This happens when no cars are available for your location at that given moment. If you can wait an hour or two for a taxi, I would suggest checking every 15 minutes and seeing if there's any vehicle nearby. However, I would suggest you to take a regular cab straight away if there are no vehicles available.
If you are a tourist and you don't know how popular uber might be in that area, going for a regular cab would be the best way to get around. Many cities have their own versions of uber (Colombo has Pickme) as well, so get some local knowledge as well.
I could not find any third party application that does this either, which is no surprise as there is very little practical value of such an app, unless uber was the only taxi service in the milky way.