Michael, 29 years old, from Queens, $2500/month.
Originally, I studied computer science but exited that field during the 2008 recession. Then I took some jobs at restaurants, worked for Instacart a bit. I started to work with Postmates in 2015, and from then on worked with Caviar, Uber Eats and DoorDash. First I really enjoyed it. When I used a bike, I could ride 30 to 60 miles a day. Now with the scooter, probably half of these distances, because I try to keep distances closer, when it’s too far away I use an unlimited MetroCard. Per ride, the base pay is $3 to $5, so we rely on customer tips. The issue is that they tell us to expect tip and they actually have the option to remove it within 2 hours after the delivery. On top of that, there are a lot low paying jobs. For example, I could do a 5-mile delivery and get paid $3,50 as a base and $3 tip. These aps are really trying to rip us off right now. Before this year, when I had an e-bike I was making between $3000 and $4000 a month, working 6 days per week, sometimes I would make $250 a day. What changed is that they over hired and seasons also: in the winter people are more lazy and order more food. Downsides of this job is that they don’t give you a minimum backing, Caviar does offer protection if you get injured but that’s rare in the business, you’re waiting at restaurants constantly for issues you don’t control, and there’s always a risk to get your bike stolen. Interaction with customers make this job suck: you’re at that border where you’re at the door, but not entering the apartment, so you talk to them for 2s, they take the food and they slam the door on your face. The way they respect you is whether they give you a tip or not. You’re only someone delivering the food, you’re never going to be something else to these people. To be honest, I think they have a garbage image of carriers.
Rodney, 35 years old, from Brooklyn, $3500/month.
I have been a carrier for roughly 2 years, with Caviar, DoorDash and Postmates. Before that, I was working in the New York school system. On average, I ride between 30 and 40 miles per day. I get paid between $10 to $15 per job. The toughest thing in that job is waiting for the delivery in front of restaurants. Sometimes, you might wait 20 to 30 minutes and that’s the worst. There are ups and downs with customers: some can greet you and some others snatch the food and slam the door on your face. I don’t think they think much of us. I want to create my own opportunity, to work for myself, in the health industry, skincare products, stuff like that. That’s what I’m working on right now.
Nicky, 26 years old, from Brooklyn, $1500/month.
I have been delivering food by scooter full time for the past 5 months. I work with Postmates and Caviar. I haven’t been able to find a better job yet so I use these aps to utilize my time and being able to afford leaving in New York City. On an average day, I bike about 10 miles in total. Per ride, I think I make $7-$8 with tip, but to be honest It can vary from $3 to $10. The worst parts of that job is the rain, and not knowing if you’re going to get tipped or not, or tipped $1 after riding 10 blocks for example. Riding a scooter is different than a bike – the wheels are smaller, you can’t go into traffic – but the good part is if one customer is very far away, you can jump on a train, fold it and use your unlimited MetroCard. Traffic is also crazy in New York and it is also a matter of safety. Interactions with customers are very brief, maybe a 20s conversation. People are generally positive with me. For the future, I definitely want to find some more stable job, this is only temporary and for extra money.
Amani, 23 years old, from Brooklyn, $3000/month.
I’ve been a bike messenger for almost 5 years. I enjoy doing it, it’s fun. I work for Caviar and Grubhub because they’re the ones paying the most. Before, I used to work in a non-profit called Neighborhood Housing. Per day, I probably ride 50 to 70 miles. The least I get paid per ride is $7, the best can be $30 to $40, depending on how much the person is tipping. What I dislike about the job is waiting in front of a restaurant because the food is not ready and I’m losing my time. But I learned to calm down. I haven’t experienced anything bad with customers. I try to keep smiling. People in restaurants is a different story: they sometimes don’t acknowledge you. I want to start a YouTube channel, though I like the job because I love riding bikes.
Albert, 25 years old, from Queens, $3500/month.
I’ve been a messenger for 3 years, with Caviar, Doordash, and private clients. Before, I worked for a law firm, in retail, in light industrial… On a busy day, I ride 60 miles. Per job, I get paid an average of $12, the lowest $4, the highest $20. I use is a master bag made by Chrome, I have a speaker on my left side, a patch for my cell phone on my right, my keys hanging above, another patch here for little things. It’s for convenience: if I’m biking I don’t want to look for things in my pockets. Sometimes the customers or clients get frustrated even if it’s not your fault. That’s why I like less these apps. When I work a private client, there is more understanding. Though I try to keep it very polite with customers. Some of them think I’m professional, some think I’m a kid who doesn’t know anything. If you curse back, you won’t have a job at the end of the day. Besides trying to increase my income and investing in currency trading, I’m trying to be an entrepreneur.
Nathaniel, 29 years old, from New York, $1800/month.
I’ve been working in food delivery for 4 years continuously, with Postmates, Maple and Caviar. Right now, I’m only with Caviar so it’s my least and most favorite. Before, I’ve been a yoga instructor in public schools for 2 and half years, but I got very tired of working in childcare and dealing with other people’s kids. I know for a fact that I ride roughly 30 miles a day. For each job, I get paid $9,50 guaranteed. The best pay I can get depends on customer tipping. Because I’m on a scooter that has very short battery autonomy, I don’t accept a job which are long distance. Besides tips, long distances are a way to get higher pay, or large deliveries, but it often takes more time and customers intend to not tip well because their order is already expensive. This month, I only made $1000, because summer is slow. On busy months, I make $2000. I dislike that restaurants treat us worse than their workers or their customers. In reality we should be treated like customers, because we are the contact for the customer and we are the representative. Sometimes, people answer the door in their underwear, or they’re drunk and don’t remember ordering, but overall customers are nice. At the moment, I’m studying to become a New York City tour guide and I’m considering creating a dog walking collective, which more equally distributes the fees to the workers.
Usef, 50 years old, from New York, $3000/month.
I’ve been carrier for 5 years, I’ve been living in New York all my life, I know the city on the back of my hand and this a perfect marriage of my talents and my abilities, this is what I like to do. I was working in maintenance and I read about this job in an ad on Craigslist. Now I work with Caviar, Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber, Postmates, basically most of these aps. I ride between 35 and 40 miles per day. Per ride, I usually make $8,50, including tips. We have a certain amount of time to make a certain amount of money, so I dislike when restaurants take too much time. They also think we’re the lowest in the hierarchy. Otherwise, interactions with people are pretty decent, I try to carry myself in a professional manner. Uber drivers are dangerous, cars you can’t tell it’s a taxi, because the door can open at any time. I got doored once and I had to go to the hospital and get stitched up for that. As a dream, I did hip-hop production when I was young. Now I’m teaching my son about it and he came up with the great idea of us two starting a new company and making tracks, marketing them and selling them. So the proceed of this carrier job goes into that dream.
Calvin, 23 years old, from Brooklyn, $3000/month.
I’ve been working in food delivery for 3 years. Though I have a 9 to 5 job in a retail store, selling clothes, shoes… I do this part time, instead of sitting home and doing nothing. Before, I was working for UPS. Now I work for Grubhub because they operate in an area between Downtown New York and 59th street. I ride about 100 miles a day. On average, per ride, I make $11, it could be $24 if I have 2 orders at the same, we call it a batch. Working in the rain is the worst: you slide, cars hit you, and if they do they still think it’s cool. I lost 2 friends who were doing this job: they got hit by cars and passed away. With customers, you have to show a smile on your face. Some people don’t even come out of their door, they grab their food and don’t look outside.
Deliver Us – New York
I had unconsciously acknowledged their presence as I walked the streets of Paris. At any time of day or night, rain or shine, their two-wheeled silhouettes would whizz past me, barely noticed. Within a few months, food delivery riders have come to occupy an important place in our lives. I wanted to get to know the stories of those about whom we know next to nothing, except the shape of their instantly recognizable, multicolored insulated bags. Do we see them as migrants? Undocumented workers?
Quick and always on the move, it wasn’t easy to catch them or gain their trust. It would take months to encounter the same rider again, since their job allows for little personal time: “I’ve got almost no life,” one rider told me. They described their working conditions: the rules they must follow, dictated by a gig economy built on an unsustainable model—the mandatory on-call hours; the diligence required to maintain one’s statistics; the dangers of a job that forces workers to take risks in order to gain speed and reach profitability.
Then I discovered the stories of the men who are on the job for different reasons, but each following a dream. Their itineraries were mapped by circumstance; their narratives were touching, and sometimes full of hardship. As I made more portraits, I wanted to stop making assumptions and record their life-stories. I wanted to nourish these encounters with my presence just as much as their images made an impression on my film.
Pictures: Max Riché
Interviews and texts: Jonas Cuénin