China food-delivery services Meituan and Ele.me are dealing with public criticism that their automated platforms are putting too much time pressure on delivery drivers, leading to accidents and even deaths.
An article published by People magazine on its WeChat account described how competition has led the companies to tighten their delivery windows over time. As a result, some drivers end up engaging in unsafe driving, such as going through red lights or driving against the direction of traffic.
One consumer commenting online said the article revealed the "bloody truth" and criticised the companies for "unsympathetic calculation". Another said "we shouldn't let deliverers be trapped in the algorithm" while another said Meituan and Ele.me should be "more humanized".
In Shanghai, on average, one delivery driver dies every 2.5 days, according to the article, which cited police statistics. Because drivers are rated according to their on-time performance, some continue trying to finish their deliveries even after they've been involved in accidents, according to the article, which has reached more than 100,000 views and 53,000 likes on WeChat.
Both companies are being pressed to better explain how their algorithms determine the delivery time that they promise to the customer, as well as how they define the delivery person’s route and whether they take traffic conditions and weather into account.
Alibaba-owned Ele.me, one of the biggest food delivery platforms, said on its WeChat account that it will add a five-minute button—an option allowing customers to specify that they are willing to wait a little longer for their food. The company also said it won't penalise drivers who have a good historical record if they are late once in a while.
Just before publication of this article, Meituan released a statement saying it will give drivers flexibility of eight minutes for each delivery, and will take weather into consideration when determining target times.
According to the People article, delivery within 3 kilometres had a 60-minute limit in 2016, but this shrunk to 38 minutes in 2018 and fell by a further 10 minutes in 2019.