped use.

A delivery driver on a scooter rides the pedestrian crosswalk.
A delivery driver on a scooter rides the pedestrian crosswalk.
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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