STUDY: App-Based Food Orders Most Likely Outnumber Ride-Hailing Trips in Mass., with Major Impacts on Traffic, Climate & Low-Wage Workers
Dark stores, emissions from delivery vehicles, and third-party app fees all have major effects on local economies, MAPC research finds; policy changes should incentivize e-bikes, data sharing, zoning for curbside management & state-level labor protections.
BOSTON - December 13, 2022 – With a few swipes and taps on a smartphone, it’s easy to order a tasty meal from your favorite local or chain restaurant. It’s also increasingly common to be able to swipe and tap to order from convenience stores – great for getting cough drops or tissues when sick or snacks for a last-minute movie night. With the explosive growth in the past few years of the use of apps to order meals, convenience store items, and food from grocery stores, there are significant transportation, environmental, economic, labor, and land use implications. In its new research, The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) estimates the annual number of rapid food deliveries in Massachusetts and makes several recommendations to manage this evolving and growing sector of the state economy.
“From App to Table: Rapid Food Deliveries in Massachusetts,” co-authored by Alison Felix, AICP, principal planner & emerging technologies specialist and Travis Pollack, AICP, senior transportation planner, compiles data from rapid food delivery apps DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and others.
Based upon Securities and Exchange Commission filings and market data, MAPC estimates that the number of rapid food deliveries in Mass. now exceeds the number of ride-hailing trips from Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft. This estimate does not account for restaurant-provided online deliveries, nor the rapid deliveries of grocery and convenience store items. Thus, the true annual number of app-based rapid food deliveries in Mass. is likely much higher.
“In 2021, Massachusetts may have had between 80 and 105 million rapid food deliveries by third-party platforms – a figure that has more than doubled in the last three years,” said Felix. “By comparison, the state had 91 million ride-hailing trips in 2019, but less than 40 million ride-hailing trips in 2021.”
“It is important to note that the decline in ride-hailing trips is directly related to the pandemic, with fewer people traveling in 2020 and 2021,” said Pollack. “By contrast, the pandemic accelerated the pace of rapid food deliveries, with more households ordering delivery and doing so more frequently. This trend is highly likely to continue, but perhaps at a slower pace.”
Those figures do not include an analysis of larger, same-day deliveries from grocery stores. “From App to Table” focuses on smaller orders of prepared foods and convenience store items typically delivered within 15 to 45 minutes. MAPC could find no prior studies or reports that definitively identified the number of app-based rapid food deliveries in the U.S. or Massachusetts.
Like ride-hailing, the types of transportation impacts from rapid food deliveries include increased street congestion, idling and associated emissions at the curb, as well as greater competition for parking, which can result in unsafe and illegal practices such as double-parking in bus, bike, and travel lanes. However, data and studies cited in the report suggest that the impact per trip may be even greater for rapid food deliveries than ride-hailing. MAPC’s report also explores several other impacts of rapid food deliveries, including the proliferation of ghost kitchens, high commission or services fees imposed on restaurants by third-party apps, and delivery workers’ wages.
MAPC proposes several recommendations in “From App to Table” that are divided into new legislation, state actions, regional and local actions, and other best practices to manage rapid food deliveries in a sustainable manner, including:
- Require rapid food delivery platforms to share data to the Commonwealth, similar to the requirements that are in place for ride-hailing services. Legislation should be developed for data sharing requirements that, at a minimum, include data on precise trip origins, destinations, time spent at the curb, and time of day.
- Require an assessment for trips made by delivery vehicles proportional to their impacts on the transportation network and require revenue from the delivery assessment to mitigate local impacts on streets and support locally owned businesses.
- Require rapid food delivery platforms to implement programs that make it easier for delivery workers to access e-bikes and adopt electric vehicles.
- Ensure that delivery workers receive fair compensation and operate in a safe working environment. Legislation should be developed that requires fair compensation to gig workers on delivery platforms, similar to the efforts that have been made to ensure that ride-hailing drivers receive fair compensation.
“Many of the recommendations include obtaining and collecting data to better understand the scale and geographic reach of rapid food deliveries in Massachusetts. Consistent and reliable data sharing is essential, as it will inform and refine policies, regulations, and guidelines to mitigate the impacts of this expanding and evolving component of the economy,” said Felix.
With the reporting of additional data, Regional Planning Agencies could analyze what’s collected by the state and work with municipalities and MAPC to develop curb management policies. Data analysis would enable local officials to understand the scale of traffic and curb usage in local areas, given that most delivery trips are less than five miles.
“From App to Table” is a follow-up work to MAPC’s 2021 report “Hidden and in Plain Sight: Impacts of E-Commerce in Massachusetts,” which investigated the effects of online commerce on municipalities in the Commonwealth. It also follows MAPC’s Fare Choices research on the impacts of app-based ride-hailing in the state.
“Our research on rapid food deliveries is closely aligned with the recommendations adopted in the regional plan MetroCommon 2050, including improving access and regional mobility, reducing vehicle miles traveled, enabling wealth creation and intergenerational wealth transfer, and expanding and promoting the resiliency of small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color,” said Pollack.
MAPC will host a webinar on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. with Co-Authors Felix and Pollack and other experts at MAPC to dive deeper into the research and give an overview of best practices and policies that municipalities and the Commonwealth can undertake to better manage the effects of rapid food deliveries. Register at mapc.ma/RapidFood.
MAPC serves as a resource for continued information sharing and findings from e-commerce surveys and pilot programs and will continue to conduct research on how municipalities in Massachusetts are mitigating and managing the impacts of e-commerce. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with relevant information or to be informed of future initiatives.
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