Today, mobility in cities faces a new challenge: the growing presence of riders on public roads. A study developed by Fundación MAPFRE addresses this issue by offering an overview of cycling in Brazil, based on a systemic view of the aspects related to road safety in terms of mobility and the working conditions of cycle couriers.
TEXT: SILVIA MARTINELLI PHOTOGRAPHS: FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE BRASIL
Every day, Júlia* goes to university in the morning and, after class, starts work as a cycle courier in the center of one of Brazil’s main cities, São Paulo. Her hectic routine, which combines her studies and work, has often forced her to go a whole day without eating. This put her health at risk in early 2021. “Food is not affordable for delivery riders, who often make several meal deliveries, but go the whole day without eating properly”, she stresses.
Júlia’s harsh and contradictory situation is the day-to-day reality for thousands of people who, in recent years, have found delivery services to be an alternative source of employment. Since 2019, the volume of delivery workers riding through the streets of major cities has grown considerably, corresponding with the intensification of the home delivery sector during the pandemic.
An important part of this new contingent of workers is made up of cyclists, who earn their living amidst the traffic, often without adequate training to allow them to perform their duties safely for both themselves and others. To get an idea, in the first five months of 2021, there was a 30 % increase in serious incidents involving bicycles in Brazil.
Cyclogistics, which has expanded in recent years, with a 94 % increase between 2019 and 2020, consists of performing logistics delivery activities using bicycles, scooters and tricycles. To understand this growing ecosystem, and with the intention of outlining the scenario through the lens of road safety, the study Road Safety and Cycling: Challenges and Opportunities in Brazil was commissioned.
Developed by Fundación MAPFRE and the Sustainable Mobility Laboratory (LABMOB), part of the Graduate Program in Urbanism (PROURB) at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (URFJ), this is one of the largest and most comprehensive research projects in the world on the subject, capable of contributing not only to the understanding of the Brazilian reality, but also to that of other countries where the cycling sector has grown exponentially: practically all of them.
“It is increasingly important and necessary to promote debate and transmit information on issues related to legislation, regulations and road safety. In addition to reducing the number of road accidents, our goal is to encourage scientific production in Brazil, contributing to the generation of data and evidence that can help in the development of public policies that make traffic more humane and safer”, says Fátima Lima, Fundación MAPFRE’s representative in Brazil.
The study and its dimensions
The goal of the study is to explore relevant aspects related to the road safety of cycle couriers in Brazilian cities.
“The study reaffirms some points already presented in previous research, but it is unprecedented in the fact that it addresses them through the lens of road safety and the “voice” of the delivery riders themselves”, emphasizes Jesús Monclús, director of Prevention and Road Safety at Fundación MAPFRE.
Developed throughout the second half of 2021, this work was based on five dimensions that make up the cycling ecosystem in Brazilian cities:
- Delivery riders
- Bicycles and equipment
- Cyclogistics companies and groups
- Urban infrastructure
- Legislation and public policies
The data was collected by conducting quantitative research (a survey) to which 336 delivery riders (24 of whom were women) working for delivery apps using electric bicycles in the city of São Paulo responded. Several in-depth interviews were also conducted with delivery riders, as well as representatives of companies and groups, in three Brazilian cities: Curitiba, Fortaleza and São Paulo.
“In the information collected, road safety appears to be desired by delivery riders, but is secondary to financial need and the search for efficiency and productivity so that they can meet their daily targets. This study highlights aspects that are often not considered a priority”, stresses Victor Andrade, general coordinator of the study.
According to the data collected by the study, the majority of cycle couriers (also known as riders) are young (76 % are under 30 years of age), male (92 %), of mixed race (39 %) or black (29 %), with an average level of education (56 % have completed secondary education), and they work about 7 hours a day.
The large majority of this group (85 %) have no personal insurance (health, life or dental), revealing a lack of support as well as the vulnerability of these professionals who work for hours on end in the heavy traffic of Brazilian cities.
The working conditions and the unsuitability of the city, or the perception of the city being unfriendly to their work dynamics and mobility needs, are also common aspects pointed out by the interviewees. 35 % have already been involved in some kind of collision or incident.
The day-to-day life of this group also involves fear, which they say is related to their profession. These fears include traffic accidents, robbery and assault, bicycle theft, the feeling of vulnerability in relation to motorized vehicles and physical aggression.
In relation to safety equipment, 42 % of those interviewed indicated that they wore a helmet and in 36 % of the incidents suffered by delivery drivers in São Paulo a car was involved; in 34 %, a similar proportion to the previous one, no other vehicle was involved; and motorcycles were involved in 6 % of the collisions. The second of these three percentages coincides with recent data for Spain: in 2019 in this country, 41% of cyclists who died in the cities lost their lives in crashes in which no other vehicles were involved.
When asked about changes that could be made in the cities to make them feel safer when riding around, a large proportion of the respondents mentioned driver education, as they do not feel that cyclists are taken into account or respected on the roads.
Another important aspect is related to urban road infrastructures in cities: the suitability of infrastructures for cycling activities is desired, especially the provision of support points that contribute to the intense activity on the street and in traffic.
Segregated infrastructures, such as bike lanes, increase the perception of safety among the majority of the cycling workers interviewed (93 % prefer to ride on bike lanes), but the presence of pedestrians on these routes is also cited as dangerous.
In short, these professionals tolerate a great number of risks. The feeling of job insecurity combined with the risks of the work and the lack of support has a direct impact on their decision to remain in the profession. It was noted that few of them intend to continue working as delivery riders.
Invisibility x visibility
The study also features a survey of existing public policies in Brazil, at the federal and municipal levels. Despite the potential for inclusion in mobility plans, cycling is still not fully integrated into Brazilian urban and transportation planning.
The city of São Paulo recently approved a municipal cycling policy (not yet in force) that requires logistics companies, delivery companies, platforms and apps to collect and share data with the City Hall, in order to manage this activity and provide training courses and basic infrastructure for bike delivery workers.
In addition, a bill recently passed in São Paulo (Bill No. 358/2021) proposes that companies providing delivery services through apps or platforms offer group life insurance for cyclists and motorcyclists.
According to Renata Falzoni, an architect, journalist and pioneer of bicycle mobility advocacy in Brazil, the invisibility of cyclists in the eyes of the public authorities and society is an issue that needs to change.
“If bicycles are usually invisible to the general public, imagine the delivery riders, a category made up predominantly of young, black and brown men, who carry a box on their backs for seven hours a day and work in a climate of fear and insecurity. We have to identify the triggers for changing this situation, so that the whole system adapts to the bicycle as a frontier that should be valued as a paradigm shift in cities, so that we have product delivery logistics focused on the needs of the 21st century, which are simpler and more sustainable”, Renata concludes.