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Female delivery driver says extra precautions needed for safety

Olivia Milano, a pizza delivery driver, takes an order from a customer during a shift at River Falls Carbone's. Photo courtesy of Nick Cobian

By Nick Cobian, special to the River Falls Journal

Sitting in a green booth in front of Italian-themed wallpaper at Carbone's Pizzeria in the corner of the South Side Mall in River Falls, Olivia Milano, a Carbone's Pizzeria delivery driver, recounts her experiences as one of the few female drivers working in town.

"It's definitely different to have a young female driver as opposed to some old man delivering your pizzas," Milano said.

For Milano, delivering pizzas around River Falls is sometimes more than just the job she signed up for. Situations she faces while delivering around town can make her, a young woman, feel weary of going to work. According to her, being a woman delivery driver seems to invite lewd comments and inappropriate propositions from several customers. It leaves her in an uncomfortable position, where she's forced each day going into work having to balance which is more important to her — extra tip money or her safety.

"I would say it's like 40 percent of the time," said Milano, referencing how often she runs into situations like these.

A co-worker, Eugene, also a long-time delivery driver at Carbone's, said that he's been genuinely uncomfortable on the job only twice in his two-year career there. Eugene said he always carries some form of protective device with him, and said it would be "stupid not to," although he admits to never having to use it.

Milano, similar to Eugene, listed all of the protective items she carries at all times — pepper spray, a taser, and a rape whistle, all attached to her keychain, almost always on hand. She said that these items are absolutely necessary for the job, not just because of the usual dangers of deliveries around town, but because of the threat that a female driver often faces.

"I will ask another employee to go with me if it starts to get dark," said Milano, sharing the times that she most feels uncomfortable on the job.

Milano has also given up delivering to certain people if she recognizes their names, and usually has to ask other employees to take the delivery if the person has harassed her in the past. Not only does this make her give up the money from deliveries, but if it's too dark outside, she won't even deliver at all, giving up all future deliveries to someone else for the night if only just to feel comfortable.

"This might sound stupid, but I think like, a check-in for each house or each delivery would help," said Milano, thinking of ways that the delivery system could be fixed to allow drivers to feel safer on their routes.

"We don't know 90 percent of the people we deliver to, and a lot of it is out in the country, so it makes it hard to really gauge who you'll really run into," says Andrew Miron, manager of River Falls Carbone's.

"I just think there needs to be a lot more accountability on the people who we're actually delivering to, and as a measure, we typically have everyone's phone number, so we would be able to report their name, address and phone number to the authorities if something were to happen," said Miron about current methods of safety, "but as far as mitigating the risk beforehand, I don't think there's a lot of steps that are taken, and to be honest, that's something that the company needs to brainstorm."

Regarding Milano's idea, Miron said, "I think it would definitely be nice if we had some sort of indicator, even if it's just a 'green for go, red for issue' type of light system that would pop up on our computers. There's a lot of times that drivers would be going out in very adverse conditions ... and if someone's out there, and they're gone for a while, then they may not be able to use their phone if they're using it for directions, and if something bad happens, we would really have no way of knowing."

Miron suggested a possible GPS system to track drivers, where the store employees would be able to see if a driver or a driver's car has stayed in one place for over a certain amount of time, indicating that someone would know to check in.

As simple as that sounds, not even large companies like Uber have implemented a system like it to ensure driver safety. For most drivers, regardless of employer, it seems that they are the only ones responsible for their safety. For drivers to at least feel safe, according to Milano, a check-in with a manager or other employees would make her feel better in case anything were to go wrong on a delivery.

"I don't feel like you think about it when you order something like a pizza; stuff like who your driver is, and what they've been through," said Milano.

Milano thinks that safety is too often disregarded for delivery drivers, female drivers especially, in smaller cities like River Falls where they face dangers that people wouldn't expect from a non-city environment.

"People think that this place is a nice town, and while it is, there's also the same dangers you'll find everywhere else," said Milano. "But in terms of the people, the safety of our job is definitely looked over, just because River Falls isn't thought of as some 'slimy town.'"

Nick Cobian is a River Falls High School graduate, currently attending Hamline University in St. Paul as a Global Communications/Media Studies major.