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Demand for food delivery has skyrocketed. So have complaints about some drivers

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Demand for food delivery has skyrocketed. So have complaints about some drivers
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Demand for food delivery has skyrocketed. So have complaints about some drivers

2024-06-08 12:09 Last Updated At:12:21

BOSTON (AP) — A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers — and increasing alarm — in big cities where scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto pedestrian-filled sidewalks as their drivers race to drop off salads and sandwiches.

Officials in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., have started cracking down on delivery companies by issuing warning letters, seizing illegally registered or driven vehicles, and launching special street patrols to enforce speed limits. The pushback is not limited to the U.S.: There have also been a series of crackdowns in London and other British cities.

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Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

BOSTON (AP) — A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers — and increasing alarm — in big cities where scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto pedestrian-filled sidewalks as their drivers race to drop off salads and sandwiches.

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

A delivery driver on a scooter keeps pace with a fire engine on a call in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A delivery driver on a scooter keeps pace with a fire engine on a call in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

A delivery driver on a scooter heads out on a delivery in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A delivery driver on a scooter heads out on a delivery in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

A delivery driver on a scooter rides the pedestrian crosswalk through traffic on a delivery in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A delivery driver on a scooter rides the pedestrian crosswalk through traffic on a delivery in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

For their part, the delivery companies have pledged to work with city officials to ensure that all of their drivers operate both legally and safely.

In a letter this week to food delivery companies DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber, Boston officials cited an “alarming increase in unlawful and dangerous operation of motorcycles, mopeds and motorized scooters” that they said put the drivers, other motorists and pedestrians “in imminent danger.”

The letter alleged that some drivers were operating unregistered vehicles and breaking traffic laws, and warned of an imminent crackdown on the vehicles. It also demanded that the companies explain how they can ensure their drivers are operating safely. The Massachusetts State Police said they identified dozens of mopeds and scooters that were improperly registered or being operated by unlicensed drivers. Fourteen illegal mopeds and scooters were seized Wednesday in one Boston neighborhood alone.

In New York City, authorities have seized 13,000 scooters and mopeds so far this year; on Wednesday, they crushed more than 200 illegal mopeds and other delivery vehicles. Authorities in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, launched a program Wednesday called Operation Ride Right to ensure drivers of two-wheeled vehicles are complying with the law. Since it began, authorities have made five arrests and impounded 17 mopeds.

“They have terrorized many of our pedestrians, particularly our senior and older adults,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday at an event in which motorized two-wheeled delivery vehicles were destroyed. “Riders who think the rules don’t apply to them, they’re going to see an aggressive enforcement policy that’s in place."

When food delivery services had their major resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic, most drivers used cars to deliver their fare. That led to increased traffic congestion, prompting a shift to motorcycles and other two-wheeled modes of transportation.

The drivers, many of them immigrants from Latin American countries but also from West Africa and South Asia, say they are just trying to earn a living and are providing a service that gets customers their food fast.

“We’re not all bad,” said Luis López, a delivery driver from the Dominican Republic who spoke to The Associated Press on Friday from his motorcycle in an area of multiple fast-food restaurants near the Boston Public Library. “We come to work, to earn a living, pay the rent and send something to our families.”

López, who came to the U.S. about three years ago, acknowledged that some drivers are unlicensed or driving unregistered vehicles, and he’s seen them running red lights and onto sidewalks, menacing pedestrians. Some people are so reckless that they’re also putting other delivery drivers at risk, he said.

He said he was among a group of 10 delivery drivers outside a Chick-fil-A on Thursday night when a police officer approached them with a flyer describing how to register their scooters and mopeds. The whole group agreed to do just that.

“We have to respect the law,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “We are going to respect the law so that they let us work here.”

Drivers of motorized two-wheeled vehicles are coming under much more scrutiny than was faced years ago by other gig workers in cars, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, because they can more easily violate traffic laws, said Hilary Robinson, an associate professor of law and sociology at Northeastern University.

The switch to the vehicles "is really an attempt to make low-wage, high-risk labor available so that all of us can have cheap goods and services,” Robinson said. “It’s perhaps one of the reasons why people are starting to realize that there really is no such thing as a free lunch.”

William Medina, a delivery worker in New York who is also an organizing leader with the Los Deliveristas Unidos Campaign, blames the delivery companies.

“This is a problem that started because the companies force you to complete the deliveries from far distances,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. Medina started out delivering food on a bicycle, switched to an electric bike, and now is using a moped to make the longer trips.

“If you have to complete the delivery 6 miles, 7 miles, you have to complete it,” he said.

Among those advocating for tougher enforcement in Boston is City Councilor Edward Flynn, who said on Facebook that it “can no longer be the Wild West on the streets of Boston.”

“Everyone using city roads needs to abide by the rules of the road. If you’re able to go 25 mph like a car — you should be licensed, registered, and carry liability insurance in the event of an accident and injury," he wrote.

Some Boston residents are supportive of tougher action against the scooters.

“I get frustrated when they don't follow the traffic laws,” said Anne Kirby, a 25-year-old student having lunch in a Boston neighborhood within a few hundred feet of several scooters. “I feel like I almost get hit every day when they go through the crosswalk when it's not their turn to go.”

But Jaia Samuel, a 25-year-old hospital worker from Boston, was more conflicted. She said she agreed that delivery scooters can be dangerous, but she also acknowledged that she relies heavily on delivery services for her food.

“I do think it's unsafe to an extent, the weaving in between cars and the not stopping for red lights,” she said. “But I feel like everybody should be able to make a living, so who am I to say anything? It would be unfortunate for me. I would be taking a hit with the crackdown on them. I order a lot of Uber Eats, DoorDash.”

Three major food delivery services have pledged to work with officials and neighborhood advocates to address the problem.

“The overwhelming majority of Dashers do the right thing and like all drivers must follow the rules of the road. If they don’t, then they face consequences — just like anyone else,” DoorDash said in a statement Wednesday.

Grubhub said its employees already agree to obey all local traffic laws. “While enforcement of the law is best handled by the police, we take safety seriously and will take action to address any reports of unsafe driving,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

Associated Press writers Michael Warren in Decatur, Georgia, and Lisa J. Adams Wagner in Evans, Georgia, contributed to this report.

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

A delivery driver on a scooter keeps pace with a fire engine on a call in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A delivery driver on a scooter keeps pace with a fire engine on a call in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

A delivery driver on a scooter heads out on a delivery in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A delivery driver on a scooter heads out on a delivery in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

Delivery scooters are parked as drivers wait to pick up food for delivery, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. Boston and New York are cracking down on unlawful drivers, whom they say are ignoring traffic laws and making city streets more dangerous. (AP Photos/Michael Casey)

A delivery driver on a scooter rides the pedestrian crosswalk through traffic on a delivery in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A delivery driver on a scooter rides the pedestrian crosswalk through traffic on a delivery in the Seaport District, Friday, June 7, 2024, in Boston. A soaring demand for food delivered fast has spawned small armies of couriers in a growing number of cities where delivery scooters, motorcycles and mopeds zip in and out of traffic and hop onto sidewalks alongside startled pedestrians racing to drop off salads and sandwiches. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentines taking to the streets to revel in their Copa América triumph late Sunday inhabit a very different place now than they did 19 months ago, when their World Cup win sent millions surging into the same Buenos Aires square in a howl of collective celebration.

“Glorious,” Diego Cáceres, 38, recalled of Argentina’s massive open-air party on December 18, 2022.

“This is beautiful, too,” he said of Sunday's crowds cheering and setting off fireworks around the capital’s landmark obelisk after Argentina beat Colombia 1-0 in extra time to win its third straight major tournament. “But it's a cherry-on-top, or a reminder. It makes me want to go back in time."

Economic crisis has stalked Argentina for years. But today, annual inflation tops 270%. Almost 60% of the country’s 45 million people live in poverty.

Argentines have become worn out by the high-stakes anxiety of the news: Anti-government protests raging, labor strikes paralyzing cities, President Javier Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist,” unveiling new spending cuts and railing against feminism. This week their televisions flashed dire warnings about the peso hitting new lows against the dollar, dragging the value of their savings down with it.

The last time Cáceres celebrated his national team in this downtown square, he worked as a cook in various restaurants and rented an apartment. Today, he said, he’s unemployed and sleeps on the streets.

“Everything is horrible now," he said after the game finally got underway in Miami after repeated delays due to fan congestion. “Just when you think things can't get more expensive, they do.”

Some in this superstitious nation joke that they paid a steep price in Qatar for their first World Cup victory since 1986, pointing to the crises that followed the triumph. “Has anyone checked the terms and conditions of winning the Copa América?” reads one post on X widely shared among Argentines. “I don’t know if I’m up for a second round of winning at any cost.”

But Argentines say that they needed this tournament, and this trophy, more than they could have imagined. For Argentina, South America’s biggest soccer championship offers not just glorious achievement but exquisite, if fleeting, escape.

“It’s our best entertainment, that’s what makes it so important,” said Erika Maya, a 47-year-old homeless mother of six, as she peered at the televised match through the glass of a locked restaurant door. “You can forget everything that's going on, just enjoy.”

For every new outrage over the last 24 days, Argentines have found the respite of obsessively watching their beloved national team, led by Lionel Messi, play for an hour and a half, generating moments of agony and excitement that reverberate all over this soccer-crazed country.

“Football is the fruit of our society, it's what we're proud of, it's what we give to the world," said 21-year-old soldier Fabrizo Diaz, who watched the match with his girlfriend.

As the game kicked off at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium, restaurants in Buenos Aires shuttered, streets emptied and the sprawling city fell eerily silent, with most Argentines in thrall to their TVs at home as though under a COVID lockdown. The looming specter of Messi’s retirement has heightened soccer fever in recent weeks, with the 37-year-old captain’s noncommittal muses in televised interviews inducing, at turns, nationwide hope and despair.

“I believe Messi is going to continue. I don’t know if he’ll make it to the next World Cup, but this is not the end,” said 32-year-old Adrian Vallejos, watching the final with his wife and son. “I mean, God, I hope so.”

Messi’s persistent leg injuries — including a hurt ankle in the second-half of the final that forced him off the field — have drawn more attention than his performances during this Copa América. But Argentines breathed a sigh of relief when, asked by ESPN this week whether this match would be his last in blue-and-white, Messi refused to rule out playing in the 2026 World Cup.

“We’re at a very poignant transition for this team,” said Alejo Levoratti, a sports sociologist at Argentine research institute CONICET. “It’s only at the point of his retirement that Messi arrived at his best moment and found this connection with his team, this communion with Argentina.”

Another Argentine great of the same age, Ángel Di María, had announced Sunday's match would be his last, fueling a broader sense of nostalgia about the national squad. He had tears in his eyes as he left the pitch to a standing ovation after Argentina's breakthrough goal. “I dreamt of retiring like this,” he told reporters afterward.

After years of disappointments in international tournaments, the Argentine team has, more recently, clinched triumph after triumph — 2021 Copa América, 2022 inaugural Finalissima match, 2022 World Cup — exhilarating its troubled country again and again.

President Milei, who had a short stint as a goalie for the professional soccer team Chacarita Juniors, congratulated the national team in an all-caps message on X: “WE ARE CHAMPIONS AGAIN...!!!”

In litter-strewn downtown Buenos Aires, the site of so many protests in recent weeks, national pride appeared to be, briefly, restored. Friends and strangers draped in Argentinean flags and jerseys hugged one another and jumped up and down, some singing “Muchachos,” the unofficial anthem of the 2022 World Cup, others chanting Messi's name.

AP Copa America coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/copa-america

Fans on both sides of a bar window watch the Copa America final soccer match between Argentina and Colombia in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Fans on both sides of a bar window watch the Copa America final soccer match between Argentina and Colombia in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Argentina fans gather on the street after their team defeated Colombia at the Copa America final soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Argentina fans gather on the street after their team defeated Colombia at the Copa America final soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Argentina fans gather at the Obelisk after their team defeated Colombia in the Copa America final soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Mario De Fina)

Argentina fans gather at the Obelisk after their team defeated Colombia in the Copa America final soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Mario De Fina)

Argentina fans react after their team defeated Colombia at the Copa America final soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Argentina fans react after their team defeated Colombia at the Copa America final soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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