Uber Seattle systems crash has its drivers uneasy

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Employees of Uber's Seattle offices gated themselves inside the office Wednesday, while drivers gathered outside.

The Pioneer Square office of rideshare company Uber was shuttered Wednesday, a metal gate blocking the door and curtains covering the windows. A small white piece of paper read, “Uber is closed. Our systems are down.”

All Wednesday morning, a steady stream of confused and, at times, angry Uber drivers peered through the windows of the office, lingered, then left. According to drivers and Uber employees, the system crash appeared to affect drivers, but not passengers. A driver outside the office named Mohad, who did not want to use his last name, said he could be hailed for rides, but could not access the app he needed to charge his customers.

Other drivers, including Tom Smeeth, could access the app, but none of their rides – or the final charge – appeared in their history. Smeeth said the problem kicked in sometime Tuesday night.

Over the course of an hour, over forty drivers pulled up to the office with questions. Employees inside the office could be seen standing in a circle discussing something, but no one came out to answer questions. Mohad worried about a potential hack, an issue Uber has faced before.

Bryce Bennett, Senior Operations Manager for Uber Pacific Northwest, drove downtown from the company's local “corporate office” (location undisclosed) to answer Crosscut’s questions. He played down the issue. “I took an Uber down here and it was a smooth ride,” Bennett said. “We aren’t having any problems on the passenger side.” He called the incident small and isolated.

Bennett assured that engineers were working to solve the issue and that rides were being recorded on a backup system. Drivers, he said, would be paid.

But Bennett’s assurances were not comforting to all. One driver, who chose not to be named, drove a customer from Ballard to Renton Tuesday night during peak hours. She expected to see at least a $50 charge. But when she looked, nothing appeared. “I’m nervous about whether I’m going to get paid,” she said.

More concerning for her, however, was that Uber did not notify any of their drivers of the problem. “I wish they were more forthcoming,” she said.

The relationship between Uber drivers and Uber officials has not always been rosy. Drivers participated in a Capitol Hill protest last April, demanding higher wages. When asked why no communication was sent to drivers, Bennett said, “The incident hasn’t been widespread.” One office employee told Crosscut the system would be down for 24-48 hours. Bennett said he expected it to be fixed Wednesday.

Stoking fears of a coordinated cyber attack on companies, Key Bank’s system also crashed this morning. However, neither Bennett nor a Key Bank employee was aware of any relation between the two systems.


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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.