Why is it easier to call an Uber than to call the police or fire department?

I saw a bike accident (arrived too late to know if it had been a car-bike accident, but probably). People were already gathered around the cyclist, who seemed to be mostly okay.

What if I’d had to call the police?

With the fragments of cell network coverage that are left to those of us who live among the towerphobic Millionaires Who Hate Trump (formerly the “Millionaires for Obama”), I’m not sure that I would have been able to sustain a voice call to 911. If I had called 911 successfully would the Enhanced 911 system have worked to give the operator my location? If not, it might have been challenging to specify a location in Massachusetts due to the lack of street signs for the bigger streets (i.e., most intersections have street signs for just one of the two streets).

It would have been way easier to get an Uber to my precise location since Uber is typically able to function with poor coverage. And certainly it would have been a lot more likely to get a text message out. https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/text-911-quick-facts-faqs says “Today most consumers cannot reach 911 by sending a text message from their wireless phone.”

Given that our local governments have invested vastly more in communications infrastructure than Uber has in software and server hardware, why is it easier to get an Uber than police or fire department assistance?


  1. Jackie

    September 22, 2017 @ 5:28 pm


    Your question answers itself. Uber’s revenue stream depends on it being able to locate its customers. If 911 can’t locate you, they are at best indifferent. Perhaps they even come out ahead.

  2. Ivan

    September 22, 2017 @ 6:05 pm


    “Uber is typically able to function with poor coverage”

    I am not sure how Uber can accomplish a miracle like that: “typically able to function with poor coverage”.

    There are two areas, one on route 30 in Weston and another near Walden Pond on 126 in Lincoln, where my iphone(ATT) loses signal 9 times out of ten. If there’s no signal, how can one talk/send a text to Uber ?

  3. J. Peterson

    September 22, 2017 @ 7:17 pm


    The one time I’ve needed to call 911, the E911 system worked as designed and the response was quick.

  4. Jacob

    September 22, 2017 @ 8:02 pm


    Uber-like accuracy is great when you can step outside and meet the Uber driver at the street. It’s not so useful when you’ve fallen and can’t get up.

    I have responded as a 911 responder to a number of medical alarms from GPS-equipped and cellular connected medical emergency bracelets in the last several years. These get us to the right neighborhood, but that’s about it – the error circle seems to be several hundred yards, which doesn’t help much even in a suburban neighborhood, and is utterly useless in an apartment complex. The previous generation of these devices was tied to a landline phone, which identified a particular house or apartment.

    iOS and Android location services are slightly better in many cases, but will still never identify a particular apartment or even townhouse.

    You’re also talking about legacy systems managed by local governments, in an industry which should not accept failures. This all means slow procurement.

    It is likely that your call would have reached 911, and it is likely that they would be able to determine your general location.

  5. JW

    September 22, 2017 @ 8:59 pm


    Same reason cab companies didn’t create an Uber app. They don’t have the sharpest employees.

  6. the other Donald

    September 23, 2017 @ 10:22 am


    Uber saves the time spent in sensitivity training.

  7. Andrea Matranga

    September 23, 2017 @ 12:01 pm


    John Oliver had a segment on this


    part of it is the US obsession with having a totally independent PD for every hamlet in the land, or thereabouts.

    This is part of the same reason why US police training is so superficial compared to other advanced nations.

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