Monday evening, John Morrison saw a convoy of cars with Uber stickers taking over Lake Shore Drive near Hyde Park, all headed to the same place as him: the Museum of Science and Industry.
The Chicago resident had been invited there by a friend who drove for the ride share company, which was hosting an appreciation party for employees at the museum at 6:30 p.m.
But before Morrison could even get near, he had to fight a free-for-all of traffic in the eastern part of Hyde Park. The worst of it was at the 57th Street and Cornell Drive merge, where Morrison said cars were going the wrong way and ended up facing other cars bumper to bumper. A bus drove north in the southbound lanes to bypass the traffic. Police cars scaled sidewalks as officers tried to direct frustrated drivers.
“It was just a disaster,” Morrison, 37, said. “I haven’t seen masses of humanity like this since I was at Woodstock ’99. … That many people going to one place is just dangerous.”
Things didn’t get much better once he made it inside the museum, almost an hour after hitting the congestion on Lake Shore Drive near the 53rd Street exit, he said. Morrison said the museum was “jampacked to the gills” and that caterers and museum employees appeared overwhelmed by the mobs of people heading toward the dinner buffet.
The invitation billed the evening as “one of Uber’s largest events ever.” It said the party was meant “to celebrate you — our incredible Chicago driver-partners.” Each driver was allowed three guests and each person was required to send an RSVP, according to the invitation, which also promised free parking.
Morrison’s friend who invited him said the breaking point was when someone working at the sign-in desk announced that all guests of Uber drivers were free to go inside without checking in.
“We had lined up and were waiting in line, trying to be civilized people, and then it was absolute chaos,” said the 34-year-old Uber driver. “It was a huge mass of people making a mad dash upstairs.”
About 8:10 p.m., drivers received a text saying the event was full. “Due to overwhelming response, the Museum of Science and Industry is at capacity and is not able to accept any more guests,” the message read, according to a screenshot. “We are sorry for the inconvenience.”
About a half-hour before the event was supposed to conclude, the museum staff ushered everyone out, according to Morrison’s friend who drives for Uber.
Uber released a statement Tuesday saying “a thousand more than RSVP’d came and we had to close admission to the event for everyone’s safety when the rented portion of the venue reached capacity.”
“No one was asked to leave until the event was over,” it added. “We were just unable to let those who arrived later in as we reached capacity. We are working to make it right with those partners who were turned away.”
Chicago police said they weren’t aware of any major traffic accidents or injuries.
Morrison said the irony of a transit company sparking a traffic headache was not lost on him. “It was just an unplanned mess.”