Are Uber Wait Times Getting Longer?

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Lately I’ve had a hell of a time getting an Uber when I really need one.  The Uber wait times in Dallas/Fort Worth have been excessive at several points in recent weeks.  This makes me wonder if this is a symptom of a larger Uber issue brewing.

Uber_Logo_Black_Background

Three data points for Uber wait times in Dallas/Fort Worth from the past two weeks:

  1. Monday morning, 8:30 am:  No cars available in central Fort Worth for anything but UberBlack (12 minutes away).
  2. Thursday afternoon, 4:45 pm: The nearest cars for UberVIP, UberX, UberSelect, UberXL, and UberSUV were 23-28 minutes away. UberBlack was 11 minutes away, all in central Fort Worth.
  3. Friday evening, 7:15 pm: The nearest cars at DFW Airport for UberVIP/UberX were 17 minutes away.  The shortest wait was UberBlack at 4 minutes.

These are all prime business travel times.  And these are not isolated experiences based on my 2017 history.  One Friday morning I took an UberSelect to DFW because no UberVIP/UberX cars were available at 5 am.  On at least two other occasions, I’ve requested an UberXL because the wait times for lesser priced cars were excessive.

These Uber wait times were not typical as recently as last year.  My most common reference point areas are my central Fort Worth neighborhood and DFW Airport.  While UberBlack car availability has slowly crept up, my perception is that there are fewer non-professional drivers on the road.  This is key because of the cost differential between the services.  In the DFW market, UberVIP and UberX are close to the same price.  The only difference I have noticed is higher rated drivers for UberVIP.  UberSelect is roughly double the price of UberVIP/UberX.  UberBlack/UberSUV is roughly four times the price of UberVip/UberX.

In this household, we’ve built up a dependency on Uber.  Right now, due to heavy travel schedules, we are sharing one car.  Having timely Uber access has never been more critical.

I’ve had trouble gauging when to order an Uber when leaving for the airport, for example.  It is not uncommon to see Uber drivers within 10 minutes of my house.  Once I request, however, they can take up to 15 minutes to arrive.  I’ve also had the opposite experience.  I’ve ordered an Uber that is reportedly 12 minutes away and had a driver outside idling within 5 minutes.

Several Uber drivers weighed in on why Uber wait times seem to be growing longer.

Many drivers are staging at the airport and/or waiting for return rides there.  In the mornings, drivers will take their first passenger to DFW.  They will then wait for a ride to take them away from the airport.  In the early morning hours, this can often mean a high volume of cars waiting for return rides.

One driver told me she typically waits up to two hours for her next ride at the airport.  She knows the number of flights arriving in the early morning are low.  Nonetheless, she finds it more cost-effective to stay at the airport.  She saves on gas by not driving back to where more airport-bound passengers may be waiting.

Other drivers have shared that once they receive a ride at the airport, they typically will not return.  This is because they can obtain other rides in the vicinity of the destination but away from the airport

These two experiences suggest that peak airport times – both outbound and inbound – result in inefficient driver routing.  Many drivers will post up at DFW on Thursday and Friday evenings to pick up business travelers.  But they often will not return after the first wave of passengers arrives.

The same happens in reverse in the mornings, particularly on Mondays and Fridays when many business travelers are airport-bound.  After my Monday morning experience above, several other passengers boarding our Seattle-bound American Airlines flight mentioned similar Uber problems.  Those passengers were coming from all areas of the DFW Metroplex, not just my area of town.

I’ve heard similar stories from friends who have nearly missed flights or ended up paying for airport parking due to no availability of Ubers at critical times.  I’ve been lucky in most instances that I have been able to take my car to the airport or be dropped off.  This could be a budget killer, however, were I carless or not being reimbursed for travel as I’d have to pay for UberBlack or airport parking.

Several seasoned drivers have confided in me that Uber driver turnover in DFW has been very high.  One driver said “Uber aggressively marketed for new drivers and flooded the market.  Incomes dropped for many who had been driving.  And many of the new drivers realized they could not make the type of money they were promised.”

I worry that the longer Uber wait times are a sign of things to come.  We have now built up a dependency on ridesharing and taxi availability has declined with the popularity of these services.  If amateur drivers exit the market, prices will be higher.

Uber wait times warrant further monitoring.  In our household, we are now utilizing Uber less.  We are instead looking at other more consistent and reliable options for airport transportation.

Have you had Uber wait time experiences that have been similar?  I’d love to hear comments from other passengers and markets.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last eighteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 47.5 US states. Although she averages 200 days a year on the road, she loves to return to “the homestead” in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and cocktail mixology.

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Comments

  1. Something like this seems like it would be very city-specific, and even neighborhood-specific.

    I haven’t noticed any increase here in New Orleans, but I have noticed that the estimated wait time before the request often varies a lot from the actual wait time once you make a request and get a driver assigned. Usually it’s longer but sometimes a lot shorter. So even if you see a 20+ minute wait, I’d suggest requesting the car anyway; you can always cancel immediately if that time is the same once you have a driver assigned.

    • While I agree it is city-specific, a large market like Dallas/Fort Worth is likely to be representative of many US markets. Interestingly, we haven’t noticed any issues going out at night or on the weekends… just on weekdays at peak airport times.

      That’s great advice on requesting anyway. On both of the home-to-DFW occasions, Jim was able to drive me to the airport (the benefit of teleworking) but Uber would have still been more convenient!

  2. There are probably a few factors involved. First the issues Uber has had over the past month. Secondly, these are city rush hour times, so there is a lot of incentive for drivers to take advantage of the couple hours of surge around the city. Lastly, about two weeks ago, Lyft (you did not mention you tried them) introduced PowerBonus Zones. So areas of the DFW that are zoned that Lyft will pay surge pricing even if there is no surge. So it basically guarantees drivers a bonus of 50%-100% more picking up in the city commute zones, then sitting at an airport not collecting anything. Those bonus tend to be from 7-9am and 5-7pm M-F. Since most full time drivers drive for both platforms, during those times, driving exclusively Lyft is a lot more profitable for them.

    • I live close to downtown so we definitely did not have city drivers showing up as available on the Uber platform. But the PowerBonus Zones information is very interesting. I would have expected drivers to have both apps turned on so that they at least showed up as nearby, but I definitely can see why they would prefer to drive for one versus the other.

  3. It’s Uber’s fault. Airports do not surge and if the other areas of the city surge the drivers go where the fares are a liveable wage The fares are 1/3 of what a cab is and customers then donnit tip. The drivers have little incentive to wait at the airport for less than $1 a mile before fees when the he rest of the city is surging. As a reference cabs are $2.50 plus per mile.

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