Three years ago, the food delivery service Uber Eats commenced operations in Japan. Customers are happy about it because the service does not impose a minimum price on food orders. The restaurants supplying the foods like it because they can cut back on their number of in-house delivery staff and also reduce outlays for delivery vehicles -- not to mention how it enables expansion of their delivery areas. And the Uber Eats "partners" who contract with the service are happy because it allows them to work at the time and place of their choosing.
Why, you could almost call it a win-win-win situation, says cycling journalist Satoshi Hikita. But...
Writing in Spa! (July 16-23), Hikita unleashes a salvo at the service. Recently, he has learned, the partners have put issued new demands regarding their fee structure as well as accident compensation. Last month, they had just announced the forming of a labor union.
Among the responses to these moves was a barrage of criticism about their "reckless" cycling.
"Guys on bicycles with big carrying cases on their backs have zipped past me and rammed my rearview mirror," relates a 58-year-old taxi driver-owner. "It's happened twice, and both times neither of them offered so much as an 'excuse me.'
"I see them ignoring traffic signals, riding in the opposite direction from the traffic, turning towards me on a major 3-lane street," he continued, adding, "If I see the word 'Uber' on their bag, I'm put immediately on my guard."
Tokyoite Eiko Yamamoto (a pseudonym), age 40, was run down and injured while aboard her bicycle by an Uber Eats rider earlier this year.
"When he hit me broadside, he was pedaling like crazy while looking at his smart phone," she relates. "My child was seated behind me. We were knocked down and I was pinned under my bicycle. He was really heavy, and I couldn't get back up, but fortunately people nearby came to my rescue."
Yamamoto suffered ligament damage to her knee.
"He just got up, without even apologizing, and called the police emergency number," she tells the magazine. "First he called his company to report the accident and they arranged cancel the food delivery. And that was it."
When Hikita approached the Uber Eats delivery agent about the accident, he was told that training does not go into detail about traffic regulations and the agents are merely advised to "ride cautiously."
"We do have a manual that instructs about how to deal with accidents, but I didn't have my copy with me that day," the man said. "I was put in contact with the insurance company and we worked things out."
Yamamoto eventually received 50,000 yen in compensation. The Uber agent was temporarily suspended, but Hikita determined he is back on the saddle on a part-time basis.
Nor are these troubles confined to Tokyo -- they may even be worse in regional cities. According to a reporter in Kansai, Uber Eats service in Kyoto is said to be particularly problematic because of the city's narrow streets.
"For us, safety is given top priority," a spokesperson for Uber Japan informed the writer when approached for a response. "Up to now we have regularly sent out mails and held events concerning this. We also tied up with the police last spring and conducted lectures."
Especially considering that more of Japan's younger generation are giving up driving cars, Hikita is of the opinion that Japan should emulate such countries as Germany and Denmark and require cyclists to attend courses in traffic safety.
"That goes for Uber agents as well," he remarked, especially because since they are legally regarded as self-employed individuals, the company is not held responsible for any accidents they cause.
Since a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, Spa accompanies its article with two photos. In the first, a cyclist appearing to be an Uber Eats delivery agent shoots across a pedestrian crosswalk while ignoring the "Don't Walk" signal. In the other, an agent is shown weaving between pedestrians on a sidewalk while viewing his smart phone.© Japan Today