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Brazilian couriers say they’re being harassed by Bristol’s self styled moped gangs.

Photos: Samar Khan

Chasing their joyridden mopeds through the streets, finding them hours later tipped over, burnt out or submerged in a river – these are just some of the harrowing events experienced by couriers in Bristol. A group of 60 Brazilian couriers sick of having their livelihood threatened by repeated thefts took to the streets last month to protest police inaction.

They say that the mopeds and motorcycles they rely on to earn a living are being stolen, tipped over and vandalised on a daily basis by the same small group of teenagers. After visiting Bridewell police station, the couriers rode through the city honking their horns and tried to get an audience at City Hall and then with the BBC. Of the 60 couriers at the demo, three quarters said they had experienced an attack.

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“We already met the police six months ago”, says Carlos, one of the drivers. “They said they couldn’t do anything because there was not enough evidence, something about balaclavas and their age”.

One of the organisers, Zack, thinks there’s a racial element to the lack of police action, “they find it easier to ignore the voices of the Brazilian riders,” he tells me.

Around 185 moped drivers work for Deliveroo, many of whom are Brazilian and have formed a tight-knit community owing to their shared language, culture and work. Now, they are coming together to protect their livelihoods from a gang of “problematic kids” who “spend their time looking for bikes,” according to one protester.

A lost moped costs an average of £4,000 to replace, the cheapest option will set them back £3,000, which can take months to work back.

Retrieving a moped from the river

“In one day they pushed over one bike and put another in the river,” one protester tells me.

Couriers say they are anxious whenever they park their bikes to pick up or deliver food and say they are frequently at risk of being approached “a group of five kids who will just push riders off their bikes and ride off”.

One courier found his stolen moped half floating in the river Avon. Another couldn’t work for two days when his bike was stolen and spent the time searching for it. When he finally found it, it was completely burnt out.

Carlos, one of the riders, says “all the kids do is search for bikes to ride around, they don’t even want to sell them”. He says it happens at up to three times a day. Since the couriers are often working alone, there’s nothing they can do to stop the youths.

Police ineffective, Deliveroo disinterested

The gang’s activity is easy enough to track in a Whatsapp group the Brazilian riders use to share new incidents. Originally used to share community news and conversation, the group is now used almost exclusively for sharing sightings and requests for help searching for missing vehicles.

Riders are having to look out for each other. Whenever one of them has fallen victim to the gang, many of their colleagues pause their work at a personal cost to themselves, to help search for the stolen bike. “Riders and motorcyclists are stronger when we stand together,” Zack tells me.

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One rider came over to share his story of a stolen silver Piaggio. According to the couriers, mopeds are rarely stolen to be sold, the kids preferring to joyride then dump them. But on this occasion, the rider discovered his distinctive bike in the background of a photo of another bike being sold on Facebook. He shared this with the police along with a picture of himself on the bike so that they could cross-reference number plates, and still the police did not act he says.

Riders say that the police are failing to prioritise investigating stolen moped cases. “Every case is given to only one officer to handle, if they are not working every day then we cannot contact them and no other police officer knows about it,” says one frustrated courier. We cannot force them to help us because that one person may be very busy”.

After hours of searching, some riders have found their mopeds entirely burnt out

Carlos tells stories of couriers taking the law into their own hands. One rider felt he needed to be able to protect himself and carried a Taser. He was attacked, used it, and was sent to jail for five years.

Another courier enlisted the help of others in wildly chasing his stolen moped from Cribbs Causeway through to Stokes Croft. When the perpetrator was finally surrounded by couriers, he purposefully crashed the moped and attempted to flee. He was apprehended by the couriers who called the police. However, the police deemed the couriers to be overly aggressive and the thief was released.

A member of the Bristol Couriers Network tells me that the company isn’t interested in their struggles. “Deliveroo are notorious for operating a lean business model that thrives off of refusing their couriers the right to be recognised as workers,” he says.

“They barely insure bicycle couriers and only offer some injury pay for the moped drivers. There is no cover for theft or fire.”

The Bristol Couriers Network are a local couriers organisation, affiliated with the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which emerged to fight for fair pay and workers rights for moped and bicycle couriers in the city. They have been organising a series of strikes since December, halting the pay per drop rate from dropping any further, and winning occasional pay boosts and hiring freezes.

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Zack explains that they are currently working with the council to remove penalty charges from high street loading bays for moped drivers so they aren’t fined for collecting food. He hopes that doing so could mitigate some of the thefts.

“It’s an additional insult to have no sympathy from Deliveroo. Already, we riders face dangers and costs doing this job, these dangers and costs are transferred entirely to us and not reflected in the pay. Deliveroo profits from riders paying for their own vehicles and repairs and they must pay towards this or at least provide a free insurance”.

Deliveroo did not reply to our request for comment.

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