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

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SAN FRANCISCO — 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 aren’t sure how much they make when taking all their costs into account.

David Pickerell discovered this while working as an operations manager at Uber from 2015 to 2017. It didn’t seem fair, he said, that drivers didn’t 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, prescriptions or marijuana 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 hasn’t 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 and that data traffic from Para was so high it had “destabilized” DoorDash’s platform more than once. 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.



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