Meals on heels: Madam Teo, 70, delivers food on foot
70-year-old UberEats ‘walker’ makes up to 12 trips a day delivering food in the CBD
Under the hot midday sun, a woman wearing a funky cap and green exercise tights swiftly crosses busy roads and navigates the maze of tall skyscrapers in Tanjong Pagar to slip into a takeaway store called YOLO.
A young staff member passes her a steaming order of salmon steak in a plastic box, and teases her about being a “wonder woman”.
But there is no time to banter. After pausing briefly to check her phone, she strides purposefully down two streets to enter AXA Tower in Shenton Way.
Then she takes the lift up 43 storeys and arrives at the office – all within 20 minutes.
Madam Teo Yoke Lan is not a millennial yuppie who just popped out for a takeaway lunch. This 70-year-old delivers food to time-pressed office workers a third her age.
And the septuagenarian does it on foot most of the time.
In January, UberEats – the food delivery arm of ride-hailing service Uber – started signing on “walkers” to deliver food in the Central Business District. It is the only major delivery platform in Singapore that pays people to deliver food by walking.
UberEats said it has “several hundred” walkers in its network and most are students. The minimum age to be a walker is 18 and Madam Teo is among the oldest. UberEats was unable to verify if she indeed is the oldest.
Madam Teo said in Mandarin: “I don’t find it tiring at all. I like it because the hours are flexible and I get money for exercising.”
She has four children who are supportive of her job. She earns $1,000 to $1,500 every month, which she uses to buy things for herself and her two granddaughters, such as clothes, milk powder and diapers.
Over the last four months, Madam Teo has done over 300 deliveries in the Raffles Place and Tanjong Pagar area.
The former beautician clocks in between six and 11 hours of work almost every day – that is about six to 12 trips a day.
UberEats pays up to $16 an hour, as well as up to $2 for each trip made, depending on whether it is during peak mealtimes.
These rates are slightly less than what it offers its motorcycle and bicycle delivery partners.
“I applied to be a cashier at a convenience store and as a dishwasher, but none of (the companies) got back to me,” she said.
“It’s wonderful that (UberEats) does not discriminate against the elderly.”
She is not worried about facing irate customers annoyed with late deliveries as UberEats optimises the radius in which a walker can pick up and deliver food.
This is to ensure that consumers get their food within 35 minutes.
UberEats declined to reveal the dispatch radius due to competitive reasons.
“Delivering food by walking is very viable in Singapore due to the density of restaurants and residential areas,” said an UberEats spokesman.
It was Madam Teo’s son, an Uber driver, who told her about the walking scheme. Initially, the granny, who only studied till Primary 6, feared using the mobile application and getting lost while making deliveries as she does not understand much English.
But she familiarised herself with the technology and street names so well that now, she rarely needs to refer to the Global Positioning System.
She can zigzag through the area via small lanes and shortcuts.
“Other teenage deliverymen ask me how come I can walk and deliver faster than they do on a bicycle. I share with them tips on where to park and walk because there are shortcuts you can take on foot,” said Madam Teo, who is one of UberEats’ top delivery walkers in terms of the number of trips made.
Last Thursday, she did six trips over eight hours, delivering everything from bubble tea to salads.
Ask her if she is tired and she replies “no” with a quizzical look, as if such a possibility has never crossed her mind.
Instead of worrying about getting tired, her bigger concern is wasting time when jobs do not come in fast enough.
During lull periods, she goes shopping or takes a coffee break.
One month ago, her children gave her a motorised scooter as an early Mother’s Day present. She now loads her shopping items and other miscellaneous things, such as a helmet, raincoat, water bottle – she guzzles three a day – and three battery packs, on the scooter.
For short-distance delivery trips, the scooter doubles up as her “walking stick”, she joked, because she pushes it alongside her as she walks.
“Some relatives and friends say I am so old, I should just enjoy the good life and look after my grandchildren. Others say they are old and useless and they can’t do this,” said Madam Teo, who has tripped and fallen twice so far during her delivery runs.
“But age doesn’t determine what you can or cannot do. Anything is possible if you want to do it. I am happy to do this for as long as possible because I feel younger and more alert when I move around.”