People Powered: How To Become a Delivery Driver

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It’s never been easier to get your foot in the door in the logistics sector. While juggernauts like UPS and FedEx seemed to have a monopoly on parcel delivery alongside the United States Postal Service, their time in the sun is slowly blotting out as start-ups encroach on their decades-old market share. Indeed, with a few smartphone apps, registration, a car, and a good driving record, you can get started making your own rounds today. Like… right now, if you wanted. That’s how wide the door’s been swung open.

With humanity’s interest in making every experience personalized, instant, and integrated on the Internet, there has been a growing need for delivery drivers but the traditional companies have been stuck in their cycles, doing what they’ve done for as long as they can remember. Now, a new age of delivery is here, and now anyone can be a part of it. Whether it’s getting delicious food to hungry customers or helping some bar-hoppers finally get home after a fun night out, there’s tons of ways technology is handing over life’s keys back to savvy drivers.

If you’re looking to get your feet wet as a courier who calls their own shots (that is, your schedule, fare, and the runs you’re willing to make), I encourage you to read on. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next big start-up with your own delivery ideas for your neighborhood or, at the very least, a successful side gig that gives back not only to you, but your community too. Here’s three main ways to get you started.


Local Food Delivery Services

Picture this scenario: you get home from a long day of work, dragging your feet across the threshold of the front door, barely able to get to the couch let alone start making your own dinner. You’re sick of pizza and Chinese takeout, but you really don’t want to go out again and, of course, your meal’s not gonna make itself. Trust me, you’re not alone in this struggle. There are a few cities (especially those with higher college student populations), however, that no longer know the pain of indecision and limited food options.

Enter third-party food delivery companies either with their own in-house or subcontracted drivers. Where some restaurants simply don’t have the money or infrastructure to offer delivery services, companies like VikingFood in Bellingham, Washington or Speedy Singh’s Delivery in Mankato, Minnesota help bridge the gap between eatery and the stay-at-home diner.

While both are pretty straightforward services, adding delivery options to restaurants that are traditionally lacking any in exchange for a few extra bucks in delivery costs for the customer, their impact goes beyond just feeding the masses. Services like these build their communities in a handful of ways, exposing diners to a wider range of cuisines (and, in turn, encouraging them to check the store out if their delivery experience was great), keeping costs down while bringing in new business for partnered restaurants, as well as employing local drivers to help (literally) spin the wheels of these grand delivery machines.

In VikingFood’s case, their drivers are subcontracted through Delivery Drivers, Inc. (or DDI), whereas Speedy Singh’s prefers using their own stable of food couriers. The latter also offers catering delivery too for some restaurants, further expanding on options both for local food businesses and customers. But not all food delivery innovation comes in the form of a friendly neighborhood subcontractor.

Sometimes it’s less an issue of delivery and more about starting an order. What good is having a fleet of delivery drivers anyway if your customers have no online portal to interact with? Tech start-up ChowNow answers that question with specialized web-based food ordering software, perfect for restaurants who need their own online point-of-sales service. This mobile-friendly software suite goes above and beyond just an ordering interface for potential customers; it even gives managers analytics and marketing stats so that they know important factors like average order size and value, delivery time, and order quantities over time.

Since they partnered with UberRUSH (Uber’s package delivery arm we’ll get to later on), ChowNow has enabled over 3,000 restaurants to offer online ordering and delivery services of their own. Intent on allowing restaurants do what they do best (that is, making food), ChowNow also works with UberRUSH and Postmates to organize delivery services like that of the VikingFood and Speedy Singh’s. Moreover, by emphasizing liability for deliveries on the drivers and not the restaurants, these services ensure safe, speedy delivery by their drivers while taking the stress and customer service inquiries off the backs of the chefs. Again, the restaurants get to do what they do best, while allowing drivers and their companies to do what they do best: drive.

But food delivery isn’t the only avenue for self-employed delivery drivers.


Point A/B Drivers

Whether or not you have a car, sometimes you’re just not in the mood (or capacity) to drive yourself around. Short of a good buddy or a patient sibling or spouse, your options are pretty limited to either as far as your legs can carry you or as long as the bus line may go. Regardless of automobile ownership, if you’ve got a working set of ears and access to a television or computer, you’ve probably heard of Uber, the innovative answer to your transportation needs.

Started by two friends in 2008 as a simple idea to “tap a button, get a ride.” From that seed blossomed an empire that stretches across 475 cities, letting industrious self-starter drivers volunteer to help locals get from point A to point B. For those unfamiliar, Uber acts as a bridge between drivers and riders; a rider requests a pick-up via Uber’s app which is then sent out to any drivers on duty in the vicinity. A driver interested in taking on the job using the same app then accepts the request, and whisks the rider away to their destination for a fare the driver determines.

This model is perfect for adults with great driving records and working car looking to earn money scaled by how often they’re willing to work, building their own schedule and revenue by providing great service and remaining consistent. Competitor Lyft, which offers similar “people-powered” taxi services, even says drivers can make up to $35 USD an hour making rounds while Uber, in addition to cash incentive, also offers various discounts on automobile maintenance, phone plans, and insurance to make being a driver even more lucrative.

On a larger scale, this service has helped employ hundreds of people who don’t have many options, especially while waiting in between callbacks from job interviews. Not only does it help make money for these drivers while saving riders money by providing alternative transportation for higher priced taxis or time by skipping the bus or walking, Uber’s services help foster community with its company Code of Conduct (for both drivers and riders), cuts down on drunk driving, and makes cities more sustainable by reducing automobile pollution. Uber’s new carpooling service uberPOOL, for example, saved its Los Angeles and Chengdu customers over 674,000 miles in travel — equivalent to 27 trips around the world — in a single month.

What’s most astonishing (and, in part, heartwarming) about both companies and others like them is that they play to the fundamental belief of human kindness, building community by helping one’s neighbors. While Uber and Lyft act as business mediators between two parties, both sides are just everyday people going about their lives, catching rides with one another and giving people a chance to know the others who live around them. In fact, Lyft is so enraptured by this idea that they’ve taken to recruiting brand ambassadors who act as a crowdsourced marketing team, referring business and new drivers to the program while passionately spreading the word about this new era of transportation.

While there are plenty in the cities who take taxi drivers for granted, the number of self-employed drivers like them and others still grows exponentially alongside these companies. But it still doesn’t stop here.

Third Party Couriers

If self-employed drivers can deliver food to your house, why not packages too? Certainly, the big names still exist, but the new kids like Uber and Postmates aren’t content with the status quo, believing they can do even better.

Much like the original mission of getting from point A to point B, UberRUSH uses self-employed drivers to deliver packages as couriers rather than people as taxi drivers. Though the service is limited to San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City, UberRUSH and services like it are becoming great delivery alternatives for small businesses — especially if those small businesses have an interest in promoting their local economy. Using the Uber API, customers can watch their packages be delivered in real-time on their phones, giving unprecedented visual feedback on exactly where their order is (conversely, even now as I write this, I still have no idea where my UPS package is, just that it’s “Out for Delivery,” wherever that may be… or, sometimes, might not).

It’s this intimacy — that is, the customer’s ability to watch the process of their order from start to finish — that Postmates likes to call “on-demand urban logistics” that continues to push innovation in this direction, not only tailoring the experience for the customers, but for the drivers out in the field as well. As more and more people grow use to the instant gratification and widespread connection that the Internet and technology offers, the more these personalized delivery trends will continue to grow. Conversely, it’s interesting too to see how this affects workers in the same sector, giving them more control in how they work and lowering the barrier to enter the industry as an entrepreneur.

Even with all the maps, apps, a car, and a valid license, all that’s needed now are capable drivers to fill the ranks of these fleets. Whether you’re looking for a side job or to live your dream as a delivery driver, the ignition’s in your hands now.


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