The doorbell rings. Instead of a young man juggling bags of food in one hand and a smartphone in the other, a grey-haired deliveryman could be at the door.
There are about 300 delivery riders aged 60 and above who hit the road to send food to hungry customers, according to major food-delivery companies in Singapore.
This small but growing group of seniors makes up 1 per cent to 2 per cent of the companies' delivery fleet. These seniors are finding a new lease of life, riding motorbikes or electric scooters to deliver food to stay active and augment their retirement income.
"The numbers are very small but there are elderly persons who want and need to supplement their income, and the rise of the sharing economy can mean more freelancing job opportunities for seniors," said Nee Soon GRC MP Henry Kwek, who is a member of the People's Action Party Seniors Group.
"The issue is access to these roles. More can be done to strengthen their digital literacy, either by offering specific courses to seniors on how they can use such mobile apps more effectively or Workforce Singapore can perhaps work with seniors to tap the availability of such jobs."
Some riders say the job gives them the independence and flexibility to earn extra pocket money on their own schedule.
Others say older people are taking on jobs as independent contractors without any benefits because they may have a harder time finding full-time employment, given their age.
"There are similar trends in the United States, where older workers are being actively recruited for low-skill service jobs," said Nominated MP and labour economist Walter Theseira.
"These gig jobs are easy to get into, compared with say, security or other service jobs where you face more requirements. However, the lack of benefits and particularly insurance is a real issue."
Like many developed cities, Singapore faces the challenges of a rapidly ageing population.
By 2030, the gap between the young and old in Singapore is expected to widen considerably - the percentage of seniors will rise to 27 per cent and that of youth will fall to 10.8 per cent.
Singapore has around 500,000 people aged 65 and older, and the number is expected to almost double to about 900,000 by 2030.
At Deliveroo Singapore, 111 out of its pool of 6,000 riders are aged 60 and above.
Deliveroo Singapore general manager Siddharth Shanker said the job typically attracts a younger demographic of students who enjoy the flexible hours and the chance to explore different parts of Singapore.
Foodpanda said about 1 per cent, or 60, of its more than 6,000 riders are 60 years old and above.
GrabFood declined to disclose its overall fleet number but said it has about 100 delivery partners who are aged 60 and above.
Most of these older delivery staff use motorbikes and scooters but there are those who drive, too.
A third of the senior delivery riders at Deliveroo use bicycles, and a quarter of those at GrabFood cycle or walk to deliver food. About one in five of the older delivery staff at GrabFood drives to make the deliveries.
"As food delivery can be quite a physical job and may require tasks such as carrying orders and climbing up and down stairs, it might dissuade more seniors from taking up the job," said Mr Luc Andreani, managing director of Foodpanda Singapore.
All three food-delivery companies say they do not have an upper age limit for their delivery staff as older people should have access to flexible work, regardless of age.
"As long as they are physically fit, are responsible road users and acutely aware of road-safety regulations, they will be able to join the fleet," said Mr Andreani.
Regular users of food-delivery services say they do not have concerns about older people delivering their food, as long as these delivery staff are safe on the roads and the delivery time for orders is not compromised.
"I have encountered a few older people who delivered my food and there were no issues," said Mr Joel Li, 37, who works at a non-profit organisation.
"As long as the rider informs me that he may take a little longer, which was what a disabled guy previously did, I am fine with waiting as long as it does not go beyond 15 minutes from the estimated delivery time."
Ms Deborah Li, 33, who is in marketing communications and makes food-delivery orders at least four times a week, said her only concern with elderly riders is whether they are safe on the roads, especially during the peak-hour rush.
But Foodpanda said it does not see a significant difference in the number of accidents involving its senior riders and those involving younger ones.
Deliveroo, GrabFood and Foodpanda have their own training and road-safety programme for their riders.
Deliveroo's Mr Shanker said it recently implemented an accident-and-injury insurance scheme for its delivery riders for free. In the event of an accident, all its riders' personal medical expenses are covered.
GrabFood has also made personal accident insurance free for its delivery partners. At Foodpanda, insurance is not free, but riders can sign up for packages from its insurance partners at preferential rates.
Mr Shanker said there is no correlation between a delivery rider's age and the speed of his deliveries, while GrabFood said there is no difference in the number of deliveries completed by senior riders and those in other age groups.
One of GrabFood's top delivery riders is Mr Ang Thing Yue, 62, who completed the most number of deliveries on bicycle last year (see other report.)
Mr Tan Choon Hoe, 64, a former dispatch rider at a company that offers courier services, joined Foodpanda last year. He said he now earns about $2,000 a month, a few hundred dollars more than before.
"We were paid according to assignments and the number of assignments had been dropping due to online competition," said Mr Tan of his former dispatch job.
A friend told him about Foodpanda and he joined it shortly after.
Mr Tan delivers food around the Central Business District three to four days a week on his motorbike. He works five to six hours a day.
He likes the job as it is more relaxed and his schedule is flexible so he can spend more time with his grandchildren.
"It took me just five minutes to learn how to use the food delivery app," said Mr Tan. "It is not difficult. Where there is a will, there is a way, so we shouldn't stop learning."
GRABFOOD'S TOP RIDER, 62, DELIVERED 3,000 MEALS IN MAY-DEC 2018
Every day, Mr Ang Thing Yue would ride his trusty green mountain bike, complete with a customised metal rack at the back where a food bag sits snugly.
The 62-year-old cycles 60km to 100km daily, Mondays to Sundays, chalking up about 10 food deliveries a day. He delivered almost 3,000 food orders from May to December last year, making him the GrabFood rider who completed the most number of deliveries on bicycle last year.
The metal rack behind his bicycle seat is where he used to put the bread loaves sold at his minimart in a shophouse in Ceylon Road. The rack, like Mr Ang, has been given a second lease of life.
"My minimart can't compete with NTUC (FairPrice) so I closed it down. Just nice, the bread rack fits my bicycle and the food-delivery bag," said Mr Ang, a former sailor who had also operated coffee shops previously.
For many years, Mr Ang had difficulty finding a job because he has only O-level qualifications.
Two years ago, the avid cyclist was riding along his usual route from Changi Coast Road to East Coast Park when a young cyclist suggested that he get paid while cycling by doing food delivery.
Mr Ang had not heard of such a service before and immediately signed up to be a delivery rider with Uber Eats.
Uber was later acquired by Grab and its food-delivery service is now known as GrabFood.
Rain or shine, apart from heavy downpours, one is likely to find Mr Ang cycling in areas such as Marine Parade, Bedok, Toa Payoh, Potong Pasir and Boon Keng, as these places are not too far from where he lives in Ceylon Road.
He has been doing this, day in, day out, for two years now, because he enjoys being able to earn money while exercising. He said he earns about $2,000 a month.
"I like the freedom. There is nobody to control me. If I don't want to work, I just log off from the app instead of needing to apply for a day off," said Mr Ang.
"I also can take my money instantly instead of waiting till the end of the month. I do it every week," he added.
Yet, the realities of keeping up with the cost of living here means he has to put in long hours daily.
"I try to rest but I can't afford to do fewer hours. I have to pay my rent and bills," said Mr Ang. He lives in a shophouse in Ceylon Road with his wife, a part-time cashier, and their daughter.
Though the work can be tiring, Mr Ang appreciates the kindness of the food merchants that he visits to pick up the food. They never fail to offer to top up his water bottle. He gets it filled up about three times a day.
Sometimes, he falls down and gets minor cuts on his hands and legs. However, he has not had any major accidents so far.
He said most of his deliveries are on time or earlier than the estimated time. And he has his meals wherever his work takes him.
"In the areas that I cover, McDonald's is popular with the youngsters, families like the Indian vegetarian food and everybody loves cakes," said Mr Ang, who often gets greeted by customers as he makes his way around.
"They call me 'uncle' here, 'uncle' there. I ask them, 'Am I very old?'" he said with a laugh.
"I will do this as long as I can, till my legs or my health stops me."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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