Uber makes it incredibly easy to find a ride. Just open in the app in almost any major city and you’ll see a swarm of nearby cars just waiting to pick you up. There’s only one problem, the live map Uber shows may actually be fake.
A new report from Motherboard reveals that Uber actually fills your map with “phantom cabs,” though it’s unclear exactly why. One Uber representative apparently told a confused driver that the map is more like a “screen saver” than an actual map. “The app is simply showing there are partners on the road at the time,” they said in an email. “This is not a representation of the exact numbers of drivers or their location.”
It’s possible Uber simply can’t display the exact location of all its drivers in real time. Then again, it’s also possible the company simply wants you to think there are always cars nearby ready to pick you up. That illusion could be what keeps people coming back to the app instead of trying an alternative like Lyft.
A number of Uber drivers say they noticed the “bug” recently. Some even complain that it makes them look bad, since riders expect a car to arrive in seconds based on the map they see. It’s unlikely we’ll ever get a straight explanation from Uber. For now though, we’d take that map of nearby cars with a grain of salt the next time you open the app.