If you've ever wondered why Uber will show you a horde of available cars but still quote you an oddly long wait time for a ride, you now have an explanation: some of those cars don't exist. Motherboard has learned through a study that the app's map activity doesn't correlate that well with reality, even in those areas where you simply can't get a lift. Why? That depends on who you ask. A spokesperson insists that the number and location of cars is "generally accurate," but the company's help staff disagree. One claims that it's a glitch stemming from map zooming, while another says that the cars are purely there for a "visual effect" that indicates the presence of cars looking for fares.
Those drivers get a more accurate view, but even they don't get as much help as they'd like. While it'll say whether or not they're in surge pricing areas, it doesn't tell them how many other drivers know about the surge and how long it's likely to last. They could easily end up hovering around a busy area without realizing that the surge is over, or finding out that there are already hordes of Uber cars headed into the region.
The company does have reasons to be cautious about giving you accurate data. Theoretically, Lyft or another rival could use these maps to find weak points in Uber's coverage. However, the concern is that neither passengers nor drivers have proper insight into how Uber actually works -- the only ones that do aren't on the street at all.