Your hot pizza, their steep fine

BY 
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2012, 4:12 AM

Source: NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

RON ANTONELLI – A bike deliveryman in Queens.

Many New Yorkers regularly take advantage of the ability to get good food, fast, at any time of day or night. New York City is so famous for food delivery that it’s part of our identity.

And as you surely know, many of those deliveries are made by bicycle.

Though food delivery via two wheels is routine, complaints about delivery workers are almost as common. Elected officials frequently receive phone calls about delivery workers who ride through red lights, on the sidewalk or against the flow of traffic.

And the status quo isn’t working for the delivery workers themselves, many of whom are immigrants struggling to make ends meet, feeding their own families by bringing you dinner.

Often, they can’t pick the route that has bike lanes and the calmest streets. Instead, to get the meal to the customer fast and hot, they pick the most direct path.

Imagine: You’re riding on streets as traffic speeds past you, car doors fling open in your path without warning, trucks rumble along — and all of it is happening while you’re under tremendous pressure to make sure a pizza stays intact.

There’s no incentive for restaurants to ensure that delivery workers follow traffic laws. Restaurants that offer delivery make their money on volume, so the more orders they can complete, with cheap labor, the better their bottom line.

Accordingly, the direction these employers provide their employees is always the same: Rush your deliveries, get to the next customer faster and return to the restaurant immediately for the next batch. Traffic laws are the last thing on their minds.

Because of these pressures, is it any surprise that delivery workers are in a rush? And given these realities, how do we best achieve our goal of encouraging delivery workers to comply with the same laws other city bicyclists are asked to follow?

The Department of Transportation and the City Council are contemplating measures to educate delivery workers about the traffic laws they’re supposed to follow and increase enforcement against transgressors. This is a good first step but, in our opinion, it will not solve the problem. Targeting individual workers will never address the root causes of unsafe food delivery behavior — lack of accountability among business owners and poor working conditions

It is only fair that the businesses that encourage these practices should also bear the burden of their effects.

The delivery workers themselves simply can’t do it. A typical delivery worker reports making less than $100 in a typical 12-hour shift. These workers are hardly in a position to pay the steep fines for breaking traffic laws. A ticket for running a red light can be more than $200.

How does a delivery worker afford that?

There is a simple solution, championed by City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin locally, and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and Sen. Liz Krueger in Albany: Change the law so that restaurant owners are responsible for the cost of their workers’ traffic violations.

These businesses are in the best position to supervise their employees and ensure that they comply with the laws.

Education campaigns and greater enforcement could help, too. But nothing will be as effective as tying restaurants’ bottom lines — to some extent — to how well their workers follow traffic rules.

When a crane operator’s behavior on the job endangers people in New York City, it’s the employer, not the worker, that bears the responsibility. Similarly, making the restaurant owner responsible will require restaurants to be accountable for the behavior of their delivery workers and make our streets safer for everyone.

White is the executive director of Transportation Alternatives. Chung is the assistant director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York.