Riley Elliot, a delivery driver based in Las Vegas, went viral after sharing an emotional video on TikTok detailing the financial hardships of trying to make ends meet with low tips and sub-minimum wages. As the video gained views and spread across social media platforms, donations began pouring in — and now Elliot is trying to help others in need.
Elliot told TODAY Food he has been driving for Uber Eats "on and off" since 2016, when he lost his full-time job of more than a decade. He also works part-time at a local Pizza Hut, though his hours have been slashed during the pandemic, and drives for other delivery companies like Shipt and Amazon. His fiancé, Renni, is also unemployed, and the couple needs to move out of their apartment in a week, so he's been pulling longer shifts to try to make ends meet.
In the video, which has garnered over 2 million views since its posting on Feb. 17, Elliot says he had to pay $3 to park his car and deliver a food order after the recipient refused to meet him outside. Since the recipient only tipped him $1.50 and his hourly wage is low, he explains that he essentially lost money on the delivery, which took 45 minutes in total. Uber Eats did not respond to a request for comment about its hourly wages.
"It doesn't matter that I'm working multiple jobs, it doesn't matter that I rarely sleep and can barely afford to feed myself," he says in the video, through tears. "I am about to be homeless for the third time since May, and it's all because people don't tip their delivery drivers."
"I came out of the delivery and I was exhausted," Elliot told TODAY, adding that he had stopped driving for Uber Eats until he and his partner's financial situation changed due to the pandemic. "I was scared that we weren't ever going to be able to (qualify) for a house or apartment, because this person won't even tip me enough to cover the parking fee, and it just felt like I was never going to (make enough money) if nobody cares."
In his first video, Elliot blamed customers who don't tip on deliveries, but added in a follow-up video and in his interview with TODAY that he also blames companies that pay their drivers below minimum wage and use loopholes, like labeling them independent contractors, to avoid giving benefits to drivers. Driving for a delivery service also leads to increased vehicle wear and tear: Elliot said his car has about 261,000 miles on it, primarily accumulated by driving for delivery apps.
"In the U.S., tip culture is a huge part of our society, and these companies are paying sub-minimum wage to service workers because they're expecting the customer to make up the difference," said Elliot. "And then these companies are charging outrageous fees to customers, so customers don't tip the driver. … It keeps drivers desperate and accepting lowball offers, because we've got to put gas in our tanks, we've got to get oil changes, we need to get new tires more often."
"The drivers are seeing $2, maybe $3 (from an order)," Elliot continued. "I'm making $2 and destroying my car. These companies are making billions while consumers and driver struggle, and through the pandemic, job loss and unemployment have skyrocketed."
Uber Eats did not respond to a request for comment on this story. DoorDash, which Elliot mentioned in his video and used to drive for, said in a statement that the company is proud to provide "flexible opportunities for Dashers to earn on their own schedule around their own needs, making more than $22 per hour that they're on a job and serving as supplemental income for the majority on our platform." According to the company, the $22-an-hour figure is a national average.
After posting the video to TikTok, Elliot said that he put his phone away — since he only had nine followers on the app at the time, all friends, he didn't expect any response, but by 10 p.m. that night, he realized it was blowing up. Along with the comments, likes and shares came donations, since he had had his Venmo account listed in his TikTok bio from participating in a previous sweepstakes event.
"I have been just totally blown away," said Elliot. While he's not sure exactly how much money has been raised, he estimates it to be around $55,000. "None of it was expected. I didn't post the video expecting people to reach out or expecting money or handouts or anything."
Elliot said the amount is enough that he and his fiancé are no longer looking at apartments — instead, they're looking at permanent housing. They've also been "giving money away," he said, to the point that he hit the maximum amount of money he could send with cash transfer apps like Venmo and Cash App.
"Once we reached the point where we were like, 'OK, now we'll definitely be able to get into a place, we don't need all of this,' I started literally just giving money away," Elliot explained. "We sent money to folks in Texas whose pipes had burst, we sent money to folks who needed medication, sent money to friends who were struggling. … We spent about $15,000 that first day, just helping people out with their situations."
Since he can't send any more money to people at the moment, Elliot said he's directing potential donors to GoFundMe campaigns. Some of the causes he's championed include an adaptive bike for a little boy with special needs and small fundraisers for people who are trying to pay bills or obtain medical care. He and his fiancé also spent $500 buying blankets and food to give to homeless people, and set up another GoFundMe that will be used specifically to give aid to delivery drivers.
"Right away, my initial response was, 'Oh my god, we can help other people,'" Elliot said. "It's honestly been kind of a dream come true. … Financially, everybody's struggling right now."