2017-09-22 10:38:15

Police in eastern China are calling on food ordering companies to reduce pressure on their drivers to deliver meals as fast as possible, blaming their business models for an increase in traffic accidents involving couriers.

In the first half of 2017, food delivery drivers — who commonly dart around on electric bicycles — caused more than 3,200 traffic accidents in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, according to government figures. The concerning numbers have inspired Nanjing’s traffic police to draft regulations for the food delivery industry, The Beijing News reported Friday.

On Wednesday, Nanjing authorities invited several food delivery companies — Chinese players Baidu Waimai and Ele.me, as well as global fast-food giant McDonald’s — to discuss the proposed rules, which include safety trainings, letters in which employees commit to following traffic laws, and a credit system that scores companies on their drivers’ actions.

The draft regulations also pointed to the food ordering industry’s business model as one reason delivery drivers run amok: Nanjing traffic police said couriers shouldn’t be encouraged to compete with each other for orders and should be allotted more time to make their deliveries.

Yu Guibin, a food courier in Shanghai who works for Ele.me, one of China’s largest food delivery companies, told Sixth Tone that both customers and restaurants commonly require meals to be delivered within 30 or 45 minutes. “If we miss the delivery deadline, customers will complain or give us bad reviews, which impact our income and the number of orders we get in the future,” the 25-year-old said, adding that inclement weather and sluggish kitchens are usually to blame for missed arrival times.

Yu himself was in an accident earlier this year, when he crossed an intersection and was hit by a motorcycle. “At that time, the first thing you worry about is whether you’ll miss the deadline,” he said. In July, media reported on a food courier in Hangzhou, eastern China, who fainted because of a heatstroke but left the health care service center as soon as he could because he still had “one last order left to deliver.”

Earlier this month, a commentary in Party-owned newspaper People’s Daily warned that the rapid development of the food delivery industry should not put couriers’ lives at risk.

Other cities in China have already passed legislation to get couriers to drive according to the rules. Earlier this month, Shenzhen said delivery drivers who were caught violating traffic laws three times would receive a one-year ban from working in the industry. In February, Shanghai regulated that food couriers had to pass an exam on traffic regulations.

Effective as of this month, a national regulation on food delivery services sets higher food safety standards and requires couriers to provide better service, including not entering customers’ houses and not asking for tips.

China’s online food delivery industry feeds more than 300 million customers, and its market is expected to be worth over 200 billion yuan ($30 billion) in 2017, according to a report. Its three main players are Meituan Dianping, Baidu Waimai, and Ele.me — the latter buying Baidu Waimai for $800 million in August.

Apart from traffic safety problems, the soaring number of the orders has also raised environmental concerns due to the prevalence of disposable chopsticks, plastic cutlery, and packaging material. Earlier this month, a Chongqing-based nongovernment organization sued all three industry giants for creating waste and damaging the environment.

For a period of 10 days, Nanjing’s draft regulations will be open to feedback from the city’s food-delivery companies.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A food delivery driver takes a meal to a customer on a rainy day in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, Aug. 23, 2017. Huang Zhi/VCG)