Uber recently launched a new website called Movement, a valuable new way to visualize traffic patterns in specific cities. In the years since Uber began operating in 2011, the company has collected data from millions of rides in almost 500 cities around the world.
Though Uber has historically been reluctant to release data to cities, Movement is a step toward, building a collaborative relationship with local governments, many of which have been openly hostile to the company under pressure from taxi lobbyists. All of the data is anonymized so there is no way to track specific user patterns.
“Today, cities don’t have access to speed and congestion data except on major roads and they often rely on expensively produced and maintained datasets that are unreliable,” an Uber spokesman told Opportunity Lives. “Movement gives free access to a regularly updated source of travel times data available throughout the city, backed by an ongoing commitment from Uber to provide tooling and engineering resources.”
Movement is now only open to city planners and policymakers, but it should be open to the general public sometime next month. Although the site now only has data for a few cities (Manila, Sydney, and Washington, D.C.), dozens more will be on the platform by mid-March, said an Uber spokesperson.
It’s a good starting point, but some cities are asking for more. New York City is still debating regulations that would force the ridesharing company to provide drop off location data for each ride so that city officials could understand traffic patterns at a more detailed level.
“Uber already shares data on pickup locations for every ride, and it argues that sharing additional data on drop-offs would put the privacy of its customers at risk,” reported Christopher Zara at Fast Company. Even though this data would technically be “anonymous,” it’s pretty easy to find out who someone is if they regularly commute from their house to their office.
Movement does not contain this specific data, and that’s part of why Wired calls Movement only a “mildly helpful data tool.” Uber’s challenge, then, will be finding a way to release enough data that city planners can actually use in decision making while maintaining the privacy of its riders.
In a blog post announcing the release of Movement, the company promised there was more to come.
“This is only the first step”” said Jordan Gilbertson, Uber product manager, and Andrew Salzberg, the company’s head of transportation policy. “City planners face a myriad of challenges, and we hope to help tackle more of them over time.”
For now, it’s clear that Uber has taken an important step by releasing valuable data while making it interesting to watch. (You can even see an example of how the D.C. Metro shutdown in March 2016 affected traffic patterns across the city.)
As Uber continues to innovate and find ways to help city planners, perhaps other companies will take the lead as well. That could help solve the problem of inefficient infrastructure spending by governments around the world and make all of our lives just a bit more convenient.