For about the last year Uber has been testing out something we New York drivers affectionately call “Insta-Ping”. The first time I experienced it, I was shocked and elated!
In New York, Uber is legal at all three airports, which has been good and bad for drivers. When Uber became legal, instead of hanging out as close to the terminals as possible, in hopes of being the closest driver to the next passenger, drivers were sent to a “queue” lot where Uber puts us into an electronic queue system. The first driver in will be the first driver out.
At first, this worked quiet well. Drivers could get in and out of the queue usually in under an hour. Over time however, the length of the wait dramatically increased. Today, drivers can wait up to six hours but if they get there at the right time they may have a relatively short wait that will come in under two hours.
But there’s a downside; drivers consider any wait over two hours unprofitable.
— Uber Overheard (@Uber_Overheard) July 20, 2017
When Uber became legal at the airports, they told us that once we drop someone off, we should immediately head to the queue lot. They were emphatic about the fact that we would not get any calls until after we had entered the queue lot. And for a long time that was true.
The Big Surprise
The first time I discovered this wasn’t true, it came as a complete surprise. It was several months ago. I picked up a passenger one early morning in Manhattan who was going to JFK Airport. I drive for UberBlack, which has rates that are twice as high as UberX, so the higher rates combined with the heavy morning traffic, I made $90 on that trip.
But the minute I dropped the passenger off and ended the trip on the app, I instantly got a ping! I couldn’t believe it. I thought something had gone wrong with Uber’s systems! I answered the ping and the pickup was right there in the same terminal I was in!
This didn’t make any sense. How could I get a ping before entering queue lot? Fortunately, such questions didn’t slow me down from heading over to pick up the passenger!
When he got in the car, I started the trip and when I saw his destination, I knew this was going to be a $100+ trip. It took me about 45 minutes to get to his destination and the total fare came to $115. I thought, “Wow! In two hours, I just made over $200!” Not a bad start for the morning! I was well on my way to a $500 day!
I was still baffled though about why this had happened so I started talking to other drivers about it. Some of them had recently experienced it too. As with so many things with Uber, they don’t announce it, so you just have to take what you know and piece together a theory. Uber hadn’t said a thing about this, and in fact, they were still telling us it was illegal for us to get a ping while we were in the terminal area. They were still telling us it was mandatory that we enter the queue lot before we could go into the queue and get a ping. That’s why it came as such a complete surprise.
Cause, Effect, and Implications
What we figured out was this…
When a rider opens the passenger app at the airport, Uber promises them a car in four minutes or less. There is no way for a driver in the queue lot to get to the terminals in less than four minutes. The normal time for that is about 12 minutes.
So, we figured out that Uber had come up with a system to send pings to whoever had just dropped off and was still in the terminal area because they could get to the riders a lot faster. And like so many other things, being illegal wasn’t about to slow them down.
The implications of this are numerous.
1. Longer driver waits
First, it means the drivers waiting in the queue lot are going to wait a lot longer, as drivers who just dropped off at the airport are going to pick up 80% of the calls. Uber, recently came clean on this and announced it to New York drivers.
Putting the best possible spin on it, they tell us that wait times in the queue lot will go down because fewer drivers will end up there. However, we have found that the wait times are much longer now – going as high as six hours at times.
2. Change driving routine to get insta pings
The next implication is you have to change your driving routine in order to take advantage of this. Knowing about it is the first step. If you’re not aware of it, you could easily lose your chance to get an instant ping. Now that you know Uber is rolling this out, keep an eye out for it in your market.
They started doing it in New York several months before they announced it to drivers. I imagine New York was a test market and now that they’ve ironed out the kinks they will probably test it out in other markets for a few weeks before informing drivers of it. So, watch for it where you are. Having this knowledge is what you need to take advantage of it.
How to Handle Insta Pings
When Instant Ping comes to your city, you’ll want to handle airport drop-offs a little differently. Instead of dropping off and then heading to the queue lot, and possibly going offline at the same time, you’ll want to stay online and you’ll want to stay in the terminal area.
Each car that qualifies for the Instant Ping queue after dropping off a passenger, will have 10 minutes to get a trip. If a passenger comes out of the airport and calls an Uber while you’re in the Instant Ping queue, you have a very high likelihood of getting that call. This can save you hours of waiting time and make your trip to the airport a lot more profitable.
What you want to do right after you drop off at the airport is, first, stay online! Second, stay in the terminal or as close to it as you possibly can. Third, start up the passenger app and watch it very carefully. Look to see if you show up on it. You should see your car pop up there. If you do, then you are in the Instant Ping queue, and once you’re in, you want to stay in!
So, don’t go offline and don’t leave the terminal area. The minute you get too far outside the terminal area, Uber will take you out of the Instant Ping queue and you’ll lose your chance at getting an instant return trip. Uber will keep you in the Instant Ping queue for 10 minutes. If no call has come in after 10 minutes, you’ll be popped out of the queue and have to either go join everyone else in the regular queue or head back to town.
Sometimes airport personnel will not let you just sit in the terminal and wait and they may force you to move. If that happens, move! Always obey the traffic officers. But move only as far as you have to in order to keep them from bothering you again. If they do come back and ask you to move again, you’ll probably have to leave the terminal, but that’s okay.
The Instant Ping queue area will cover the entire terminal area of your airport, so it won’t be a killer if you have to leave the actual terminal, as long as you stay on the airport grounds and come back around to the terminal or head directly to a different terminal. But it’s best to try to stay put if you can.
In New York, when airport personnel come over to the car and motion for us to move usually all we have to do is pull up a few yards and then we can wait for another few minutes before they bother us again. If they do finally force us to leave the terminal entirely, we’ll just go around and come back or head to a different terminal.
New Airport Trick for Black/SUV Drivers
When Instant Ping comes to your area you might want to try out a new airport strategy. What you do is use one of your six new filters, to filter to the airport. If you’re lucky and get a trip to the airport, when you drop the passenger off, check the passenger app and see if you’re in the Instant Ping queue. If you are, you’ll probably get a quick trip back.
But if you’re a Black/Premium or SUV/XL driver, you can also try this in a bit of a different way.
Black/SUV/XL drivers should filter to the airport and go on all calls, to increase your chances of getting a trip to the airport. If you’re a Black/SUV driver, you’ll hate taking someone to the airport at such a low rate, but remember, your real goal is to get a quick trip out of the airport at Black/SUV rates.
So, this is just a way to get to the airport and make at least something on the way. You’re doing it with the knowledge that a little more than half the time, you’ll get an Instant Ping at the higher Black/SUV rate to go back to the city.
While you’re headed to the airport with your passenger on X or XL, be sure to use the app’s new ability to switch to Black/SUV only, while enroute, or you’ll likely get an X ping at the airport and have to come back at X rates! And I know that will ruin your day, so remember to switch to Black only or Black/SUV only – depending on your vehicle.
In New York, it works like this. At UberX rates, a trip to JFK will net a driver around $40-$45. If they get an Instant Ping with a trip right back to the city, they’ll make another $90-$100. So, for two or three hours of work, they’ll make around $140.
There’s always the chance they could get a big trip out of the airport and make anywhere from $120-$200 on that trip. They don’t like the $45 trip to the airport, but when they add the $45 to what they’re going to make on the return trip, and consider how much time they saved getting the return trip, it suddenly becomes a lot more attractive.
Instant Ping will come to airports that already have a queue system in place. More and more airports are getting the queue system but not all of them have it yet. So keep an eye out for the queue system and when your airport has that in place, keep a watch for out for Instant Pings!
Have you experienced Uber’s Insta Ping system yet? Do you think it’s fair for other drivers in the que? Let me know in the comments below!