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.

 
 
 
 

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.