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York bike couriers ask for cycling ban exemption – argue employers’ algorithms don’t account for pedestrian zones

Gig economy workers can sometimes face exclusion from delivery apps for reasons beyond their control

Bicycle couriers in York have asked that a ban on cycling on pedestrianised city centre streets be relaxed on the grounds that it is making their deadlines impossible to hit. "York's restaurants are relying on us,” argued a union representative.

York Press reports that cycling is not permitted on most of York's pedestrianised streets.

However, Cristian Santabarbara, of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), says this isn’t factored into employers’ algorithms and so couriers risk losing pay for arriving at customers' homes late.

Speaking at a council meeting, Santabarbara said that he and others faced, "a real choice between a fixed penalty notice or destitution," and he asked if access could therefore be given to Blake Street, Coney Street and Lendal.

Various delivery companies provide work via apps, but workers say they can be blocked from these platforms for issues that are out of their control.

“There is a presumption of guilt on the courier,” said Santabarbara. “We aren’t supported at all, or given any opportunity to explain our side of issues.”

Emphasising the value of the role played by couriers, he said: "In regular times our work contributes to about one third of a restaurant's revenue. In lockdown, we contribute significantly more.

"York's restaurants are relying on us. That revenue is generated literally off our backs. Bicycle couriers contribute significantly to their ability to pay wages, rent and keep going."

Santabarbara also highlighted the range of products cycle couriers were delivering during lockdown.  

“We’re frontline key workers,” he said. “We’re now delivering from pharmacies, plus essential groceries and hot food to people who can’t leave their homes.”

A council meeting about the request to lift the cycling ban for couriers was due to take place earlier this week.

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OldRidgeback | 3 years ago

If the centre of the city is empty at the moment I can see why temporary allowances could be made. But during normal times I can see why cycling wouldn't be allowed in The Shambles. Even as a pedestrian you have to amble along and dodge from side to side.

Dogless replied to OldRidgeback | 3 years ago
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Of course. The shambles is an extreme example though. There are many one way streets which could be made two way for bikes, or areas which could be shared use.

OldRidgeback replied to Dogless | 3 years ago

Yep, The Shambles is like nowhere else. There are other streets where cycling coud be allowed. 

Dogless | 3 years ago

To be fair, the city centre is dead at the moment. This is clearly a bigger problem with the software they're using, and workers rights in general, but there's no reason to not allow them to cycle across the city at the moment. York is very cycle friendly in some ways, and in other ways absolutely infuriating. There are many routes which could be opened up to cyclists which would allow them to move more safely and not require them to mix with cars and lorries on narrow streets.

Captain Badger | 3 years ago

Aside from the rights of wrongs of cycle ban, the driver for change is not "my employer uses third rate code from an overseas tech provider".

The issue is lack of employee rights and protection, not realistic stem times in routing software.

Sriracha | 3 years ago

How about they let up on speed limits too for van couriers? Or, just maybe, follow the money to those in control of the algorithms and hit them with a hefty fine for making low paid workers have to face impossible choices?

“The majority of algorithms used by private firms online are currently subject to little or no regulatory oversight, and the research concludes that more monitoring and action is required by regulators,” the CMA said in a statement.

nikkispoke replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago

One area where legislation needs to keep up with technology ? The HSE should be monitoring how employers carry out duties under health and safety legislation but if this is not adequately covered it can take a long time for law to be interpreted by the courts and requires a significant actor to take a case to court. Even then as an interpretation it may be unclear or unsatisfactory in outcome.

EK Spinner replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago

I have for a number of years had reservations about courier firms that have gauranteed pre 9am delivery times etc, if the company has any form of penalties within the contract for meeting time targets then there is a financial penalty somewhere, and drivers (in this case riders) can effectivly be financially insentiveised to break the rules of the road in order to make up for earlier or predicted holdups. This is not conducive to good road safety and should not be permitted

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