Tech

Yes, Your Uber Wait Times Are Almost Always Wrong. Here's Why.

Published On 01/09/2016 Published On 01/09/2016

Uber makes getting around easier than ever, but anyone who regularly hails a ride using the app has almost certainly noticed one flaw: the estimated arrival times are almost always wrong. Usually it goes like this: the app claims there's an available car just two minutes away, but then once you actually request one, that arrival time suddenly jumps to double or triple the original estimate. What gives, Uber? Why you gotta lie like that? 

Well, CEO Travis Kalanick took to Twitter over the weekend to address the issue and explained that this fantastically first-world problem is simply unavoidable when you're the most popular car service on the block.

Screenshot via Uber App

When you first open your Uber app, the estimated wait times are almost always going to be wrong because it’s “highly likely the cars you see when you request are matched before your request is even processed.” So, someone else snags your driver, and you're stuck waiting around for a car that's farther away. Logically, this can result in even more dramatic time jumps in neighborhoods where there are generally fewer Uber drivers roaming around.
 


But to complicate matters further, Uber expects this to happen, and adjusts the wait times accordingly based on the "statistically expected time." So they are almost always going to be wrong, Kalanick admits, because they make them wrong on purpose. You’re not getting an ETA based on how close the nearest car is at that moment, but instead, it factors in the probability that you might have to wait for the second-closest car. That method, Kalanick argues, means that your estimate "will be less different/wrong on average." So, less wrong, but not necessarily more right.

Oh and by the way, don't be fooled by the horde of Ubers that seem to be hovering around your location every time you launch the app. They aren't actually there.

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Full disclosure: he and Uber have a troubled history.

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