ON THE ROAD: Juan Solano (right) waits at a traffic light while making deliveries in Hell’s Kitchen. (PHOTO/Dashiell Allen)

NEW YORK — Juan Solano is one of the estimated 65,000 delivery workers who take to their electric bikes each day to bring New Yorkers their favorite meals.

He’s also an activist, and three years ago founded, along with his cousins, El Diario de los Delivery Boys en la Gran Manzana, a Facebook page and grassroots network of workers who support and protect one another on the city’s streets. Those same delivery workers are now struggling in the wake of a new law designed to help them — after backlash by food apps left some of them worse off than before, they say.

The law, which took effect in December 2023, requires food delivery companies such as Grubhub, Uber and DoorDash to pay delivery workers a minimum hourly wage of at least $17.96 before tips, with annual increases for inflation.

However, after the law went into effect, DoorDash and Uber announced they were changing their tipping interface to only allow for tips after the order had already been completed — an act that some critics have decried as retaliatory.

“As we have repeatedly made clear in recent months, the ill-conceived, extreme minimum pay rate for food delivery workers in New York City will have significant consequences for everyone who uses our platform,” DoorDash wrote in a Dec. 4, 2023 explanation for the change. “In order to better balance the impact of these new costs, we’re moving the option to tip in the DoorDash app to after checkout.”

Now, Solano and his colleagues report receiving fewer tips — or no tips at all.

“Before there was a little bit, but not anymore,” Solano said. 

Michael Lanza, a spokesperson for the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, told the New York City News Service that the agency “is committed to supporting delivery workers and protecting their rights.” The agency hopes the apps will undo any changes that might make tipping more difficult.

PICOTEAR: On the Upper East Side, Juan Solano refreshes the delivery app he works for to see if new orders have come in. (PHOTO/Dashiell Allen)

Delivery workers also say they’re experiencing longer wait times before getting assigned to an order. They spend much of their shifts tapping their phones to refresh the page — or “picotear,” which in Spanish means to “peck”  — derived from “pico,” the word for a bird’s beak.  Many, including Solano, use an automated clicker that presses the refresh button for them. On one of his shifts, each time Solano’s clicker pressed the “start working” button, a message in Spanish appeared, saying “You cannot work. There are no deliveries available right now.” 

Workers can sometimes reserve an hour to make deliveries in advance, but when all the slots are filled, “there’s many compañeros that fall asleep” while waiting for orders, Solano said. “That’s the life of a delivery worker.” 

Solano, who immigrated to NYC from San Juan Puerto Montaña, in Guerrero, Mexico, delivers for a food delivery app called Relay, which accepts orders placed on other applications, as well as directly from restaurants. Relay has not been subject to the new minimum wage at this time due to an ongoing lawsuit, according to city officials.

As a result, Solano said he still only makes $12.50 an hour. 

One day, he worked for just half an hour, despite being out on the streets waiting for orders to arrive in the application for the entire day. The next day, he hadn’t gotten a single order between 10 am and 5:30 pm.

All the same, he keeps riding from one neighborhood to another in the hopes more orders will come. 

Here’s a day in Solano’s life, as he traversed more than a dozen miles, zigzagging across the Upper East and West sides, Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen and beyond. 

FELLOW TRAVELER: Solano makes time to exchange a friendly word with another worker outside a pizzeria on the Upper East Side. (PHOTO/Dashiell Allen)


CROSSROADS: Juan Solano passes through Times Square while delivering food. (PHOTO/Dashiell Allen)


BALANCING ACT:  Solano fills orders as quickly as possible, using a careful balancing act on the back of his bike. (PHOTO: Dashiell Allen)


HIGH SPEED: Life can feel like a blur after a day making deliveries. (PHOTO/Dashiell Allen)

RAISING HIS VOICE: When he’s not working, Solano is also a musician. Here, he sings Canción para los deliveryboys de comida en NYC, or Song for the food delivery boys of NYC, at a Día de los Muertos commemoration in East Harlem. (PHOTO/Dashiell Allen)