The Public Cost of Delivering Millions of Parcels Every Day

Ken Bensinger and Caroline O’Donovan of Buzzfeed News, reporting alongside James Bandler, Patricia Callahan, and Doris Burke of ProPublica:

Investigations by ProPublica and BuzzFeed News this year revealed that drivers delivering Amazon packages had been involved in more than 60 crashes that led to serious injuries, including 10 deaths. Since then, the news organizations have learned of three more deaths.

Amazon, which keeps a tight grip on how drivers working for contractors do their jobs, has told courts around the country it was not responsible when delivery vans crashed or workers were exploited. It is a position that is facing more legal and legislative challenges, as some states seek to force tech companies such as Uber to take more financial responsibility for the contract workers who underlie their businesses.

Matthew Haag and Winnie Hu, reporting earlier this year for the New York Times:

Officials are racing to keep track of the numerous warehouses sprouting up, to create more zones for trucks to unload and to encourage some deliveries to be made by boat as the city struggles to cope with a booming online economy.

The average number of daily deliveries to households in New York City tripled to more than 1.1 million shipments from 2009 to 2017, the latest year for which data was available, according to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Center of Excellence for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems.

“It is impossible to triple the amount,” said José Holguín-Veras, the center’s director and an engineering professor at Rensselaer, “without paying consequences.”

Households now receive more shipments than businesses, pushing trucks into neighborhoods where they had rarely ventured.

It is perhaps inevitable that some accidents will occur, and Amazon’s total of at least sixty-three since 2015 is lower than, say, Uber’s — they reported nearly one-hundred fatal accidents in 2017 and 2018. But delivery contractors for Amazon are typically driving larger and heavier vehicles that present greater danger to drivers of smaller cars, cyclists, and pedestrians.

In the case of both companies, however, these injuries and deaths — and the congestion described in the Times article — are a result of unproven but eagerly-adopted developments. Many vehicles might not be on the road if it were not for Amazon’s high-pressure rush delivery options. It is worrying that these companies are aware of the negative results of programs like Amazon Prime, but are slow to make changes for the better as they continue to hurry packages along. If they bore some responsibility for the damage they inflict, I imagine things may be different.