Last Updated on 2024-03-09

You Can Do Instacart as a Walker — But Only in NYC

We worked with these active, experienced gig-workers to write this article and bring you first-hand knowledge.

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Faith McLaughlin

8 years of experience working across DoorDash, Instacart, Postmates, Uber, and Lyft

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Catherine Meyers

5 years of experience working across Shipt and Instacart

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Joshua Merritt

4 years of experience working across DoorDash, Instacart, Shipt, and UberEats

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Phil Grossman

Experienced writer/researcher in the gig industry working alongside our gig-workers

If you live in NYC and are looking for a solid side hustle, Instacart offers a unique opportunity: the ability to shop and deliver groceries to customers by foot. 

This is a gift for many gig workers in New York, as car ownership is expensive, but being a walker comes with its own challenges that you’ll need to account for.

Why is being an Instacart walker only allowed in NYC?

New York is famously walkable, which makes it a great testing ground for Instacart to explore a walking program.

Population density is also a key factor. New York City is the most densely populated urban area in the United States. In Manhattan, there are around 75,000 people per square mile — that equates to a lot of customers in a cluster, which helps the economics of a walking program.

How to apply to be an Instacart walker

You can apply to be an Instacart delivery walker the same way you’d apply if you were using a car — just fill out the Instacart application.

To apply, you must be:

  • At least 18 years old
  • Eligible to work in the U.S.
  • Have a bank account
  • Have consistent access to a vehicle and a recent smartphone
  • Be able to lift 40 lb with or without accommodation

Why you might want to try being an Instacart walker

There are plenty of reasons you might want to try walking for Instacart:

  • No access to a car
  • More (and paid!) exercise
  • Schedule flexibility
  • You may live near a popular grocery store

Given that many smartphones count steps as a stock feature, it’s safe to say that walking is a healthy exercise. If you live in NYC and want to get paid to get your daily steps in, this program may be a great opportunity for you.

Pros and cons of walking for Instacart

There are some definite perks of doing Instacart deliveries by foot:

  • Exercise: As mentioned above, walking is great for your health. The CDC writes that it can “improve sleep, memory, and the ability to think and learn” while also reducing anxiety.
  • It’s budget-friendly: No need to put part of your earnings towards parking, vehicle maintenance, or gas — the only costs for walking are your clothes and footwear (and maybe a grocery trolley). 
  • You can optimize your deliveries: Because the Instacart walker program constrains you to a fairly tight delivery radius, if you choose jobs strategically, you can maximize your earnings. For example, you could do deliveries for customers on the same block or from the same store. 
  • It’s good for the planet: Though we all emit CO2 when we breathe, walking is far better for the environment than driving. Even considering the food we eat to sustain our exercise, walking 1.5 miles generates about 25% as much greenhouse gas as driving the same distance.
  • Connectedness: Neighborhood walking makes us feel more alive and connected to the world around us than driving a car.
  • You can use public transport: Instacart allows its walkers to use public transport, so you can take the subway or bus to make your trips easier. 

Catherine Meyers, who has 5 years of experience with Instacart, points out that gas and maintenance costs add up quickly for drivers: “Often, the way Instacart orders are bundled means a lot of driving. Sometimes there are double or triple batches…even if you’re trying to be pickier about distance, you can’t avoid orders where batch A is 8 miles from batch B is 7 miles from batch C. So, not having to account for the maintenance and gas seems like a very big perk.

There are also downsides to consider:

  • You miss out on big orders: Instacart won’t allow walkers to take on huge orders that otherwise would be delegated to those with trucks or SUVs. This means you’ll have to do more deliveries per hour to make up for the loss. However, make sure to double-check that heavy items like water or soda cases haven’t made it through to your order.
  • You’re at the mercy of the weather: New York’s climate can range from sweltering heat to mind-numbing cold and everything in between. You’ll need to keep an eye on the weather forecast to avoid getting stuck in a storm or other bad weather.
  • Safety is a consideration: A person on foot can be more vulnerable to robbery than one in a car, so always keep your wits about you and take any safety precautions you normally would when walking around a city. The NYPD has a list of safety tips that you can look through before you start as a walker. 

Tips for working for Instacart on foot

Here are some crucial tips to make the most of walking for Instacart:

  1. Choose the right gear: Comfortable shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, and a durable, insulated food delivery bag are essential.
  2. Select orders wisely: Choose orders based on size, distance, and delivery time.
  3. Plan your route: Use a map app to plan the most efficient route. Look for shortcuts through parks or pedestrian paths.
  4. Stay charged: Always keep your phone fully charged to avoid recharge downtime. And as 4-year Instacart veteran Joshua Merritt points out: “Make sure you yourself are charged, too. Bring snacks, Gatorade, whatever you need to keep yourself energized.”
  5. Communicate effectively: Checking in with customers about substitutions and keeping customers updated on your ETA can improve tips and ratings.
  6. Pack smart: Organize orders in your delivery bag to prevent spills or mix-ups. 
  7. Be safe: Stay aware of your surroundings, especially when delivering at night. 
  8. Optimize your schedule: Work during peak hours for more orders. Weekends tend to be busy.

Alternatives to walking 

If you don’t live in NYC or don’t want to walk, here are some other ways to do Instacart without a car:

  • E-bike: E-bikes are fun to ride and are officially allowed by Instacart. Plus, you'll get a $500 bonus if you sign up to do Instacart with an e-bike in NYC. 
  • Scooter or moped: Scooters and mopeds allow you to deliver smaller, short-distance orders quickly. Just like e-bikes, you're also eligible for a $500 bonus. 
  • Motorcycle: Instacart allows delivery by motorcycle with similar restrictions such as smaller order sizes.

Note that there’s a $500 bonus if you sign up to do Instacart on an e-bike or moped in NYC. 

Can you see yourself as an Instacart Shopper? Apply now to get on the road.

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