Uber has made its vast trove of traffic data available to city planners so they can use it to reduce congestion. The ride-sharing company has collected information on more than two billion journeys in around 450 cities, and is providing it free so that planners can see which kinds of journey are most congested, and allocate resources accordingly. The company has traditionally been unwilling to share information with authorities.
Results & Impact
Movement has only just launched and is yet to demonstrate results. A similar data-sharing project, between navigation app Waze and Rio de Janeiro, cut congestion by up to 27%
Washington D.C., Sydney, Manila, Uber
Uber anonymises and aggregates information from more than two billion journeys to show average travel times in different parts of the city. Planners can use that information to re-route traffic or allocate resources for improving roads or public transport. The service is free, but not publicly accessible. Interested cities must get in touch with the company
Cost & Value
Running since 2016
There are doubts about whether the most useful data will be made accessible. Information about where people start and end their commutes is hugely valuable to cities, but also represents a commercial advantage for the company, and there is scepticism about whether it will be released
The service is currently available in a handful of pilot cities, but is expected to be extended to all 450 cities in which Uber operates. Similar data-sharing partnerships exist in several cities with other transport companies, such as Waze and Grab
Uber has made its vast trove of traffic data available to city planners so they can use it to reduce congestion. The ride-sharing company has collected information on more than two billion journeys in around 450 cities, and is providing it free via a website called Movement.
An example of what the data can do is provided by an emergency shutdown of the metro service in Washington D.C. in March 2016 after an electrical fire. Movement anonymises its information about cab journeys and aggregates to show average travel times in different parts of the city. That revealed patterns of congestion and showed that some parts of the city and the surrounding area were much worse affected than others.
Muriel Bowser, the city’s mayor, said in a statement: “Smart technology and intelligent use of data are critical to the success of the nation’s cities, and the District of Columbia is committed to using these tools to keep pace with the rapid growth of our neighbourhoods. We’re excited to be one of the early partners with Uber on this new platform. We want to employ as many data sources as possible to mitigate traffic congestions, improve infrastructure and make our streets safer for every visitor and resident in the nation’s capital.”
As well as the company benefitting from improvements to road infrastructure – along with everybody else – the initiative seems to be part of an effort to ameliorate its often hostile relations with city governments. The company has also been specifically wary of sharing its data with authorities. In New York, Uber has resisted efforts by city legislators to ensure it submits detailed summaries of its trips to the Taxi and Limousine Commission every month. The company has also defeated a request in Seattle which would have compelled both it and competitor Lyft to reveal aspects of journey data submitted to the city each quarter. Uber successfully argued sharing the information amounted to giving away “trade secrets”.
Several other transport companies already share their data in a similar way. Ride-sharing companies like Grab have successfully shared data with several cities in a project overseen by the World Bank, and data from the crowdsourced travel planner Waze was used to cut congestion by up to 27% during the Rio Olympics.
Moreover, although the data made available via Movement is clearly useful, there are doubts about whether the most useful data will be made accessible. Kevin Heaslip, a transportation planner at Virginia Tech, told Wired that what planners want to know more than anything else is not journey time but where people start and end their commutes. Understanding those patterns is crucial for allocating resources, such as better roads or more public transport.
The US Department of Transportation runs a National Household Travel Survey to try and get that information, and Uber’s data would be a massive improvement. But Heaslip suggested that keeping that data private represents a big commercial advantage to the company, which it would be unlikely to give up.
Nevertheless, cities are increasingly looking to Uber for help with transportation. Movement follows a recent request made by the city of Summit, New Jersey, asking the company to help solve its commuter parking problems by offering workers free rides from train stations to their place of work.
(Picture Flickr/Chris Griffin)