The hail bounces on my face when I pedal my bike up the seemingly never ending hill Götgatspuckeln in Södermalm, Stockholm.
It is cold, wet and payday for Swedes.
On my back is the big square-boxed bag from Uber Eats. I am on my way to yet another day at work as a bike courier in my quest to find answers to how the conditions really are for those who work for the new and popular food delivery companies; Uber Eats and Foodora.
Very few people in Stockholm can have failed to notice them: The guys on bicycles who deliver freshly prepared food directly from restaurants to the door within 45 minutes.
In a short time four companies have launched in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm. The companies are Foodora from Germany, Uber Eats from the United States, Wolt from Finland and the Swedish company Hungring.se. Both Foodora and Wolt have Swedish stakeholder interests through the families Stenbeck (via Kinnevik) and Wallenberg (via the venture capital company EQT).
In the Swedish public debate, “simple jobs” are often emphasized as the solution to high unemployment among low-skilled workers. Platform companies – those who use technology to connect customers with sellers – are one of the hottest trends in today’s business environment. The “Gig Economy” where there are no employees, only contractors, is now a common concept in the tech community.
Meanwhile, the testimonies of abysmal wages, tough work and bad working conditions have been featured in a series of newspaper articles about the new food players on the market.
The testimonies have often stayed at one, or a few, bike couriers – often anonymously – informing about the work conditions.
However, the companies that have been scrutinized have rejected the criticism.
To find out how it really is, Breakit decided to take the matter into our own hands.
For two weeks, I have been working as a bike courier at the two leading companies: Foodora and Uber Eats.
Is it possible to order food to your door with good conscience? 390 kilometres and 86 deliveries later we have an answer to the question.
Uber Eats – The pursuit of a decent salary
Hours worked: 18 hours and 21 minutes
Number of shifts: 7
Distance cycled: 172 kilometres
Average salary per hour before tax: 39 SEK/$4.4
Just a few days after applying online I receive an email. It is urgent, according to Uber Eats, which tells me to hurry before the positions are taken.
“Press the button to book a meeting with us and we will help you get going and earn money”, the email states.
I book the first available time.
Two days later I enter Uber Eats office, housed in a typical residential building in Södermalm. There are a handful of other men waiting with me, who all want that same thing: To earn money.
It takes an hour for Uber’s representative to explain how it all works. Then, one by one, we go into a room for a short job interview.
I'm nervous. I've used my real identity, and my public role as a Breakit journalist is just a single Google-search away.
Finally, my name is called.
At the other side of the table is a plump guy in his 30’s in a garish zigzag patterned shirt. He has a laidback way and calls me “bro” all the time.
Uber’s recruiter does a quick background check on me, and he says that it is based on the register of criminal records.
After a few short questions about why I want to work for Uber Eats, the very last question comes.
“So, do you want to start driving for Uber Eats?”, the guy in the shirt asks.
There is a question I want answered first, however. How much will I earn?
“Those who drive a lot, perhaps 50 hours a week, can earn 10 000 SEK ($1,100)”, is the answer I receive.
I ask if he means 10 000 SEK a week, as I was told that the salary payments were made weekly.
“No, a month”, the guy in the zigzag shirt answers.
For comparison, renting a one bedroom apartment in Stockholm costs between $1,000 and $1,500 per month. According to the Swedish Central Statistics Agency, the average wage for people with only elementary school education is almost $2.800.
Uber Eats do not pay a fixed hourly salary. Instead, each delivery generates an amount based on a mathematical formula.
A few minutes later I am out on the street with a brand-new Uber Eats-bag on my back. To receive the delivery box, I pay a deposit of 500 SEK, which will be offset against future income.
I must pay for the bicycle myself, as well as an essential power bank for my smartphone battery. I start my work in the red.
My heart is beating hard when I stand at “Norrmalms torg”, and go online for the first time in Uber’s app.
“Let’s do it” I think to myself, I am prepared for a lunch shift filled with action, which according to Uber Eats is one of the best times to drive.
I am standing in one of the hotspots that Uber Eats, through a map, has advised me to work in.
The time is 11:00 am.
The minutes go by. My eyes are fixated on my smartphone the entire time. After half an hour, I get my very first order.
I quickly pedal to the trendy restaurant Hawaii Poke on “Mäster Samuelsgatan” and pick up two bowls of food and pack them in my big box.
The food is bound for “Sveavägen”.
Nine minutes later I have, with a genuine smile, delivered my first order. A food delivery for a woman working at an advertising agency.
Hungry for more, I jump on my bike and head out on “Sveavägen”, back toward the hotspot at the intersection of Östermalm and City.
Then a long wait begins.
I ride, just as the recruiter said, around to all the hotspots. Östermalm. Kungsholmen. Fridhemsplan. Södermalm.
I keep doing this until the time hits 1:30 pm. Without a single order to deliver. My first shift is a financial failure.
I am absolutely freezing and decide to wait until the date of the Swedish peoples’ payday as the market should be better then.
April 25th – one of those days when it snows, rains and hails alternately all day – I try again. To attract as many cyclists as possible, Uber Eats has sent a text message.
“Hello Erik! Today you are guaranteed 300 SEK per hour in “generated amount” when you deliver with Uber Eats during 11:00 am – 1:00 pm & 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm. Hope to see you online!”.
It sounds too good to be true, I think while the rain pours down through my helmet.
And so, it is. The message is what most people would consider “misleading”.
When I review the fine print, which is found inside Ubers app, it appears that the guaranteed amount is only paid under certain conditions. The most important thing is that I must be able to complete one delivery an hour during lunchtime and 1,5 deliveries per hour in the evening shift.
Let us also consider the concept of “generated amount”. It works like this:
Each delivery generates a certain amount of money based on pickup location, mileage and delivery location.
Uber takes 30 percent of this amount.
The middle man PaySalary, which formally recruits Uber Eats bike couriers, then deducts employer fees as well as an administrative fee of 3.3 percent.
A statuary holiday entitlement of 12 percent is added.
After this, a 30 percent tax is deducted.
To summarize: If I am guaranteed a payment of 300 SEK, that translates to an hourly pay after fees, but before taxes, of just over 150 SEK plus holiday entitlement. That’s just short of 17 dollars an hour.
Back to the road. Bad weather and Swedish payday should mean loads of deliveries, I think while I cycle up “Götgatan”. After half an hour, my first order comes. I am picking up at “Hornsgatan” and delivering to an address on “Östgötagatan”.
After two hours, I have delivered three orders, which means that I have completed the guaranteed level during my lunch shift.
My shoes are cold and wet while waiting online at “Medborgarplatsen” for my evening shift. The clothes did not have time to dry, even though I had been cycling in rainwear.
However, I have been able to warm up in Breakit’s editorial office for a couple of hours. Many of the other bike couriers for Uber Eats have been out all day.
The pursuit of the “guaranteed” pay takes me, via a delivery to “Hornstull” and then to “Fridhemsplan”. I am cycling down to Phil’s Burger, one of the top selling restaurants in the app. Uber eats gives the order to the courier who is closest to the restaurant.
No orders arrive.
The streets are filled with men with bikes and Uber Eats-boxes on their backs. Some of them have mopeds.
“I came here for the ‘guarantee’, but there are a lot of others who have also come for it”, an Uber Eats bike courier tells me in poor Swedish.
He has not received any deliveries at all when the time is approaching 7 pm. In that case his salary is down to zero.
In one last attempt, I ride my bike back to “Medborgarplatsen”. I finally get an order there. The time has passed 8 pm.
The order consists of an exclusive truffle burger. The smell makes my stomach scream for food. I am hungry, cold and in need of a toilet. I use the restaurant’s restroom before I hit the road again.
Imagine if the person who ordered the food is not home. I would get to keep the food then. Unfortunately, that is not the case. With a forced smile, I wish a pleasant meal to the man who is going to eat the tasty burger.
I have been working for six hours and cycled 50 kilometres through the worst possible weather.
The app states that I have earned 453 SEK ($51), after Uber’s fee. On that, the employers fee, PaySalary’s fee and taxes will be deducted.
My weeks as a bike courier for Uber continues with a lot of waiting and occasional deliveries. I deliver the orders fast, in hope that the algorithm in the app favours fast couriers.
In between my deliveries I meet many others. We have the same box on our back and have plenty of time to talk, but we are divided by an abyss.
I am out on the streets completely without financial pressure. Breakit pays my salary. My new acquaintances however, many of whom I meet on several occasions, cycle to make money for food and accommodation.
Many of them are immigrants and are looking for a better future. I meet very few who can speak Swedish.
I only meet one person who seems to be happy with working for Uber Eats. He is from one of the former Soviet states – and hopes to be able to study in Sweden.
Now, he is out in the neighbourhoods around “Medborgarplatsen” every day, seven days a week on a rickety bike. The app premiers those who are online for a long time, he says.
Usually he starts his working day at 10 am and works until 10 pm. On Sundays, the work shift is not as long.
“I hope to earn 6000 SEK this month”, the Uber Eats bike courier says.
Are you happy with that? I ask.
“Yes, that is good”.
Most of the other bike couriers, however, share my own opinion. It is not possible to make a decent salary working for Uber Eats. The deliveries are too few. Most of them want to start working for Wolt or Foodora, which pays better.
My seven work shifts at Uber lasted for 18 hours and 21 minutes. In total, I cycled over 170 kilometres. Doing this, I earned 712 SEK ($80) before tax.
That corresponds to an hourly salary of almost 39 SEK, almost $4.4, per hour.
Foodora: Do you deserve the pink clothes?
Hours of work: 24 hours and 5 minutes
Number of shifts: 6
Distance travelled: 219 kilometres
Average salary per hour before tax: 168,30 SEK/$18.9
Foodora’s recruiter looks straight into the eyes of the young man and asks a question in front of us all:
“Why are you applying for a job as a bike courier if you do not like to go fast?”.
It feels like the classic master suppression technique – selecting one person from the group and putting him or her against the wall in front of all the others. The young man’s answer to how far, and in what time, he normally rides a day does not satisfy the Foodora representative.
It's in the afternoon of April 18th and we're in Foodora’s garage in Östermalm, Stockholm. It is time for onboarding for new bike couriers. There is me, two young guys, and one more middle-aged man who have gathered in the dirty garage.
We have all completed a telephone interview, and been considered suitable candidates. We quickly get down to business: a bike test run. I will only get the job if I complete it in time.
My name is called first, and I get to draw a small piece of paper from a pink Foodora-helmet.
On the leaflet is the address “Sveavägen 34” and the name of a restaurant, Flames.
The recruiter gives me some simple instructions.
“Cycle there, and take a selfie in front of Flames and come back here”.
My heart rate increases immediately. I do not know how much time I have got. But I know that our article will fail if cannot complete the test.
I enter the address in Google Maps, jump on my bike and head down towards “Strandvägen”.
I am cycling fast.
I cycle through a red light in front of the Royal Dramatic Theatre and turn onto Birger Jarlsgatan. I continue and turn left onto Kungsgatan. Left turns are prohibited, but I don’t have the time to care. I am in a hurry.
A couple of minutes later I take two selfies just in case. Instead of taking the same route back I take a narrow pedestrian tunnel, “Tunnelgatan”, under the hill that separates Norrmalm and Östermalm.
My pulse is beating – now from exhaustion.
I show the selfie and try to hide my obvious breathlessness, and get a thumbs up.
It took 8 minutes. The deadline was 14 minutes.
“How did you get back so fast?”, the recruiter asks.
“I know this city”, I answer and tell him about the pedestrian subway – which impresses him.
The job is mine.
We sign a contract straight away. I am hired directly by Foodora’s Swedish subsidiary. My salary will be 70 SEK per hour plus 20 SEK per delivery. On weekends, there is no hourly salary but instead 75 SEK per delivery. All numbers are before tax, but before statutory holiday entitlement of 12 percent.
The recruiter tells me that I will probably earn around 120 to 150 SEK, ($13.5–16.9), per hour on weekdays, and between 150 to 300 SEK per hour at weekends.
Unlike Uber, the work is done through scheduled shifts.
The recruiter concludes by saying that we now must show that we deserve to wear Foodora’s characteristic pink clothes.
A few days later, I pick up a pink t-shirt, a waterproof jacket, a helmet and a power bank at Foodora’s headquarters.
It is Thursday evening April 27th when I wear my new jacket for the first time. I take my bike and go to the garage to pick up one of the pink bags.
The weather is much better than the previous days when I was cycling for Uber. The cherry blossoms dress the King’s Garden in pink.
Before the work shift, I have been asking around in Foodora’s group chat about what areas are that the best.
“At Foodora, all areas are good. You will get orders continuously”, a courier from my team answers quickly.
As soon as my shift starts – the pickup of the Foodora bag and the ride towards the starting point in “Gamla stan” is outside of working hours – my first order arrives.
A minute later a new order shows up. It is a so-called “double order”.
First, I pick up traditional Swedish food from the restaurant at the top of the department store NK. Then my next delivery is from Vigårda in the shopping mall “Mood-gallerian”. In the app, I notice that I only have ten minutes to deliver the food. I cycle past “Kungsträdgården” and start my four-hour shift for Foodora.
My Foodora colleague was right. Throughout the evening I keep getting orders continuously. The contrast to Uber Eats is huge, and after two hours I start to wonder if I have the strenght to finish the evening or if I will bring shame to Foodora’s pink colours.
I remove layer after layer of clothing as my shift goes on, and put them in the side compartment of my big Foodora bag. I am sweating a lot – and I am starting to feel the miles pedaled.
When the time reaches 8:30 pm I go into autopilot mode. I stop thinking. Dish after dish goes into my bag and gets delivered home to customers. Some deliveries take me to the far end of Kungsholmen, at the edge of the city centre.
At the end of the shift I get a short break from deliveries – and take a breather.
The recruiter has said that we have to accept deliveries, even though they come five minutes before our work shifts end.
I am in Vasastan at dusk, hoping that there won’t be any deliveries during my last 15 minutes working.
But like an uninvited guest, the order arrives at five minutes to ten. It is quite extensive. When I have picked up the food at the restaurant and delivered it to the customer near Stockholm stadium, a couple of miles from the pick-up point. My work shift is over at the same moment as I confirm that the food has been delivered.
The time is 10:08 pm and I still have one mile left to get back to Foodora’s garage. I have been told to always drop off the Foodora bag there after my work shift. That means about 15 minutes of work that I do not get paid for.
When I exit the garage, I am tired, but proud that I managed to complete 13 deliveries in just four hours.
The evening should generate a salary of 561 SEK, equivalent to 130 SEK per hour ( $14.6).
Although early in my Foodora career, I already receive plenty of emails and phone calls from the company. One of the phone calls comes from the recruiter, who seems to be my boss.
In the garage, he quickly told us about the performance metrics that Foodora use on their employees.
Since our activity is constantly recorded by the app, including GPS-data, the company can measure exactly how well all bike couriers are performing.
My boss tells me over the phone that he will have regular conversations with me about these data measurements. It will help me improve my weaknesses, he says.
As I understand it, among things measured are:
#The average speed during deliveries.
#The time taken to accept each order.
#The time from arriving at the customer’s address until the delivery is completed.
It is clear that Foodora is trying to get bike couriers to feel proud of their performance.
One day, I receive an email with a large “score card” where both the teams and individual bike couriers are ranked according to Foodora’s metrics. A girl in my team “Road RuNNers” is the best in Stockholm, which sets of a big response in our group chat.
The best team in Sweden was the team “Fierce Cheetas” in Uppsala.
Foodora also runs competitions to spur us.
The prize in the big team competition “RC Challenge” is money for a team event.
“Just like every football player dreams of winning the Champions League, every hockey player of winning Stanley cup or every golf player winning a couple of Majors, every bike courier dreams of winning the RC Challenge with the team”, Foodora writes in an email to me.
It is not enough to be fast, they say.
“There is nothing more devastating to a team’s chances than not showing up to your work shifts, spending too much team at customers or having too long reaction time”.
Those who miss a work shift receive a warning. After three warnings you are out.
The contract runs month by month, which in practice gives Foodora the opportunity to choose which employees will remain in the company on a continuous basis.
My work for Foodora continues at a high pace, with at least three deliveries an hour. Kungsholmen and Östermalm are the dominating areas. Sometimes I am in Södermalm.
After my two weeks as a Foodora bike courier I am starting to know the routes to most restaurants. I return to popular restaurants, such as Phil’s Burger and Vapiano, several times during my shifts.
While waiting for a pizza to be ready at Vapiano, three other Foodora couriers come and pick up food.
There are hundreds of people wearing the pink clothes, according to a message almost 300 people have access to the bicycle garage.
One Saturday night in Södermalm I meet a very fit young man who is doing a double work shift.
He started at lunch and will end his shift around 9 pm. After five hours, he has completed 21 deliveries, which generates a salary of almost 300 SEK ($34) per hour.
How can they schedule him in such a long shift, I wonder.
“I am doing a double work shift. I have been working for Foodora a long time, so they know what I am capable of”, my Foodora colleague tells me.
At Uber, I did not meet anyone who had worked for more than a month. At Foodora, I have meet several people who have been working for more than six months.
I can complete four deliveries per hour sometimes. But usually it ends up being three.
At weekends, it means an hourly salary of 225 SEK, $25, before tax. On weekdays, I usually earn just over 130 SEK, $14.6, per hour.
It is not too bad, by Swedish part-time standards
With a slight feeling of anxiety, I start my longest shift so far, 4 hours and 45 minutes.
When the shift is over, I do not feel like a football player in the Champions League. However, the contrast to the boredom during the shifts with Uber Eats is significant.
It is now Saturday, May 6th, and my last shift for Foodora is just minutes away. I keep contact with Stefan Lundell, Breakit’s co-founder and my boss, through the phone. I have persuaded him to participate as a bike courier this Saturday evening.
I had planned to complete all shifts myself. But for us to get enough work shifts done before the deadline for this article, I have asked him to help.
We install the app on Stefan’s mobile phone in a matter of minutes.
As a bonus, we get a comparison: The same evening working for both Uber and Foodora.
It shows that in practice anyone can use my Uber account, which raises questions about how much the company really knows about the couriers.
By now I have gotten used to cycling over 40 kilometers per shift and deliver food to customers in a fast pace without any problems or complaints.
Almost all my shifts for Foodora have ended with late orders, making the shifts longer than expected.
Many colleagues feel the same thing, and therefore ignore these deliveries.
At the time of my last work shift, Foodora has started an aggressive campaign: Free delivery for the customers – which should mean even more orders.
When I make my 14 deliveries that night, I am less stressed than before. I have learnt to rest a little at the restaurants when there is time left until pick up – and speed up when the bag is full of food.
At 8:45 pm I meet Stefan Lundell outside of Breakit’s editorial office, and check his Uber app that is running through my account.
We make a comparison.
In just over four hours I have earned 1050 SEK before tax.
Stefan only received two deliveries during his three hours online for Uber Eats. That gives a salary before tax, after Uber’s and PaySalary’s fees, of about 100 SEK.
When I cycle home, I think about the question that led me to do this investigation: Can you order home delivery of food with a good conscience?
My hope is that this piece will help you answer that question.
Erik Wisterberg, former bike courier for Foodora and Uber Eats.
Do you have more information? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You have the right to be anonymous.