Here’s my story about riding for the apps. The job was tougher than I figured – requires making split-second business decisions while navigating insane NYC traffic on a bike. Also I learned interesting ways the apps and customers can screw you over or make life hard. (Here’s a sidebar story where a delivery guy talks about class, invisibility and the weirdly unsexy phenomenon of people answering the door in their underwear.)

Readers were irate to learn that when they think they’re tipping their DoorDash delivery guy they’re really, in a sense, tipping DoorDash. The blowback – lots of it on Reddit! -- prompted DoorDash to drop their policy. The catch is that DoorDash workers won’t necessarily make more $ and might make less – here’s that story.

I’ve been reporting for The Times Metro desk since 1992, telling stories about the NYC area. I used to do a column about pets, among other things. You can find my Times stories here.



Edit: Thanks for these questions, everybody -- especially for the hard questions. I'm logging off for now (150pm EST) and will try to check back in later. -- Andy

Comments: 1094 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

jamesworley2336 karma

Would you be interested in hearing the story of how Uber retaliatory deactivates drivers and attempting to communicate with Uber after is like talking to a brick wall.

I have proof and nobody will listen.

thenewyorktimes1371 karma

Sure. What happened? I have heard from many couriers that they get put in "timeout" for half an hour or an hour if they decline too many orders, but what was the deactivation about?

Playisomemusik737 karma

How did Door Dash justify keeping tips in California when the law specifically define a tip as "Under California law, an employer cannot take any part of a tip that's left for an employee." I mean, it doesn't get any more specific?

transportassistant566 karma

Unfortunately Dasher's are independent contractors and don't fall under the protections of a normal employer/employee relationship.

thenewyorktimes418 karma

Sorry, I don't know about the California law. I do know that as of a few months ago the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards was investigating the tip policy

letihontas422 karma

Thanks for a great article!

For those who want to be conscientious consumers of delivery services in NYC - which platform is considered best by those making deliveries? Any pointers besides making tips in cash?

thenewyorktimes475 karma

Thank you! Re which platform is best -- opinion varies widely simply because workers' experiences vary so widely, but the super-veterans I talked to said they made the most $ with Caviar. Many of those vets also do GrubHub though they say the pay has dropped recently. The experienced couriers I talked to seemed to be down on Uber Eats and Postmates. Re pointers: tip well, be nice, that's about it.

gummi-eater300 karma


thenewyorktimes281 karma

I understand their anger.

It is a precarious way to make a living, and that in itself is something that needs to be fixed.

I also know that people tend to assume that change will be for the worse, especially if they are ok with their situation. Another journalist, Aaron Gordon, tweeted, "FWIW every time Uber and Lyft change their payment structure, the companies say it will result in drivers getting paid more but drivers flood forums saying the opposite."

In this case, DoorDash is not even saying the change will result in drivers getting paid more, so that's scary.

But like I said, we'll see, and in the long run I hope my story helps people understand that a fair-wage system needs to be put in place for all these app workers.

horrorzzz164 karma

Just yesterday, my friend ordered $115 worth of food and when the doorsash deliverer met him in a car at the destination, the doorsash deliverer would not give the food without a tip. The conversation ended in the doorsash deliverer driving off with the food.

So my questions are: Are customers suppose to 100% pay a tip? And are there any consequences for a doorsash deliverer to deliberately run/drive off with the food if there is no tip?

thenewyorktimes221 karma

That is a pretty nasty situation. Of course it is entirely up to the customer whether to tip, and if the customer doesn't tip, the delivery guy still has to complete the delivery. Driving off with the food is a good way to get a customer complaint -- your friend is free to file one of those with DoorDash, and I don't know what the consequences are but I imagine there are some.

On the other hand, not tipping on a $115 order is pretty uncool, though if the delivery guy immediately started demanding a tip that's not a good way to get one. I wasn't there so I don't know how it went down.

Under the old DoorDash minimum-guarantee system (I don't actually know if it's still in effect because DoorDash won't tell me -- is it, Dashers?), the minimum guarantee DoorDash offered the driver would have reflected some amount of anticipated tip, so the driver would have been to some degree insulated against a zero tip.

BTKUltra63 karma

I’m a dasher. This is absolutely someone scamming you.

That being said, you SHOULD give a bit of a cash tip on a large order like that. I have delivered $200+ and generally get tipped $5-7 for those orders even though that kind of order takes a HUGE amount of my dash time.

Since the article came out I’ve started getting way more cash tips though, which I appreciate!

thenewyorktimes10 karma

Great to hear you're getting more cash tips!

bkbartender1106 karma

Hi Andy, thanks for this piece, I’m fairly involved in cycling in nyc and used to do Postmates myself when one could make a good living from bonus’s.

Couple of questions.

Do you regularly cycle in New York City? With the spate of recent cyclist deaths city wide what do you feel can be done to best protect cyclists.

Do you feel that there is a possible alternative to large trucks flying around the city, including ideas like railroad or truck hubs and last mile fulfillment via small vans or bicycles?

What do you think is the most likely scenario for the future of food delivery? I.e. drones, robots, pneumatic tubes, cheap immigrant labor?

thenewyorktimes116 karma

Those are all good questions.

- I cycle pretty regularly in NYC and am always cautious and slow -- much more so than when I was riding an electric bike for deliveries. One thing that would help in the long run is if law enforcement was more consistently aggressive in penalizing drivers who injure bikers. The city as you may have read plans to install more protected bike lanes, do more policing at high-crash intersections and redesign intersections to make turns safer for cyclists: Those all sound like good ideas, though in reality for some reason "protected" bike lanes often are not really separated from car traffic the way they should be.

I will pass on the alternatives-to-trucks question because I don't know about that. And as far as the future of food delivery, that's anyone's guess. Ask me again in 10 years.

Movieboy8786 karma

Do you feel delivery drivers should be a flat rate per hour , or the way it is, ? flat rate like 5 an hr plus tips ?

thenewyorktimes204 karma

Good question. I think that people who do any job should have some kind of living-wage guarantee. It just seems fair. Someone is doing a job, they should be able to make a living doing it. Restaurant workers, who are employees and not independent contractors, get a minimum wage plus tips, or at least they're supposed to.

Because delivery drivers are considered independent contractors (despite many lawsuits challenging that), it's very hard to come up with a regulatory framework that forces them to pay a living wage. But in NYC, there is a City Councilman, Brad Lander, who's working on that. NYC was able last year to mandate a minimum wage for Uber/Lyft drivers even though they're contractors too.

Decnav65 karma

Did you get to collect 2 glorious paychecks while doing the investigation?

Always was curious if you get to keep the money from the company you were investigating.

thenewyorktimes140 karma

I am donating my delivery pay, all $200 or so of it, to a charity, the NY Times Neediest Cases fund.

Tadhgdagis41 karma

$200? How many hours did you actually work doing deliveries?

thenewyorktimes104 karma

Correction: I worked 26.8 total hours (including time when I was out on the street on my bike waiting but wasn't getting any orders --- I count that as work time since it's not like I could do anything else) and made $266.

Average hourly wage: $9.93. People who do it longer and learn how to do it well make more.

thinkB4WeSpeak63 karma

Do you think it's a good time for muckraker style journalism to come back?

thenewyorktimes84 karma

It never went away!

MiamiDasher63 karma

so what happens when they change the pay model and it ends up like Postmates and we only make $3 per delivery and nobody tips then what do we do?

thenewyorktimes59 karma

Well that's the big question - what are they going to pay per delivery under the new system? How will it compare to the other apps? DoorDash isn't saying yet.

FWIW, on the r/doordash thread on the announcement, opinions were all over the map about what the change will mean. The majority of commenters said it was bad news, but who knows.

thenewyorktimes62 karma

Dashers, Here's something from a Dasher in the midwest, u/Freelancer2017, who believes he has figured out DoorDash's mysterious recipe for the combination of mileage/time/etc that they base their guaranteed minimum on. He posted a similar version of this on r/doordash_drivers but sent me a more detailed version that he gave me permission to repost below (we just talked on the phone).

He used the Uber Eats rates for mileage and time in his market, but he also included distance traveling from ping spot to pickup spot (which Uber Eats doesn't) and total time spent on the whole order (rather than time waiting at restaurant as Uber Eats does). Running this equation on about 15 orders, he found that this formula consistently came within a few cents of the guaranteed minimum. What Uber Eats would pay for this same job is less than what DoorDash would pay because Uber Eats does not pay mileage for ping-to-pickup or time for anything other than restaurant wait, but of course Uber Eats base pay does not include the tip. Overall, though, he says he's making more with DD than Uber Eats.

Fwiw, he is optimistic that he will fare better under the coming DoorDash model. He says if they cut the guarantee by 15-20% he will still come out ahead because of tips. Of course that's one guy's opinion, in one market, and we know nothing until DD rolls out the new model. Anyway, here's his data:

I am a Doordash Driver in the midwest. I appreciate your article and bringing to light doordash pay and tipping policy for drivers.

I have researched my market and my pay against the guaranteed pay when I noticed when I had uber eat deliveries the pay was similar as doordash guaranteed pay picking up in same areas going to same neighborhoods. What I found tells me that doordash's tipping policies have nothing to do with the guaranteed pay structure. And, does appear that tips have been designed to increase profit margins for doordash.

I started with counting the doordash $1(base pay). I then calculated total mileage (I used the same rate UberEats pays per mile) from my position when I got order request (based on Google maps). I then calculated estimated time Google maps says trip from original starting position to restaurant then to customer plus added additional time for pickup and dropoff (5 minutes for fast food, 10 minutes for traditional restaurants and 10 minutes for Walmart pickup plus 10 Walmart dropoff, plus 2 minutes for food order dropoff). Again, I used the pay per minute UE pays in my market to calculate time.

I sampled this formula against orders with and without tips (and, didn't add tips in) and, random orders including Walmart pickup orders from the last couple of shifts. And again, for my market, found these results matched guaranteed pay only within a few cents. 


$1(base) + 9.9 (total mileage) × $0.7 + $0.125 × 42 (total minutes) = $13.18 (guaranteed pay offered $13.19) I'm sure they are calculating fractional miles and minutes so, not exact for my math but, pretty darn close.

BouncingDeadCats45 karma

What is the average earning per day?

thenewyorktimes115 karma

I don't know and it is hard getting answers out of the app companies. Postmates told me that their NYC delivery people average $18.50 an hour, but their "hour" clock is only running when the courier is actually out on an order, so when the courier is just sitting there waiting for the next order coming in, Postmates doesn't consider that as working time.

I asked about 10 couriers -- not a large sample -- and the average, with tips, was in the vicinity of $15/hr, which is minimum wage in NYC. That is for times when they're actually working -- breakfast or lunch or dinner rush -- and not for the downtime during the day when most couriers don't work because there are no deliveries.

BouncingDeadCats42 karma

Thank you.

This is consistent with the anecdotes from drivers I’ve met. Not a good way to earn a living.

thenewyorktimes83 karma

As a friend of mine who's been part-time delivering for years put it, "It's a good second job. It's not a good job."

Chayden15335 karma

What was the rudest thing a customer has ever done to you?

thenewyorktimes102 karma

I only worked this job for 27 hours so I didn't have time to accrue a lot of rudeness. There was one customer who barely cracked the door open and just kind of grabbed the bag and shut the door, which seemed pretty rude to me. There was a guy who very ceremoniously tipped me $1 in cash, which in the moment felt very lame, but considering how many people didn't tip at all, he was a good guy.

soxgal25 karma

Maybe the barely cracked door guy was nekkid? Sounds like something I'd do if you caught me exiting the shower...

thenewyorktimes49 karma

It was a fully dressed woman.

tinydonuts33 karma

Are you getting hate mail or threats from drivers who liked the old system?

thenewyorktimes57 karma

I got a couple of nasty tweet comments and an F-you on this AMA from someone who later deleted it, but not much.


In your opinion, what is more dangerous when biking in NYC: cars or pedestrians?

thenewyorktimes76 karma


Drivers' behavior tends to be a lot more predictable than pedestrians'. But the fact that drivers are wielding a couple of thousand pounds of metal more than makes up for that. I don't know how many bikers get killed in collisions with pedestrians but I'm sure it's a tiny fraction of those killed by drivers.

najing_ftw23 karma

What stories are you working on now?

thenewyorktimes31 karma

A couple that are still kind of percolating and I'll wait till they see the light of day. Any suggestions on other jobs to write about?

Leena5220 karma

What led you to this story? Do you feel this article will help the efforts to regulate And boost pay for the delivery people?

Extremely interesting investigative report; and from a NYT subscriber I offer a thank you.

thenewyorktimes22 karma

Thank you Leena. What led me to this story: I have a new beat writing about jobs, for which my marching orders are (1) write about jobs that tell some larger story about the current state of society, or the present or future of work, and (2) if it's possible, actually try doing the job yourself. Platform-based delivery work seemed like a perfect match for all those.

Will my article help the efforts to regulate? I don't know. Possibly. After the story came out, a NYC City Councilman said he was trying to come up with a framework to mandate some kind of living wage for delivery workers even though they are classified as contractors not employees and thus not covered by regular minimum-wage laws. NYC has already done something like that for Uber/Lyft cab drivers, though that industry is easier for NYC to regulate than the delivery business.

Will it boost pay for delivery people? If you're talking about DoorDash workers, most (but not all) of the DoorDash workers who have commented on this AMA seem to think otherwise, because in many situations the old model guaranteed them a minimum payment even when customer didn't tip that was higher than the minimum payments that some other apps offer, and they are afraid DoorDash will slash those minimum guarantees and make them much more dependent on tips. But DoorDash has yet to share details of how their new pay system will work, and everything is in the details.

If you're talking about delivery workers generally, maybe, in the long run, if the NYC thing is any indication. But lots of articles come out that highlight things that are messed up and most of the time things remain messed up.

zampe17 karma

ive noticed that many of these apps calculate tips based on the entire cost of the delivery (food plus their own fees, plus tax, plus the delivery fee) Instead of just on the food or product you ordered. These fees, at least on postmates, can add up to 30 or 40% on top of what you are ordering. So this way of calculating the tip can be really misleading. Does this fall into any legal category or is it just up to them how to make this calculation and up to consumers to realize what they are doing?

thenewyorktimes6 karma

The latter, I believe.

NelsonMinar11 karma

When you started this story, did you expect DoorDash would continue to be taking drivers' tips just months after InstaCart was publicly humiliated for doing the same thing?

thenewyorktimes22 karma

Yes. DoorDash also caught a lot of heat during and in the wake of the InstaCart shame campaign and rather than caving they doubled down at the time. From a Times article in Feb:

The company’s practice of using driver tips to cover the base pay for its deliveries came under criticism this month from drivers and customers who were not aware tips were being allocated that way. Instacart, a competing delivery service, changed its policy as a result of the blowback, but DoorDash did not.

Mr. Xu said his company’s model, introduced in 2017, had led to an increase in the number of orders being fulfilled by members of its delivery network, as well as increased job satisfaction from its delivery people.

“This is a model that is built with dashers in mind,” he said, using DoorDash’s term for its independent delivery workers. “The pay model is meant to make sure every order is worth fulfilling.”

JEAFCommander6 karma

who is the biggest a**hole you had to deal with?

thenewyorktimes22 karma

As I noted below I only did this job for a minute so I don't have too many horror stories. The woman in the restaurant who literally and very deliberately kept her head turned 90 degrees away from me as she handed me the bag of food, like I was a total subhuman, would probably win.

LotusEagle2 karma

Can you offer any insight as what sort of vetting of potential deliverers occurs? Any background checks? Order take out all the time but typically pick up after being threatened/propositioned by a food delivery person at my door a number of years back. Felt exceedingly vulnerable as a woman home alone. Witness any poor delivery behaviors? Adulterated food etc.?

Loved the local neighborhood place that charged a 20% delivery fee on all orders and gave it directly to the delivery people at the end of the night. So much safer and more comfortable for the customer.

thenewyorktimes5 karma

That is creepy.

Re vetting: In my experience, you do have to pass a criminal-background check but that's about it. One app asked me to make a brief video saying why I wanted to work for them, but with the other 4 apps I applied to, I am pretty sure no human being evaluated my application.

SonOfOak2 karma

Well, that escalated quickly.

For the record, I don't resent you for writing the article. DD is & has been the obvious culprit here, & deserved to be exposed. Thank you, for finally getting the issue mass public attention.

In the title to this thread you wrote "My story prompted..." so it's compelling to consider whether you hold any partial responsibility in how your story ultimately affects drivers.

Here's my AMA question: would you be willing to do a follow-up piece once the new pay model comes out? If this ultimately means less money for drivers, will you expose that too? Will you make continued updates on DD's changes & expose deceptive business practices from other platforms as well?

Used to do a column about pets, you say? Maybe opportunity is knocking at your door with this gig economy thing. Just hope your plan isn't to parlay all this newfound attention into bigger & better, leaving drivers with the bill.

thenewyorktimes4 karma

Yes, I would very much like to do a follow-up to this piece and see how drivers are doing under the new DoorDash policy.

[deleted]0 karma


Spybee00710 karma

He didn’t ruin anything, DoorDash was the one using this practice. It was misleading to it’s customers and dashers. This has been known for a long time and it was bound to come to a head at some point. Blaming someone for writing an article without blaming the actual person or entity that is responsible shows ignorance.

thenewyorktimes11 karma

That response by Spybee007 (thank you!) was to a now-deleted comment asking why I ruined everything by Dashing for one day and then thinking I knew it all. It was in some ways a fair question.

Look, I know that a lot of Dashers are thinking that whatever DoorDash does next will not be good for them.

I felt like it was important to let people know something about how the DoorDash tipping system worked. It’s one of those things where the truth about it depends on whose point of view you’re talking about.

For the customer it was pretty clearly bad. Your delivery guy is getting $6 or whatever to deliver your burrito, and you tip him $3 and he still gets only $6 because the more you tip him the less DoorDash pays him out of their own pocket. So DoorDash is effectively getting your tip, since it’s not increasing the worker’s pay.

But I understand – now, better than I did a few days ago – that for many Dashers, it insulated them from bad tips and kept earnings more level.

In my original article, I did point out that despite the fact that when my DoorDash customers tipped me it did not increase my payout, I still typically earned more on DoorDash orders than on orders for Uber Eats and Postmates.

But obviously what happened was that customers seized on the fact that their tips weren’t increasing the delivery guy’s pay, and they were mad.

I do think that in the long run, anything that increases the scrutiny of this underregulated industry will eventually contribute to better work conditions. Or at least I hope so.

DoPoGrub6 karma

The storm was brewing long before your article (for which I, as a dasher of over 2 years, am personally appreciative of).

In my market, I am bombarded with $4 offers all day long. Most of which have the customer 'tipping' $2-$3. Leaving me with a 'base pay' of $1-$2 on a majority of my deliveries.

Those who are being the loudest with criticism are in higher paying markets where orders pay $8-$12 all day long.

Regardless, you did a good job objectively reporting most of the facts of the matter, and since nobody yet knows the details of how things will change, I think it's a bit premature to bring pitchforks to anyone at this point.

If DoorDash had been more pro-actively transparent with customer, and less misleading, this all could have been averted years ago. Their business model relies on not addressing problems until they become too big to be ignored, so none of this surprises me.

At the end of the day, folks in areas with 25-50% higher cost of living are receiving 100% more in pay. I suspect that it will all start to balance out however they decide to move forward with the pay policy changes.

thenewyorktimes10 karma

Thanks very much -- it's good to hear from a voice of experience. Yes, we will see.

The transparency thing was a big factor. DoorDash kept insisting to me that their policy was transparent to customers because on the checkout screen where it says "tip" you could click on more info and get taken to a very opaque explanation of the policy that no hungry person would ever read carefully enough and analyze enough to conclude "even if you tip, the delivery guy will make the exact same amount as if you didn't tip, unless you tip like 40 or 50 % or whatever." And it was pretty clear from this latest round of blowback that customers did not understand that at all.

Jjkkllzz-2 karma

Did you read the terms of service prior to doing this to fully understand how the pay works or did you just sign up and go?

Did you fully understand how the guarantee works and how it benefits drivers?

Why did you choose delivering on a bike? There are different vehicles with different pros and cons. Maybe could try doing it with different methods of transportation. Most people use cars and not bikes so the situation will be very different.

thenewyorktimes23 karma

I understood how the guarantee works after that first day when I saw that tips were not increasing my pay. As I mentioned in an earlier response, I understand better now than I did before my article came out how the guarantee benefits drivers and keeps their earnings more stable, even though in some situations it limits their pay.

As for why on a bike, my story was about doing it in NYC, primarily in Manhattan, and in Manhattan a bike is how most people deliver.

Xyberfaust-10 karma

What do you have to say to all the DoorDash drivers you screwed over? That system was wonderful. Nobody was stealing anything. The system was in place to ensure drivers that didn't get a tip, got a tip. Now, that's going to be gone because people are so stupid to believe someone starting a frenzy.

thenewyorktimes10 karma

I answered that question below and I will just paste that answer in here:

I know that a lot of Dashers are thinking that whatever DoorDash does next will not be good for them.

I felt like it was important to let people know something about how the DoorDash tipping system worked. It’s one of those things where the truth about it depends on whose point of view you’re talking about.

For the customer it was pretty clearly bad. Your delivery guy is getting $6 or whatever to deliver your burrito, and you tip him $3 and he still gets only $6 because the more you tip him the less DoorDash pays him out of their own pocket. So DoorDash is effectively getting your tip, since it’s not increasing the worker’s pay.

But I understand – now, better than I did a few days ago – that for many Dashers, it insulated them from bad tips and kept earnings more level.

In my original article, I did point out that despite the fact that when my DoorDash customers tipped me it did not increase my payout, I still typically earned more on DoorDash orders than on orders for Uber Eats and Postmates.

But obviously what happened was that customers seized on the fact that their tips weren’t increasing the delivery guy’s pay, and they were mad.

I do think that in the long run, anything that increases the scrutiny of this underregulated industry will eventually contribute to better work conditions. Or at least I hope so.

thenewyorktimes6 karma

And I also think that with renewed focus on DoorDash, they will be (somewhat!) less likely to roll out a system that leaves drivers making less $.

DoorDash said this week that their contributions to drivers -- that is, the amount that they paid out of their pocket, as opposed to the amount the customer tipped -- was the same under the pre-2017 flat-rate system (where driver earnings increased by the exact amount a customer tipped) as it was under the just-ditched system. That may be an indication that whatever the new system is, DoorDash will continue to keep its contributions level. Though of course I'm just speculating.