Rapid delivery companies can indeed be of great value

They do not solve months of waiting lists at hospitals, hours of security queues at Schiphol Airport, or yet another lesson that is cancelled at school because of a teacher shortage, forcing parents to take another afternoon off. Yet, according to Sadik Cevik, director of Gorillas, they do add value, are sustainable and innovative.

He is referring to the flash companies that commercialise public space by allowing unprofitable bicycle couriers to cycle through the already congested city centre, for people who want to video call instead of going to the supermarket. The couriers leave a trail of nuisance and accidents in the process. The municipality is making efforts to reduce that nuisance, which the flash companies do not seem happy with.

What we see in the flash industry is techsolutionism in action, the belief, carried over from Silicon Valley, that technology and start-ups can solve all mankind’s problems. Supporters believe that the highest achievable goal in life is to detect and fix the smallest inefficiencies by ‘optimising’ society with algorithms. They then call their solution innovative and sustainable.

However appealing a 15-minute longer video call by making someone else cycle for half an hour through the rain may sound, it is neither innovative nor sustainable. And just because our old way of life does not generate revenue for flash movers does not mean it is a way of life that should be abolished or that nuisance should not be countered.

Code of conduct for the stage

Instead of complaining about measures, flash movers would be better off preventing nuisances themselves. Fortunately, they are trying to do just that. After criticism of their darkstores, Gorillas, Flink, Getir and Zapp introduced a first version of a code of conduct, which is still very much for the stage. For instance, it has been agreed that there will be “no more promises to deliver groceries in ten minutes”. This is true, as the Gorillas website now says ‘delivered in a few minutes’. But is that really that much slower?

The code of conduct also contains few agreements to prevent nuisance caused by their ‘riders’, while research by TeamAlert shows that they drive through red lights, overtake on the right (with a mobile phone in their hand) and one in three has even been in an accident.

Interestingly, Gorillas, Flink and Zapp do not have a published complaints procedure. Getir does have one, albeit limited. Complaining about riders is a tricky business anyway. Since flash riders’ bikes have no unique feature, such as a license plate, it is impossible to describe who you are talking about (‘a person on a purple bike’). The code of conduct should therefore also agree that all the riders’ means of transport will have a unique badge, and that a central and independent flash counter will be introduced where complaints about the fly-by-night bike rides can be delivered.

What Schiphol fails to do

Finally, compliments are also allowed. Because let’s face it, what we fail to do in healthcare, at Schiphol Airport and in education, the flash champions in Amsterdam’s city centre do succeed: mobilise large numbers of motivated people in a tight labour market who, within a few minutes, do odd jobs to fix (minor) problems.

Inspired by this, I suggest that the tech-solutionism of flash companies should also temporarily be put to work in the places where they will be of even greater added value: Gorillas in healthcare, Getir at Schiphol Airport and Zapp in education.

Flink? That will be on standby to take corona tests during the next corona wave and may continue to serve the Amsterdam city centre with coffee milk and peppers until then – but only if they also bring along the packages of PostNL, DHL, UPS, Fedex, DPD and GLS in the process, so that they no longer have to drive a van through the same streets fifty times a day.

Besides relieving society of some major problems in this way, a side benefit is that they will actively contribute to fewer city nuisances and accidents, better air quality, save us a lot more time and presumably finally become profitable. Moreover, it is innovative, sustainable and value-added.

Gorillas, Flink, Zapp, Getir: are you up to the challenge? I am curious to see who is the fastest. You have ten minutes.

This opinion article was published in Het Parool.

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