Feeling too lazy to step out of your home? Don’t like your PG/hostel food? Your spouse can’t cook? No time to prepare lunch? Ran out of groceries? For all these reasons and more, food delivery services are a quick, one-click solution for millennials. An aerial view of Chennai today would show the long stretch of beach, sparse tree cover, myriad projects under construction across the city… and a sea of red, orange and green riders dotting its roads.
Rapidly growing market
Such is the rapid growth of food delivery services in the city over the past 5 years. The market leader Swiggy has a fleet size of 2.3 lakh drivers across the country, with competing services Zomato and Uber Eats not too far behind. There has been difficulty in ascertaining the exact number of delivery persons employed by each service in Chennai as Swiggy declined to disclose the numbers and there was no response from Zomato and UberEats. It may be noted that many delivery persons also take on the role part-time while juggling studies or other jobs.
Apart from making life simple, the food delivery industry has been raking in revenue for the restaurants, cutting costs that come with footfalls, thereby reducing overheads and providing employment to youth across the country. All a prospective employee needs, is a smart-phone and a two-wheeler, for entering into the field. With attractive incentive models, high-paying night shifts and minimal scholastic prerequisites, it is a low-investment, high-earning job. It helps a lot of students pay for their tuition and helps older people bring in a supplementary income. Therefore, it is a triple win for the three stakeholders – the consumers, the delivery personnel and the restaurateurs. What was just an idea, and an occasional delivery service in the mid-2010s, has grown into a vital industry by the end of the decade and it is here to stay and grow further.
The food delivery industry has taken the metro cities by storm and is further expanding into Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities to replicate the same success. The door delivery and pick up model is being expanded to various other services also, such as groceries, courier, laundry. Dunzo, Grofers and BigBasket are some of the startups that are based on these models and present in Chennai. As these delivery services ride in their top gear, the burn is felt on the road by the public.
Time-bound deliveries; SPI study
As most of these services are time-bound, it seems to have become normal, and totally acceptable, for the delivery personnel to violate traffic rules in order to meet delivery targets and secure their incentives. Offers like ‘30 minutes delivery or your order is free‘ force the delivery person to race through the city, violating traffic rules and putting their own lives, and others on the road, at great risk.
To quantify these violations and analyse the intensity of the violations, Satta Panchayat Iyakkam (SPI) conducted a field survey in late 2018. It was found from the survey that 73% of food delivery personnel violated traffic rules while out for delivery. During the course of our survey we even witnessed a delivery person ride on the wrong side of the busy Velachery bridge! With the survey details going viral on social media and press, Chennai’s traffic police swung into action and took a few measures to address the issue.
After a year, the SPI team decided to follow up with another field survey to assess the situation. The survey was conducted in December 2019 on Old Mahabalipuram Road and its feeder roads, and in Thiruvanmiyur area, by a team of 5 members. The results showed that there is a marginal drop in violation – it stood at 65% in 2019. It was seen that violation of the Mandatory Helmet rule has declined. Only 19% riders were found to be riding without a helmet, as compared to 66% in 2018. But other traffic violations such as driving on the wrong side in one-way/no entry lanes, using mobile phones while driving, rash driving and speeding, and signal jumping have increased significantly. And the public has become inured to horrific road accidents.
The urgent need to intervene
Road safety is a major concern in India, especially so in Tamil Nadu. The capital city Chennai topped the state in road deaths with 114 deaths in January 2019 alone. With this statistic in mind, Chennai City police and RTO authorities took action on these violations, with 22,164 cases registered against delivery personnel in the last six months alone. yet there is no respite in the rule-violating behaviour, pointing to a need for serious interventions to address this issue.
After the survey, Satta Panchayat Iyakkam brainstormed possible interventions to curb such violations. A report which included the suggestions was prepared. Part of it is a three-pronged approach to combating this above issue. First, the food delivery companies need to give importance to increasing awareness about road safety from Day 1 of the induction program for new delivery staff. A separate session to develop awareness on road safety needs to be conducted for all existing delivery staff. From time to time, there need to be sessions on the harmful effects of reckless driving. Most importantly, these companies must set up a realistic business and incentive model so that the delivery staff will not be forced to race against time, and violate rules in the process.
Secondly, the traffic police of all cities should pitch in and sensitise delivery personnel. Other than levying fines, traffic police should adopt innovative ways to tackle the issue. As a suggestion, the delivery staff could be taken to accident wards in Government hospitals – this will have a long-lasting impact on them and could act as a deterrent to them. Finally, traffic police should also open a communication channel where people should be able to complain about delivery persons who violate traffic rules. Habitual offenders must be punished seriously.
Government regulations necessary
It is high time that both Central and State Government step up to this issue and create guidelines and advisories. In every domain, professional practitioners must adhere to certain rules. Similarly, all the delivery staff should be considered as professionals and violations by them should be penalised. The Tamil Nadu government should empower the police and RTO authorities for it. Similarly, the Central government should pitch in and amend the Motor Vehicles Act to address this issue as this has become a pan-India crisis. All these measures are required simultaneously to solve these issues holistically.
The team from Satta Panchayat Iyakkam which undertook the survey is in the process of petitioning all the stakeholders with the above requests and solutions. A good government should proactively identify the pain points and try to address it before there are serious consequences. The death of a young Chennai techie Subhashree due to banners on the road belatedly raised awareness on that issue. The authorities and food delivery companies should not wait for such mishaps before they begin addressing this issue of traffic violations.