Competition has finally improved my life as a courier cyclist

Jason Brown Riding A Bike
Jason Brown Riding A Bike

Jason Brown storms ahead of the competition – but can he keep up with capital driven corperations?

The gig economy, whether good or bad, liberating or exploitative, is subject to much debate. In my year of working in it, it’s been all of those things.

I started bringing your sushi to you last October mainly because I didn’t need a CV to apply and wanted to get paid riding my bike. Back then there was an assessment, a manager, schedule, performance targets, uniform, and three strikes and your app’s disabled if you started late. Almost every trapping you could think of that would suggest this was employment apart from of course the wage being below minimum and theoretically I had to do my own tax return (part time you get nowhere near the lowest bracket).

You could boost your earnings by doing more deliveries. After riding for a while you get quicker, you learn the shortcuts (how to get from Wagamamas to Campus without going through any traffic lights), eventually you don’t need to look at the route at all. You can easily go from doing two deliveries in an hour to three, but four is lucky, five bloody hard work and I’ve only once done six.

Ultimately the power over earnings isn’t really yours. Be as fast as you like but orders only come in so fast and there are always other riders to spread it out to. A good tip can make your night but that’s completely out of your control, some do most don’t, they always decide before you’re at the door. The weather can tend to increase sentiments of sympathy, but seemingly never so far as to reach into the pocket. Although perhaps I can be forgiven for being more pessimistic when maximum saturation of socks gets reached in half an hour.

It can be strange that I’m basically in direct competition with my colleagues.

For a long time we all met at the same point and just chatting on slow nights was what kept the job fun. When the eventual rollback of control from HQ started we could wait for orders anywhere in the zone.

Two tiers of riders seemingly emerged, newer riders went to old meeting point and the old crew had a secret spot closer to the centre to get more orders. The benefit of that lasting only as long as others didn’t find out.

 About half way through my time was when the court cases started to appear. Changes started to appear, more often in anticipation and fear of more legal challenges than resulting from them. The boss became a regional support, eventually made completely redundant. Scheduling went from handed down to you to apply against the others to first come first serve to finally when you want. The lack of a mandated meeting point first brought in that internal competition, but then started to erode the community which is something I genuinely miss.

At the beginning of summer, external competition arrived. Of course the riders are self employed so we signed up to both, taking orders from one when the other’s quiet. Although exclusivity clauses are banned apps can still prioritise orders to those not running another company’s software (I’m being careful to name neither). It didn’t take long for most of the older full time riders to abandon the old for the better paying newcomer although orders are fewer. Somewhat ironically, now the experience has moved on, the competition has forced my previous non-employer to pay better for slower and worse service as they struggle for new riders.

I now finally do get to behave like I’m self employed. I can even use my old equipment riding for a competitor. Some things I do miss others never change. No matter how much you beg, I’m still not delivering out of zone to Hes East.

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