Meet the app that helps gig workers know how much they really make

1. Photo Unsplash
Para is a free app that aims to give gig economy workers more information about their work to help them maximize their earnings. (Photo: Unsplash)
Uber says its drivers average $30 an hour. The delivery service DoorDash says its drivers make at least $25. In reality, many of their drivers are not sure how much they make when taking all their costs into account.اضافة اعلان

David Pickerell discovered this while working as an operations manager at Uber from 2015 to 2017. It did not seem fair, he said, that drivers did not have access to the same information he had sitting behind his computer.

“The information is there — we’re just not empowering people,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we tell the driver and help them with that math?”

So Pickerell left Uber and built his own app, Para. Released last year, the free app aims to give gig economy workers more information about their work to help them maximize their earnings — even as the platforms that dispatch them resist.

The app’s most popular feature allowed DoorDash drivers to know the tip for each job before they accepted it. Other than in New York City (where since last year, apps have been required to show tips in advance), DoorDash hides that figure from drivers, even though most customers set the tip when they place their order.

Para also lets drivers set parameters to juggle multiple apps, automatically decline low-paying gigs and flag rude customers and undesirable locations, such as confusing apartment complexes and restaurants with long waits.

The app offers a tiny form of resistance against the dominance of the large companies that dispatch millions of drivers to deliver pizza, groceries, or prescriptions at the tap of a button. The drivers work as independent contractors, or freelancers, and get paid by the job, not the hour. DoorDash, Uber, Instacart, Grubhub, Lyft, Caviar, Eaze, Postmates, Amazon Flex, Walmart Spark, and Shipt all use this model.

Para is growing in popularity as on-demand delivery services are under fire from all sides: They are largely unprofitable, and investors are pressuring them to cut costs. Restaurants, which relied on delivery as a lifeline during the pandemic, are fed up with the fees they charge.

Drivers, many of whom started working for multiple apps in recent years, have expressed frustration over their pay, particularly as gas prices fluctuate. The Federal Trade Commission said this month that it would crack down on unfair and deceptive practices around wages by the on-demand delivery apps.

Para has not exactly been welcomed by the gig companies. DoorDash sent a cease-and-desist letter last summer, shortly after the app had started, saying that it was illegal for drivers to use their DoorDash credentials on Para. Pickerell responded by offering to have a conversation, and he never heard back.

In July, DoorDash tightened the security controlling how drivers log into its app, cutting off Para from it. Each time Para created a workaround, DoorDash quashed it with a new update within hours, Pickerell said. After a few weeks of cat-and-mouse, Para gave up, ending workers’ ability to use the app with DoorDash.

“Getting in a daily engineering war was not sustainable,” Pickerell said.

DoorDash does not show full tip amounts for “orders that contain larger tips” in advance “to ensure all Dashers have an equal chance at receiving high-value orders”, said Rachel Bradford, a spokesperson.

Last week, Uber also sent Para a cease-and-desist letter. Uber declined to comment.

Harry Campbell, the founder of “The Rideshare Guy”, a blog and podcast for gig workers, said there was “inherent tension” between the ride-hailing platforms and their workers. Drivers want fewer drivers on the road, giving them less competition for the best-paying orders and more bonuses. But the platforms want the opposite — slightly more drivers than orders, to keep the service reliable and consistent.

“That inherent tension always leads to issues,” Campbell said.

In 2020, Uber gave its drivers more flexibility to turn down lower-paying rides in its push for a California ballot measure that would keep drivers as independent contractors. A year later, after the measure had passed, drivers accused Uber of taking away that flexibility. The company made changes to address the complaints in recent weeks.

Other apps have offered drivers various tools over the years, but none have directly undermined the delivery apps as Para did with its hidden-tip feature. The company claims that its app has more users — 100,000 logging on each week and more than 400,000 downloads — than any others trying to give drivers more information about their take-home pay.

Para began as a pandemic project. Pickerell noticed that more gig workers were driving for several apps at a time, so he built an earnings tracker that allowed them to calculate their income in one place. He persuaded drivers to try it by promoting it in online forums, in Facebook groups, and on YouTube, and he quickly discovered that the drivers who made the most money were the ones who juggled apps and chose the best-paying gigs.

Doing that required savvy decision-making — calculating the time, mileage, and gas required for a job while driving amid app pings.

“We basically said, ‘What can we do to help people do this safer and get more competition for their time?’” Pickerell said.

Para does not yet have a business model. But it recently raised $11 million in funding from investors including Brand Foundry and GGV Capital. Some of the company’s backers previously invested in the delivery apps that Para is needling, such as GSR Ventures, which backed Didi, the Uber of China.

The app took off last May, when Para began offering its tip-transparency feature. Luke Brewer, a driver in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, heard about it through YouTube.

“I thought it was, like, the best thing in the world,” he said. He aims to make from $50 to $75 a night, which means turning down a lot of gigs. A no-tip order from Red Lobster could mean less than $3 for 30 minutes of work during a peak time, he said.

“They’re relying on tips too much to make up the difference,” he said of the apps.

Stephanie Vigil, a driver who works for multiple apps in Colorado Springs, Colorado, started using Para last year. “It ends up increasing your earnings because you’re not wasting your time on anything,” she said. “I’m not going to take anything that’s not a solid offer because I don’t have to.”

Read more Technology
Jordan News