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Food for thought: Planning for on-demand food deliveries


The on-demand food delivery industry has put thousands of new vehicles onto the roads, adding to pollution and congestion. Planners need to factor he industry into their plans, argues Georgia Corr

London, like most global cities, has seen an unprecedented increase in the past five years of on-demand food delivery services. The British Takeaway Campaign’s 2017 Takeaway Economy Report predicted that the UK’s market would continue its growth trajectory, rising to £11.2 billion by 2021.

How these deliveries are fulfilled in London is under-reported and poorly understood. The only study quantifying how these journeys were being made was conducted by Transport for London in 2007. It highlighted that powered two-wheelers (P2Ws) accounted for 92 per cent of journeys.

But since 2013 a new business model of food delivery has emerged where companies build their own logistic networks through supplying their own riders.

I conducted research as an MSc transport planning student, for which I was awarded the Transport Planning Society’s 2019 annual bursary. For my paper, Food for Thought, I conducted online surveys and semi-structured interviews with on-demand food delivery riders in London to learn what influences their choice of vehicle.

“Deliveroo has been actively prioritising motors over muscles since July 2019”

Most journeys were by P2Ws (52 per cent), followed by bicycles at 35 per cent. A range of factors influenced their choice, from prevailing transport norms, to the rider’s employment status and the travel benefits they have, or lack access to, down to factors such as the affordability and range of vehicles.  

The study suggests that Deliveroo has been actively prioritising motors over muscles since July 2019, with the introduction of ‘vehicle priority’ – a new consideration that Deliveroo’s algorithm FRANK takes into account when allocating shifts. This deems motorised transport – cars and P2Ws – more efficient than bicycles. As a consequence, 18 per cent of riders who cycled were considering switching to a moped. Yet, because of their small stature and the minimal road space they take up, the environmental impact of P2Ws often goes unnoticed.

My research, presented at the Transport Planning Day conference on 16 November 2020, recommends a range of remedies, from prioritising cycle parking over carriageway P2W parking space outside takeaway hotspots to reviewing the use class of establishments, along with a range of actions that planners could take to promote more sustainable transport choices.

Read more about Georgia’s research on the Transport Planning Society blog.

Georgia Corr is a transport planner with the London Borough of Ealing

Image credit | iStock


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