Uber Eats courier Spencer Thompson is shown in Toronto on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Uber Eats courier Spencer Thompson is shown in Toronto on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

‘I’m making so little’: Uber Eats couriers say new pay system dropped wages

The new system Uber brought in lowered base fares and started including a trip supplement

$3.99

It’s enough to buy a loaf of bread or two litres of milk, but far from Ontario’s $14.25 minimum hourly wage.

And yet Uber Eats couriers working in the province say they’re earning as little as $3.99 per trip before tips, months after the food delivery service implemented a new pay policy in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m making so little now that I’m thinking what is the point of even getting out there if I’m just going to make this much and it’s getting worse?” said Spencer Thompson, a Toronto man who has been dropping off meals for Uber Eats since 2016.

He spent hours tabulating his 2020 pay and discovered what so many of his fellow couriers have long suspected: their wages are shrinking at a time when people are relying on food delivery more than ever before.

Thompson, for example, made about $10 per trip — sometimes involving multiple stops — in January 2020, but by December, that had sank to as low as $3.99 per trip before tips.

The 60 per cent drop came in a year where Thompson worked in Toronto’s downtown core nearly every day of the week during the lunch and dinnertime windows, where pay tends to be higher. He averaged two or three trips an hour.

Couriers like Thompson, who are not formally employed by Uber but use its platform to pick up work, worry the situation could worsen and they’ll be left with few other job alternatives as COVID-19 continues to spread, unemployment remains high and companies increasingly see the benefits of the gig economy.

“We can’t let this go on and we can’t let this happen because if we do, then the future will be all work like this,” said Brice Sopher, an Uber Eats courier and organizer with the Gig Workers United union, who recalls making $9 or $10 per trip at the start of 2020, but now averages half that.

While couriers like Sopher and Thompson have long warned of the gig economy’s low pay, no job security and lack of coverage for injuries and sicknesses, their concerns became even more alarming after last June.

That was when Uber scrapped its earnings structure offering couriers fixed amounts based on pick ups, drop offs, distance and time and a series of bonuses for using the service during busy periods or in high-demand neighbourhoods. By taking advantages of bonuses and more rewarding orders, Thompson would land as much as $12.15 per trip before tips at the start of 2020.

The new system Uber brought in lowered base fares — totals couriers are offered to deliver an order that fluctuate based on time, distance, pickup and drop-offs — and started including a trip supplement to account for lengthy wait times at restaurants or distances couriers travelled to get there.

At first, the lowered base fares didn’t seem so bad because the company would offer high “boosts,” which multiplied courier earnings if they delivered food in areas seeing a surge in demand, said Sopher.

Under the new system, some workers were even making a little more than before, but slowly the boosts decreased, he recalled.

“They did it little by little, so that you wouldn’t notice,” he alleged. ‘But you would have this sneaking suspicion.”

The changes made tips more important than ever before, but customers are notoriously unreliable when it comes to tipping couriers, said Thompson. Some will be generous, while others avoid the extra handout altogether.

Uber, whose Eats service was first piloted in Toronto in 2015, said in an email to The Canadian Press that it made changes to its wage structure, including reducing base fares, to better reflect each trip’s total time, effort and distance and include travel to the restaurant.

The changes also involved upfront pricing, which shows couriers the guaranteed net amount they’ll earn for a delivery before they accept the trip, alongside other details like the restaurant name and drop off locations. This allows drivers to decline trips that they feel are priced too low.

A $3.99 trip, the company said, is extremely short in duration and one priced at that amount with two stops is quite rare but can happen.

“Uber Eats is committed to transparency in pricing: before a delivery person accepts a trip, they are able to see the expected earnings for each trip. And, as always, 100% of tips go directly into their accounts,” the company said in an email.

Sopher said he was disappointed with the changes because he and other couriers used to work 20 hours a week last spring and make $500, but now earns $300 over the same time span.

It’s not easy work either, he said. Being on a bike for long periods can be exhausting and visiting so many homes and restaurants puts couriers at more risk of picking up COVID-19.

“I feel enraged because it’s really profiteering during a pandemic,” he said.

“It’s what we’ve seen with a lot of major companies and with essential workers this pandemic really being told that they’re expendable workers. It’s pretty demoralizing.”

Sopher wants Uber to revert to pre-pandemic pay policies, while Thompson prefers a guaranteed minimum trip rate.

Thompson recently enrolled in a web development course in hopes of finding a more stable income source that will allow him to pursue his love of acting on the side.

He loves being out on his bike and is determined not to stop fighting for fair pay, but even he has a breaking point.

“I need to have something that can pay me much more per unit time and still give me time to do auditions … and I realized this is not a sustainable paid job,” he said.

“I just need to survive.”

ALSO READ: SkipTheDishes adds ‘tone-deaf’ $0.99 fee to B.C. delivery orders

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Uber

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
The Longhorn Saloon and Grill has opened its patio for outdoor diners. (Facebook photo)
Town of Ponoka launches new temporary seasonal patio program

The Town of Ponoka has launched a new Temporary Seasonal Patio Program… Continue reading

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

2019 Ponoka Stampede rodeo action. (File photo)
Chute not yet open for 2021 Ponoka Stampede

Ponoka Stampede Association still hopeful event can go ahead this year

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Most Read