motorcycle Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Pakistani expatriate Mohammad Ali Abdullah, 20, lost his job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He chose to stay in the country and used his small savings to enrol himself in a driving school and get a motorcycle licence. He aims to apply for a new job in delivery services and start life afresh.

His compatriot, Hafiz Tayyab, 21, has been looking for a job for the past couple of months. A friend advised him to acquire a motorcycle driving licence and increase his chances of getting employed in the delivery service sector. Filipino expatriate, Rochester Franz Silvano, 26, also lost his job. He is confident with his work skills of getting hired again, but he feels it would be an added advantage if he had a driving licence. He too was planning to enrol himself in a driving school soon.

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Evidently, there has been a surge in the number of applicants for motorcycle licences in recent months as demand for delivery services from food outlets and online shopping portals has gone up.

According to a driving institute, there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of applicants for motorcycle driving licences in the second quarter — from April to June — this year as compared to the same period last year.

Saeed Al Marri

Saeed Al Marri, CEO, Business Development, at Emirates Driving Institute (EDI), told Gulf News: “With rising job opportunities from rapidly-growing Dubai’s e-commerce and QSR [quick-service restaurant] sectors, many expats are signing up for riding lessons with us to acquire a UAE motorcycle riding licence. We have noted a 40 per cent increase in the number of applicants for a motorcycle driving licence as compared to last year due to an increasing demand for delivery services and online shopping,” he noted. Al Marri added: “We have also designed affordable driving lessons for the working class and applicants can now register for any driving course without NOC (no objection certificate) from the employer.

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Learners follow an instructor during a motorcycle driving course session in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Are delivery companies hiring more riders?

Toon Gyssels

“Yes,” replied Toon Gyssels, chief operating officer of leading online food delivery company Talabat. “We are continuing to significantly increase our rider numbers in all markets. Order volumes are increasing to pre-COVID19 levels, and as customers become more attuned to the ‘new normal’ of ordering from home, we anticipate that delivery will continue to spike,” he told Gulf News. “It is a necessity for us to meet this demand in a safe and efficient manner to ensure that both our restaurant partners and customers continue to have a great experience,” he added.

Gyssels mentioned pre-COVID levels because he pointed out that during the pandemic, “there was no spike in demand for delivery riders”. “It was a common misconception that the food delivery business, in general, was thriving during COVID-19. It was definitely not the case. We did see, however, a rise in home-cooking, which was understandable as our customers were wary at first as they took maximum preventive measures to stay safe,” he explained.

“Thankfully, with the introduction of talabat mart, our 24x7 grocery delivery service, we were able to meet customer demand, and utilise our riders. Now, with strict safety measures, consumer trust in food delivery has returned, and our order levels are starting to return to a normal pattern,” he added.

Safety first

Gyssels continued: “Safety was an issue that concerned everyone during the pandemic, and without a doubt still remains our top priority.”

New hires will have to follow strict safety measures, including wearing protective gear as well as having multiple sets of gloves, masks and hand sanitisers every day; engaging in contactless delivery; and maintaining temperature cards (to show those preparing/delivering orders have had their temperature checked). “We are proud to take up that pivotal role in helping win consumers’ trust back in the safety of food delivery,” Gyssels noted.

Arrive alive (safe riding tips)
*Ensure the maintenance and condition of delivery vehicles, for example are they: clean; tyres in good condition, head lights, brake lights and all other lights and indicators working properly
* Check that all the bike’s accessories such as horn, mirrors etc are in good working condition
* Ensure that the insulated box carrying food is clean and closed properly
* Report any damage or malfunction of the bike immediately
* Wear helmets approved by the company’s health and safety officer
* Follow traffic laws and regulations
* Ensure that the delivery route is decided before the driver leaves the shop
* Wear protective gear; helmets should be certified, integral, tightfitting; clothing should be protective against mechanical (accidents) and adequate for the actual climate condition
* Do not ride if you think you are experiencing a high level of stress, feel depressed or get angry easily
* Do not use mobile phones while riding (even with headsets: the reaction time decreases significantly). Stop for the call.
* Always drive defensively
* Keep in the centre of the lane
* Do not zigzag across the road
* If stuck in a traffic jam, do not attempt to slip ahead between the stationary cars (they will not expect to see you and may move suddenly if the traffic ahead begins to move)
* Always take extra care when entering a crossroads
* Keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you
* Stay within speed limit
* Be prepared for others to drive or ride unsafely
* Signal a change in your direction in advance
* Do not obstruct traffic trying to overtake
* Arrive alive. The important thing is getting to your destination in one piece. Leave enough time for your journey so you don’t have to hurry and take risks.
Source: RoadSafetyUAE

Safety protocols have also been put in place at driving schools. According to Emirates Driving Institute (EDI), students are advised to follow several precautions while attending training, including wearing face masks and gloves at all times. Instructors and examiners are also required to follow the same protocol as training and tests will not be conducted without wearing face masks. Instructors and examiners also wear protective face shields during training and tests.

All visitors enter and exit from separate doors/gates and their body temperatures are checked. Those with body temperature above 37 degrees Celsius are advised to visit a doctor and not permitted to enter the premises. Online theory lectures have been introduced and cash payment has been temporarily stopped.

Road safety

As there has been a surge in the number of driving licence applicants, the number of motorcycle riders has also increased and it is imperative to revisit the issue of road safety, noted Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of RoadSafetyUAE.

Thomas Edelmann

“Motorcycle delivery safety is a big concern in the UAE, as each day, thousands of deliverymen across the country cope with life-threatening work-related risks, and the number of deliverymen is growing by the day. The delivery business is growing and there is a demand for more riders. But the pressures of the job are constant: Dangerous encounters with motorists and long hours in return for wages and occasional tips. Then there is the weather, especially in summer. More people are choosing to order in their meals and groceries rather than venture outside,” he said.

Edelmann noted: “In a webinar on June 23, that RoadSafetyUAE organised jointly with MiX Telematics and Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority [RTA], RTA shared recent statistics with 244 ‘overall’ motorbike collisions in 2019, as against 189 in 2018. This represents a 29 per cent increase in accidents. Of the total number of collisions, 121 were ‘at-fault’ collisions or those where the riders were at fault (in 2019) vs 79 in 2018, a rise of 53 per cent.”

“These numbers tell us some important findings. Firstly, about 50 per cent of all accidents involving riders are not because of their fault. Let us note also that there is very little metal around to protect them, hence motorbike riders are classified as vulnerable traffic participants. This means, other motorists need to take care of riders and show a caring attitude towards them,” he pointed out.

In a recent RoadSafetyUAE survey with four major delivery fleets, “78 per cent of the riders lamented lack of other motorists/cars using indicators, making it very difficult to anticipate their moves. While 77 per cent of the 200 riders said cars cut in from front or behind them very closely. This means there is a need to educate not only motorbike riders, but all traffic participants,” Edelmann stressed.

Cost of getting a motorcycle licence in the UAE
* Dh5,862 (RTA fees (Dh1,350) for all courses included) for a 15-hours (beginner) regular training. Fee includes lectures and only first theory test, parking test, assessment test and road test. Additional fees apply from the second test onwards; and 5 per cent VAT is applicable
* Dh5,016 for 8-hour training of those who are valid driving licence holders over 1 year. Price includes unlimited training and tests until passing; 5 per cent VAT is applicable
* Note: Price varies if you want only Friday or Friday and Saturday Training. There are also gold and platinum rates, plus additional charges for staggered payment.
Source: Emirates Driving Institute

The same survey revealed that two-thirds of the respondents said they sometimes rode aggressively to deliver on time. “Riders said only about 50 per cent of customers care for their safety and understand late delivery. Riders must follow the rules of the roads, but customers must also be considerate and safety must not be compromised,” Edelmann noted.

“With the rising numbers of riders on our roads, plus the fact that collision numbers are rising, we see an urgent ‘demand for action’, which we have articulated repeatedly. In our opinion, we swiftly need a round-table of ecosystem participants to address the issues of delivery riders in the UAE. We need to see platforms like RoadSafetyUAE, governmental entities like RTA and police, the aggregators (delivery brands), delivery fleet operators (these own the bikes and employ the riders) and technology providers (telematics/‘black boxes’ for example can play a vital role) starting to engage in a proactive and constructive manner,” he further explained.

Edelmann noted there has to be more advocates for the well-being of riders — these men know that they have to be quick but they should not literally zigzag through traffic and risk their lives and those of others.