Uber Extends Data Portal To San Francisco

Travel times during the 2017 Women's March. | Photo: Uber Movement
By Walter Thompson - Published on February 14, 2018.

Most urban travelers are focused on getting from point A to point B, but ride-hailing company Uber recently expanded a data-sharing project that gives San Franciscans new ways to study the city's transportation network.

Uber Movement is a portal that allows urban planners, developers and members of the community to visualize historical travel data on the company's platform. The site aggregates information from nine cities, including Boston, Cincinnati and Washington, DC.

According to Allison Wylie, who works in Transportation & Mobility Policy at Uber, researchers and academics often lack comprehensive data to help residents understand local transportation systems.

Photo: Dale Cruse/Flickr

"They typically rely on these five-year-old data sets that cost a lot of money," she said. "With Movement, our hope is to be providing this free and open data that they could be using."

Product manager Jordan Gilbertson said helping residents visualize traffic patterns can help measure the impact of small changes, like a road closure that lasts several weeks, or an event like Bay To Breakers, which has a cascade effect on citywide travel in a single day.

Uber uses actual historical trip data in its visualizations, but all information has been anonymized to preserve rider privacy. To ensure optimal quality, data is ingested quarterly. Access is free, but users need an Uber account to log in to the portal.

In March 2016, Washington, DC's Metro system shut down suddenly to make emergency repairs, a move that sent riders looking for alternate routes to work. With Uber Movement data, commuters—and transportation planners—can see which neighborhoods and routes received the most congestion.

Using Uber Movement, "people are able to really easily go in and compare the before and after," he said. "We want to make sure the data we're getting out there is as stable and dependable as possible."

During the January 2017 Women's March, Uber Movement data show that trips between downtown San Francisco and Oakland took 66.9 percent longer than usual—46 minutes, versus 27 minutes.

Gilbertson said he hopes to add speed data to Movement this year so users can dig deeper into specific routes and planners can calibrate travel-demand models.

Wylie, who frequently visits family in the East Bay, said she hopes to use Movement data to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

"I always think it's a point of friction getting out there, so I know I'll be playing with the tool to understand the trends and figure out which events really trigger those long travel times," she said.

Last year, late Mayor Ed Lee proposed a pilot program that would create dedicated curb spaces for ride-hailing drivers; Uber is sharing information with planners to determine which locations could be included.

"Getting Movement out there for everyone to be using for free is something that I think will be really helpful in these conversations as we continue to work with the city," said Wylie.

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