How New York City’s Delivery Workers Survive Snowstorms

Gustavo Sanchez prepares to go pick up an Uber Eats order. (Photo by Jasmine Fernandez for NYCityLens)

As New York City got hit with its second snowstorm in a week, many New Yorkers citywide settled into the warmth of their homes. Delivery workers, on the other hand, piled on layers to brave the weather in order to feed them.

Sunday’s storm covered Central Park in 4.5 inches and JFK Airport in 6.9 inches, before stopping at around 5 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. Still, it was no match for Winter Storm Orlena, which was the first in five years to bury New York City in more than one foot of snow, leaving 17 inches on the ground.

Storms like these, though, take their toll on delivery workers, who have to venture outdoors no matter the weather. As conditions worsen, these workers are left to find the safest paths to bike through and most innovative methods to keep warm amid freezing temperatures. Not only do the storms try their toughness, but some deliverers say they also receive fewer tips, and run a greater risk of falling or having their bikes stolen while they go inside to complete an order.

“If you tell the customers to come downstairs, they will complain,” DoorDasher Idrissa Degoga said. “When you don’t go up, the customer will report you, and they’ll block your account if you’re not going to do good deliveries.”

But first, they have to figure out how to stay warm. When winter arrives, New York City’s delivery workers, who travel primarily on bike, gear up with mitts that wrap around their handlebars, layers of thermals beneath their coats and pants, and thick, impermeable boots.

“We find the best shoes possible, so that our feet will not freeze,” Eddy Oswaldo Tarax Ixcoy said, explaining that some workers wear up to four and five layers.

Ixcoy wears two thermals beneath his winter jacket, and one or two pairs of thermals underneath waterproof pants. He also wears gloves that then go inside the handlebar mitts, and finds the helmet helps with warmth, too. Ixcoy, 18, works part-time for DoorDash when he is not in his high school classes, which are currently being taught online.

Idrissa Degoga waits with friends for his first order of the night to be prepared by Milano Market Westside on Broadway. (Jasmine Fernandez for NYCityLens)

Snow makes maneuvering difficult for delivery workers, too, and more dangerous. The riskiest part of the job is the cars, especially when there is snow covering the bike lanes, and workers have no choice other than to share the road, said Nazareno Larios, Ixcoy’s friend, who chatted with him as they both awaited their next delivery notification.

“The cars are sometimes respectful, and other times they are not,” said Larios, who picked up the job seven months ago after the restaurant where he worked closed because of the pandemic. “There are cars that are crazy to get past us, so we have to be careful and also respectful of the lights.”

Bike robberies are also a problem, Ixcoy said. Because it is cold, customers are more likely to request their orders be brought up to their apartment doors, forcing delivery workers to leave their bikes parked downstairs. They are often left locked, but still unattended for a few minutes, allowing the chance for them to be stolen.

“This will leave you without a bike that you spent $2,000 on,” he said. “This is a big loss for us.”

Generally, electric bikes range from $600 to more than $8,000. Most quality e-bikes will cost between $1,500 and $4,000.

Degoga, who, like Ixcoy, is a high schooler by day and deliverer by night, had his bike stolen in August, while it was locked.

“You can make a report — I still have the report number — but the police don’t even care about stolen bikes,” Degoga said. “They don’t even look for [them].”

As Degoga’s friend pulled up to wait with him by Milano Market Westside on Broadway, hands buried inside his handlebar mitts, Degoga asked, for reference, how many times his bike had been stolen.

“Three times,” the friend responded, shaking his head. Degoga laughed.

“Imagine, that’s almost $6,000,” Degoga said, noting he bought his own new e-bike for $1,700.

Another downside to colder weather is fewer amounts of tips, said Gustavo Sanchez, who has been working for Uber Eats and DoorDash for two years now. He believes that customers tip better when it is nicer outside. Typically, delivery workers can calculate how much a customer has tipped, before deciding whether to accept the order request.

“It would be good for people to consider our work,” Sanchez said. “Because on a day like today, for someone to tip two or three dollars with such bad weather, I think that would be unfair. You know?”

But companies do try to make up for the lower tips in bad weather by providing workers with bonuses, depending on the conditions outside. During Orlena, for example, DoorDash added a $7 bonus per delivery, he said.

And while some drivers prefer to be tipped in cash, others, like DoorDasher Manuel Ortiz, prefer their tips through the application for security reasons. Bikes are not the only thing that can be stolen, they point out. Sometimes delivery workers get mugged.

“In this area, it’s okay and you can go upstairs,” Ortiz, who makes about 15-20 deliveries a day, on average, said of the Upper West Side. “But there are areas where there are people who are very malicious.”

Manuel Ortiz awaits a notification for his next DoorDash delivery request. (Jasmine Fernandez for NYCityLens)

When it’s snowing and below freezing, though, muggers aren’t always at the top of delivery workers’ priorities, some say. Sometimes, moving around and keeping active is the only way to stay warm. Or going inside somewhere to thaw out, if only for a bit.

Yet, with all restaurants closed for indoor dining right now, waiting inside anywhere is not an option. Sometimes, Amadou Sangare, a Grubhub worker, finds he can spend a few minutes warming up inside the McDonalds on 71st and Broadway, he said.

“If it’s busy, it’s difficult to feel the cold,” Sangare said. “But when it’s not busy, you have to wait outside, which is not easy.”