Let the hunger games begin: UberEats, the Uber for food delivery, has launched in London

Deliveroo deliverers. Image: Getty.

In my humble opinion, one of the best things about living in a city is that, with a few jabs at my phone, I can order most sorts of food directly to wherever I am. No calling and painstakingly reading out numbers from a paper menu. No leaving the house. No changing into respectable outdoor clothes.  

And over time, the number of ways to do so has increased dramatically. Takeaway mainstay JustEat was joined in London by Deliveroo in 2013, healthy food delivery service Pronto launched in 2014, Belgian start-up Take Eat Easy arrived this year – and this month, London becomes the 18th city to be served by Uber’s new food delivery app, UberEats.

Here’s your need-to-know:

1. No, you won’t share your next Uber ride with a pizza – UberEats will be delivered by bikes and scooters, not cabs.

2. You can't get it through the main Uber app it's a separate app called "UberEats". 

3. It’s launching with 150 restaurants on its books, from chains like Chilango and Hummus Bros to independent restaurants like Borough Market’s Fish!.

4. For now, you can only order to central London.

5. For now, there is no delivery fee, usually set at around £2-£3 by competitors. 

6. There’s no minimum order – this is unusual, as most delivery services and restaurants set a minimum of £15 or so…

7. ...and if your order costs £20 or less and takes more than half an hour to come, UberEats gives you £20 credit towards your next meal.

These last three points would ring alarm bells on any business plan. It's notoriously difficult to make delivery services profitable, and Deliveroo relies heavily on its partnerships with massive, popular chains like Nandos to make it work.

By not charging a fee, having no minimum order (you could, technically, order a can a Coke from a restaurant and nothing more) and giving out cash for late deliveries, Uber probably stands to lose money on the service, at least at first. 


Will those tricky margins have an effect on wages? Hard to say, but it's unlikely Uber will be handing out generous paychecks in these circumstances.

Uber's business model here appears to rely on killing the competition, even if it hits Uber financially – then ramping up delivery prices and times once it’s eaten (sorry) into Deliveroo and other competitors' business. 

So how easy will that be? A Business Insider piece reporting on Pronto’s launch noted that most restaurants were happy to send out food via multiple delivery services, though rising numbers may tax their patience. It would certainly be within the services’ interests to sign exclusivity deals with certain outlets or chains. 

UberEats may also need to lure riders from other services to meet demand. An Evening Standard preview of the service used a courier who said she previously worked for Deliveroo, but preferred UberEats’ “flexibility”. Yet riders working for either Uber or Deliveroo have few labour rights – and, at Deliveroo at least, wages below the London Living Wage. As with Uber’s car drivers, riders for both companies are described as “contractors” rather than employees.

The on-demand economy presents the lure of flexible working times to drivers and low prices and convenience to customers, but it revokes everything from holiday pay to job security in the process. As the UberEats launch shows, it's a race to the bottom in terms of price and convenience – and we need to make sure that isn’t taken out on those bringing us the bacon.

 
 
 
 

What is to be done? Some modest suggestions on solving the NIMBY problem

Lovely, lovely houses. Image: Getty.

The thing about NIMBYism, right, is that there’s no downside to it. If you already own a decent size house, then the fact a city isn’t building enough homes to go round is probably no skin off your nose. Quite the opposite, in fact: you’ll actively benefit from higher house prices.

So it’s little wonder that campaigning against property development is a popular leisure activity among those looking forward to a long retirement (don’t Google it, it’ll only depress you). It’s sociable, it’s profitable, it only takes a few hours a week, and, best of all, it makes you feel righteous, like you’re doing something good. In those circumstances, who wouldn’t be a NIMBY?

To fight the scourge of NIMBYism, then, what we need to do is to rebalance the risks and rewards that its participants face. By increasing the costs of opposing new housebuilding, we can make sure that people only do it when said development is genuinely a horror worth fighting – rather than, say, something less than perfect that pops up a Tuesday afternoon when they don’t have much else on.

Here are some reasonable and sensible ideas for policies to make that happen.

A NIMBY licence, priced at, say, £150 a month. Anyone found practicing NIMBYism without a licence faces a fine of £5,000. Excellent revenue raiser for the Treasury.

Prison sentences for NIMBYs. Not all of them, obviously – we’re not barbarians – but if the planning process concludes that a development will be good for the community, then those who tried to prevent it should be seen as anti-social elements and treated accordingly.

A NIMBY lottery. All homeowners wishing to oppose a new development must enter their details into an official government lottery scheme. If their number comes up, then their house gets CPOed and redeveloped as flats. Turns NIMBYism into a form of Russian roulette, but with compulsory purchase orders instead of bullets.

This one is actually a huge range of different policies depending on what you make the odds. At one end of the scale, losing your house is pretty unlikely: you’d think twice, but you’re probably fine. At the other, basically everyone who opposes a scheme will lose their entire worldly wealth the moment it gets planning approval, so you’d have to be very, very sure it was bad before you even thought about sticking your head above the parapet. So the question is: do you feel lucky?


NIMBY shaming. There are tribal cultures where, when a member does something terrible, they never see them again. Never talk to them, never look at them, never acknowledge them in any way. To the tribe, this person is dead.

I’m just saying, it’s an option.

A NIMBY-specific bedroom tax. Oppose new housing development to your heart’s content, but be prepared to pay for any space you don’t need. I can’t think of any jokes here, now I’ve written it down I think this one’s genuinely quite sensible.

Capital punishment for NIMBYs. This one’s a bit on the extreme side, so to keep things reasonable it would only apply to those NIMBYs who believe in capital punishment for other sorts of crime. Fair’s far.

Pushing snails through their letter boxes. This probably won’t stop them, but it’d make me feel better. The snails, not so much.

Reformed property taxes, which tax increases in house prices, so discourage homeowners from treating them as effectively free money.

Sorry, I’m just being silly now, aren’t I?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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