How our streets look is perhaps what changed most dramatically in this pandemic. Unfortunately, the bright blue skies from the beginning of the lockdown are no longer so clear now that people use their cars much more again. But it is still notably quieter in the streets. Some of the international press seems to think the Netherlands never had a lockdown but that is simply not true. A lot of our society has stopped and although we can again go to the hairdresser, places like theatres, cinemas and restaurants remain closed. Especially that leads to a very visible change in the streets at nights.
Little by little things are starting up again after the so-called “intelligent lockdown”. Primary schools reopened partly. Physiotherapists, the hairdressers I mentioned earlier and other professions with direct human contact started two weeks ago. On 1 June at noon bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen. That will make a huge difference, because that will give people a reason to go on the streets again. So far, restaurants were only allowed to serve take-away food. I was raised in a society where you just went to a place to pick up the Chinese food or the fries yourself (that was about all the choice there was), but apparently that makes me hopelessly old-fashioned: nowadays people have food delivered to their homes. As it turns out, most of those deliveries happen by bicycle. Every night in the past few weeks the city was teeming with delivery bicycles at dinner time! In the otherwise quiet streets such an increase in the number of bike delivery boys and girls really stood out. I decided to document this phenomenon in a video. I did see one or two people who like me did get their own food from one of the restaurants, riding home with it themselves. I included one man in the video.
The vast majority of the deliveries here in ʼs-Hertogenbosch are done by a company with orange as its signature colour. Indeed, that could only be a Dutch firm, now also active in other countries. Their name in English is takeaway.com but funnily enough their original Dutch name means the exact opposite: “home delivered” or Thuisbezorgd.nl. The second largest company locally is Deliveroo. The main difference being that Deliveroo riders use their own bicycles while the Takeaway riders all use similar e-bikes provided for them. Which company the riders prefer to work for apparently comes down to personal motivations. Both companies transport the meals in an isolated back pack and both work for a number of restaurants which are not connected. That is also how Uber Eats works, but they do not operate in this area. Some restaurant chains have their own delivery service. Most notably in this city are New York Pizza (A Dutch franchise), Kings of Wok, Domino’s Pizza and Subway. All those restaurants happen to use bicycles with a crate on the front, the back or even both.
Food delivery by bicycle may seem like a very good idea, but there are some negative aspects. Restaurants have to pay a lot to join the service and riders on the other hand get little. There was also some controversy about the safety of the riders after a 15-year-old boy was killed in Utrecht. Instead of pointing at the speeding car driver under influence the focus in the press went straight to the riders’ behaviour. (Dutch reactions to crashes are unfortunately not so different from the rest of the world. There is victim blaming here too.) The boy was working at a time that he wasn’t allowed to; 15-year-olds cannot legally work in the early morning before 7am or in the evening after 7pm. The labour inspectorate would like the minimum age for bicycle deliveries to be raised to 16 because they feel riding in traffic with food is too dangerous for children. A majority of the legislators seems to agree but the deputy minister has no intention to change the law just yet. Not all organisations representing young people agree either. Some companies already use the minimum age of 16 (most notably the biggest one Takeaway). Most riders are employed by the companies they ride for and they usually get the legal minimum wage. Only Deliveroo and Uber Eats have riders who are “self-employed” and they do not get a minimum wage. In a lawsuit by the trade unions the court ruled that that is illegal in the Netherlands. But Deliveroo appealed and still uses that system. The last word is not said there yet. Politicians are keeping an eye out to see whether the riders are treated well and can safely do their job. Most seem very happy to make a bit of extra money. For the city environment bicycle riders are of course much nicer than vans, as you can see for yourself in the video.
This week’s video: Many more food deliveries by bicycle during the Corona crisis.
Music: Isolation Swing by Admiral Bob (c) copyright 2020 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/admiralbob77/61465 Ft: SmoJos