A 16-spot parking area designated for Uber drivers to wait for pickup requests in the Myrtle Beach International Airport took effect this Thursday.
Upon entering the staging lot, located in the far corner of the rental car parking lot, drivers are placed in a “first in, first out” system, allowing drivers to get ride requests in the order of arrival.
They also must remain online in the Uber app to stay in the queue and display the Uber trade dress on their windshields, according to Uber’s website. Uber drivers parked outside of the airport will not get airport pickup requests.
Robert Koss, an Uber driver, considers the queue system “fair.” Before, drivers would get as close as they could to the airport to compete for ride requests.
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A $7 fee the airport once charged drivers for every pickup is no longer mandatory. Now a $3 charge goes directly to Uber. To many drivers, the elimination of the $7 payment is a game changer.
“When I found out about it, I was very excited,” said Michael Johnson, an Uber driver. “Drivers would sneak in to pick people up before, trying to avoid the $7 fee.”
Koss, who lives close to the airport, said he stopped taking passengers there because, with the $7 charge, he was not making much. “But now that we can go without having to pay for each ride, I’ll do it a little more.”
Slow business, restroom concerns
The first day was slow. All 16 spots were filled up at around noon, but trip requests were not constantly flowing in.
Koss had sat in the parking lot for four hours without getting any trip request. Johnson left the airport after waiting for an hour and a half. Uber drivers like John Kolumba, who frequents the airport, attributed the slowness to fewer number of flights and less tourists during the down season.
“The airport during the winter is really strenuous, and I probably won’t be working here that often,” Kolumba said.
When the busy season comes, Kolumba thinks that 16 spots may not be enough. Kirk Lovell, Director of Air Service and Business Development of Myrtle Beach airport, said that the current parking spots are limited by the availability in the area set aside for Uber.
The airport might make adjustments depending when more tourists start coming, Lovell said.
The long wait caused drivers another headache besides slow business. They were worried that they would lose their spot in the queue once they left the staging area to use the restroom in the airport building. This was due to a previous statement on Uber’s website, which says, “If you leave the staging lot or turn off your app, you will be placed at the back of the line.”
An Uber representative clarified that as long as drivers remain on airport grounds and online on the app, they will keep their spots, but they will not be able to receive requests unless they are within the staging area. The website also has been updated.
Lovell added that drivers cannot leave their cars unattended if they want to use the restroom. They would have to drive their cars to a designated restroom parking area.
An agreement that does not please all
The agreement between the Myrtle Beach airport and Uber is months in the making, according to the Uber representative. An Horry County council meeting on Nov. 1 passed the resolution that gives permission to transportation network companies like Uber to operate at the airport.
Lovell said that having the staging lot would make it more convenient for both passengers and driver, especially for airport customers. “They will get more options,” Lovell said. “The more options they have, the happier they will be.”
The agreement, however, does not put Robbie Singh, owner of Diamond Cab, at ease. Under the current regulations, a taxi either pays $7 per pickup, or a monthly $130 charge for the right to operate at the airport.
“It is not fair,” Singh said. “You give them the spot, no problem. Then don’t charge us. Why would you have two different standards for that?”
With the winter months already making it difficult for his company to stay in the black, the airport’s new rule would make his taxi business suffer even more, he said.
Currently, Uber drivers waiting at the airport have no way to find out their place in the “first in, first out” system. But the system is working in the background, and the company is hoping to roll out a feature that allows drivers to check their spot in line in the future, according to the Uber representative.