Food Delivery Drivers Brave Virus Anxieties While Feeding Bangkok

The group of Grab drivers in front of The Marketplace Nanglinchee. Thanakorn Krantakul is in glasses, Sompong Jaidee is in red, at right, and Teerapong Supasai seated furthest away and wearing a mask.

BANGKOK — “I’m scared of getting infected, but more scared of having no cash,” said a delivery man for Grab, a popular online-based service, as he ate his lunch during a break in front of a supermarket.

His sentiment is echoed by many other drivers working for different delivery services, such as Grab, Food Panda, Get, and Line Man, whose jobs are more relevant than ever in a city forced into a partial lockdown by the coronavirus pandemic. Many say they fear contracting the virus themselves while feeding others, but they have to feed themselves and their families as well.

“If you’re afraid of me, then I’m also afraid of you,” Grab driver Sompong Jaidee, 44, said as he was lunching alongside a dozen fellow Grab workers close to Market Place Nanglinchee. The lunch itself was ordered and delivered through Grab application.

Drivers interviewed for this story said they practice safety by wearing facemasks, keeping contact with their customers to a minimum, and relying on hand gels or other protections provided at their destinations. Some venues also barred deliverers from entering the buildings, and more customers are switching to mobile banking payment rather than cash.

“I always use the gels at the buildings and get my temperature checked if they have it. I’m really scared of getting infected so I change my masks everyday or wash my cloth mask,” Get driver Surapon Suk-erb, 37, said. “I have no other option.”

At 57, Thanakorn Krantakul is the eldest in his ‘gang’ of Grab drivers and so earned the nickname of “uncle.” He said he’s taking a lot of precaution to avoid infection.

“Now to receive payment, I hold out my palm and people drop money into it. If the money falls I chase after it, and then use gel afterwards,” Thanakorn said. “People want to stay safe, so they will quickly pay and not chat at all.”

Grabception: a Grab driver accepts a Grab delivery.

Foodpanda deliveryman Sureeporn Yuanjai, 34, was wearing a mask, a scarf, and a motorcycle helmet when picking up an order of raad naa noodles.

“Customers are always reminding me via the app to wear masks when I deliver food to them,” the Surin native said. “I try and prevent the disease from myself as best as I can.”

Watcharapol Kalapuk, 28, a Line Man deliveryman said that a lot of his customers refused to exchange cash by hand for deliveries. He wasn’t wearing a mask when approached for an interview, but promised he would put one on when out on the next delivery trip.

“I’m pretty scared of getting the virus, but if it happens, it happens,” he said. “I will just have to find some way to deal with it under this government, since I won’t have money for treatment anyway.”

Watcharapol Kalapuk on his motorcycle.

Even before the coronavirus epidemic struck Bangkok and other major cities, Thailand was already a battleground for an increasingly competitive market of delivery and ride-hailing services.

Grab is considered to be the largest player, with about 150,000 drivers nationwide and 51 percent in market share, followed by Line Man who employs approximately 40,000 drivers and partners with 50,000 restaurants, according to a February report published by Bangkok Bank.

But Grab drivers interviewed for this story say they’re actually making less than before, due to a change in the incentive system (“Can you tell Grab to stop changing their system?” one complained) and decreased amounts of orders.

“Most of my deliveries are for regulars who frequent a place. With this disease, our income ends,” Grab driver Sompong said. He was also concerned at the possibility of a curfew under the state of emergency. “There are incentive payments for delivering after 8pm. That means, our incomes will rot.”

Teerapong Supasai, 50, said he used to make as much as 1,500 baht a day doing Grab deliveries from 5am to 8pm. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, he’s seen his earnings dwindle to a third of that per day.

Surapon Suk-erb holds up an order of noodles.

However, deliverymen from three other major food delivery apps interviewed for this story said they were making more income during the outbreak due to increase in orders.

Surapon the Get driver is a native of Si Saket province. He said he had no plans to return home because he would have to self-quarantine for 14 days, which would take up work time. So Surapon decided to stay in Bangkok and take advantage of growing demands in delivery service.

“Before, I had to sit and wait for orders to come in,” the driver, who’s been working with the app for two years, said. “But now, as soon as I deliver an order there’s a new one for me.”

Sureeporn Yuanjai tucks away a laad naa delivery.
A Grab deliveryman on March 25, 2020 at The Marketplace Nanglinchee.
Watcharapol Kalapuk.
Surapon Suk-erb.