If you order food delivery in São Paulo, Brazil, it will probably show up on a motorcycle—one contributor to the city’s serious air pollution problem. But inside a storefront in the city’s Pinheiros neighborhood, a new pilot is offering couriers the opportunity to use electric bikes instead, without needing enough money to buy one up front.
In part, the program is designed to respond to a growing demand for food delivery and a need for more delivery workers at a time when many people are looking for extra work but don’t own a motorcycle or a car. “There are people that are unemployed, that don’t have money currently to afford a motorcycle,” says Diego Barreto, CFO and VP of strategy for iFood, the Brazilian equivalent of DoorDash. (The company works with 200,000 restaurants in 1,000 Brazilian cities, delivering around 40 million orders a month.) It partnered with Tembici, a micromobility company, to launch the new pilot.
Couriers in the program take a short course on how to take care of the bikes—along with other basic instruction in delivery, including how to avoid COVID-19. Then they can pay a small weekly subscription fee and another small fee to check out a bike from a “support point” where they can rest between orders, charge mobile phones, use the restroom, or get water or coffee. Along with a bike, they can also pick up a helmet, mask, and hand sanitizer; beyond the electric bikes in the program, they also have access to regular bikes in the city’s bike-share program.
The electric bikes have pedal assist, a key for a hilly city, and the company is hoping that they’ll encourage more women to start working as bike couriers. They also hope to prove the case for the shift from fossil-burning motorcycles to zero-emissions bikes. In both São Paulo and Brazil in general, “one of the reasons that people use so many motorcycles is because there are hills,” says Barreto. “There are a lot of geography aspects here that make it difficult.” By running the pilot and tracking data, the company hopes to show where electric bikes are feasible instead. Biking has already been increasing in the area as the city has invested in new bike lanes.
The pilot is starting with 20 electric bikes but plans to have 500 by the end of the year, and iFood may later launch similar programs in some of the hundreds of other cities where it works. “We are starting this project only in this neighborhood in São Paolo to learn, and as soon as we get the learnings we will expand,” Barreto says.