Deliveroo faces growing outrage from customers, politicians and cycling safety campaigners as it stands accused of incentivising delivery riders to sacrifice their safety in extreme weather conditions.
The controversial app hiked charges on Thursday during the Beast from the East storm, demanding customers pay an extra £1 as part of a bonus to reward riders who braved the blizzard to complete food orders.
Despite an official “red alert” from the Met Office indicating a possible “threat to life”, Deliveroo was still operating in Scotland on Thursday night. It had halted operations in Ireland over safety concerns.
The move was immediately criticised by trade unions representing the takeaway service’s estimated 12,000 riders in Britain, who branded the hike “deplorable”.
Ross Greer, a Green member of the Scottish Parliament, said the decision was “exploitative”. Speaking to HuffPost UK, he said: “It really is outrageous that Deliveroo is incentivising workers to go out in conditions when everyone qualified to comment is telling them to stay indoors.
“The police, Met Office, transport agencies and local governments have been abundantly clear on the dangers of travelling during these severe weather conditions, but Deliveroo is actively trying to put more people out on the road.”
On Friday, Unite Scotland criticised DHL and other delivery services for “putting profit before people” by sending out delivery drivers during the red warning.
In an email to its riders obtained by HuffPost, Deliveroo explained that the price hike would allow riders to “still make good money”.
“If you choose to work, you’ll receive a higher fee per order so you can take extra care while travelling,” it read.
But cycling experts have said the firm should ensure safety comes first. Sam Jones, senior campaigner at the charity Cycling UK, said: “We’d expect Deliveroo to be protecting its cyclists and using a proper risk analysis.”
One Deliveroo rider told HuffPost UK the extra fee could encourage people to take unnecessary risks.
Meg Brown, who also represents Deliveroo riders through the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, said: “It’s deplorable behaviour. This is incentivising riders to risk their safety. Riders are forced to take risks to make a living, but this is just 100 times worse.
“You can’t go fast on the ice and snow and still make your targets. I know a lot of people are saying ‘don’t go out’ but many more are either choosing to or being forced to.
“Some have no choice and need to pay the bills.”
Greer, a West of Scotland Green Party member of the Scottish Parliament, added: “As a business, Deliveroo has a responsibility for rider wellbeing and I hope they begin to take it seriously. This situation is a stark reminder of the conditions exploited, ‘casual’ workers experience in the so called ‘gig economy’.”
Commenting on the icy condition, Jones of Cycling UK acknowledged the pressure on riders to deliver food while it is hot, but said: “Our advice is only to do essential journeys, and to allow for more time if you are cycling. If there’s a risk of ice, don’t travel, unless you have a special bike with studded tyres.”
Deliveroo has a responsibility for rider wellbeing and I hope they begin to take it seriouslyRoss Greer MSP
In a statement on Thursday, Deliveroo appeared to place the onus on riders to ensure their own safety. “Riders are at no point obliged to ride with us and can at any time reject an order if they wish.
“Deliveroo wrote to affected riders yesterday to remind them of this and to urge them to stay safe,” a spokesperson said.
Footage of a person wearing the Deliveroo logo appearing to snowboard down a hill in Glasgow during a blizzard went viral on Twitter this week.
There was also anger from customers in response to the surcharge. Alice Marsh tweeted: “Don’t mind paying an extra £1 Deliveroo but I hope that every penny going to your riders who are out there in this freezing cold weather?”
While Jonny Spencer commented: “We ordered Deliveroo last night as the roads were quite clear where we are... literally the gent walked nearly two miles in the snow with our food.
“The poor guy was absolutely knackered by the time he got to ours and crouched for a few minutes for a rest. If we’d of known he’d of been walking we honestly wouldn’t have ordered.
“Service should of been cancelled (sic) and no orders for Deliveroo taken! Either way we still feel guilty as hell today!”
A Deliveroo spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “Rider safety is a priority for Deliveroo. Where bad weather is severe, Deliveroo stops operating.
“In other adverse conditions we change our operations to protect riders and ensure they can still earn well if they do choose to ride.
“Riders are at no point obliged to ride with us and can at any time reject an order if they wish. Deliveroo wrote to affected riders yesterday to remind them of this and to urge them to stay safe.
“Deliveroo will continue to monitor the weather conditions, act wherever necessary and remain in close contact with riders.”
When pushed on whether Deliveroo would halt services in the UK, the spokesperson reiterated that the directive was only in place in Ireland.
Last year, MPs called for the closure of loopholes which allowed gig economy apps like Deliveroo and rival Uber to “exploit” workers.
Additional reporting by Steven Hopkins.