Uber experiences widespread outages in large cities

Transportation media is full of stories about the Uberization of freight: startups are building apps to allow drivers to connect to loads in an intelligent, geo-specific, on-demand basis. The model would disrupt incumbent carriers, give drivers more flexibility over when and where they work, and would, in theory, let shippers move product faster by matching them with the closest trucks possible.

There are some problems, though. If large sections of the supply chain are dependent on the relatively flimsy IT infrastructure of a mobile app, what happens when there’s an outage? That happened this afternoon, when Uber experienced widespread outages starting at about 2:26 PM eastern time and continuing as we publish this story.

Passengers looking for a ride cannot find a car to hail. Riders waiting on a car suddenly lost visibility into the location of the car they’ve hailed. Passengers already in cars are not able to get accurate fare information—riders are tweeting that they’re being overcharged without any explanation. Uber drivers may have found themselves in an even worse predicament: they can’t book rides and therefore they can’t make money. 

The outages appeared to be worse in large population centers like Boston, the New York City – Philadelphia megalopolis, Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. The heat map of Uber outages bears an uncanny resemblance to a map of major freight hubs, suggesting that a supply chain dependent on a single mobile app would be exceptionally vulnerable to this sort of disruption. It appears that the most important and congested freight hubs would be hit the hardest by an app outage.

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John Paul Hampstead, Associate Editor

John Paul writes about current events and economics, especially politics, finance, and commodities, and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Michigan. In previous lives John Paul studied Shakespeare in London and Buddhism in India, but now he focuses on transportation and logistics in the heart of Freight Alley--Chattanooga. He spends his free time with his wife and daughter herding cats, collecting books, and walking alongside the Tennessee River.