GasBuddy, the Boston-based tech company that allows drivers to search for the lowest fuel prices, has the most downloaded app on US Apple devices amid a run on gas caused by a cyberattack on a critical pipeline.
The company’s app rose from the 900th most popular in the App Store last week to No. 1 on Wednesday, according to the mobile analytics firm App Annie. In the Google Play store that serves many Android devices, GasBuddy has risen to 24th. The rapid increase came after the company activated its emergency fuel availability tracker feature, used typically to help people find where there is gas after a natural disaster such as a hurricane.
The Colonial Pipeline reopened on Wednesday after being crippled by a ransomware attack last Friday. The pipeline delivers about 45 percent of the gas on the East Coast. The cyberattack caused long lines and outages at gas stations in the Southeast because of distribution problems made worse by panic-buying.
Catastrophes have previously attracted added interest in GasBuddy — the company says it reached No. 2 in the App Store after Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017 ― but the widespread nature of this latest disruption, combined with the consumer anxiety it caused, placed an unprecedented demand on the company’s technology.
According to GasBuddy, users of Apple and Android devices typically downloaded its application about 15,000 times per day in 2021. On Monday, it was downloaded 313,000 times. By Tuesday, it hit 706,000. The company had to more than quintuple the cloud server space it was using and, on Tuesday, it had to shut down temporarily to expand the size of a database that was threatening to buckle under the surge.
Max Metral, GasBuddy’s chief technical officer, said in an interview Thursday that he was taken aback by the extent of the gas shortages. By Thursday afternoon, GasBuddy said, there were outages at 73 percent of stations in Washington, D.C, 69 percent in North Carolina, 52 percent in South Carolina, and at high levels in several other states.
“We knew we’d have some traffic increase, but I had no idea,” Metral said. “There’s a societal part of that, too, because the event itself wasn’t the problem. The problem was that everyone just went out and tried to horde gasoline, and it got much worse.”
GasBuddy doesn’t expect to keep all of the new users. Metral said its availability tracker is intended mostly to be a public service during emergencies. But he is seeing signs that at least some new users intend to continue using the product. More users are also adopting a GasBuddy tool that allows them to pay for gas through the app.
GasBuddy, which has about 30 employees in its downtown Boston headquarters and another 30 in Saskatchewan, Canada, typically gains visibility when fuel prices or availability become a major news story. The company says its application has been downloaded more than 90 million times. It uses data contributed by users at more than 150,000 gas stations to offer analysis about the fuel market.
Metral said the recent increase in the app’s popularity is the most significant spike he can recall. His three children — two of them teenagers — are suddenly interested in the technology he’s building. “Take that, TikTok,” he said.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Andy Rosen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.