In Brief
  • Uber is sharing traffic data gathered from the more than 500 cities in which it operates in the hopes it can be used to improve urban traffic on the world's busiest streets.
  • Though this data does give Uber a competitive edge, sharing it could ultimately lead to improved infrastructure in the cities in which the company operates.

Uber (Data) Everywhere

Years of being on the road, traveling the busy streets of various cities all over the world, have given ride-sharing company Uber access to tons of traffic-flow data. Rather than keep all that valuable information to itself, Uber is now introducing Uber Movement, a website that makes all this data available to city planners, data geeks, and even the general public.

The Florida-based transport company believes that sharing hours and hours of data — or years and years of it, considering Uber has been around since 2009 — gathered through the GPS of its drivers and users can help improve urban traffic on the world’s busiest streets. Uber Movement will give everyone, beginning with policy makers, access to traffic flow information in cities where Uber operates. Since the company’s drivers can be found in more than 500 cities worldwide, we’re talking about an enormous amount of data here: more than 2 billion trips worth.

“Over the past six-and-a-half years, we’ve learned a lot about the future of urban mobility and what it means for cities and the people who live in them,” Uber explains on the Movement website. “We’ve gotten consistent feedback from cities we partner with that access to our aggregated data will inform decisions about how to adapt existing infrastructure and invest in future solutions to make our cities more efficient.”

In an effort to make its data as useful as possible, Uber has organized it around traffic analysis zones, the units of geography typically used for transportation planning within cities. These agreed-upon geographic demarcations should make it easy to integrate the new information into existing urban planning and traffic management.  “We hope Uber Movement can play a role in helping cities grow in a way that works for everyone,” says Uber.

As for the privacy of its drivers, Uber’s got that covered as well: “Preserving rider and driver privacy is our #1 priority. All data is anonymized and aggregated to ensure no personally identifiable information or user behavior can be surfaced through the Movement tool.”

My Data Is Your Data

On the Uber Movement website, users can filter data by adjusting the time of day, day of the week, and the specific zone to access Uber’s data for an exact range or point. The data isn’t currently accessible to the general public, but if you go to the website now, you can request access by submitting your email.

Offering up this kind of access to big data seems to be a bit of a trend among tech companies recently — even Apple, known for its cult-like secrecy, has decided to share its research on artificial intelligence (AI). Movement is an unexpected move for Uber, especially since the data it plans to share with the public is, in fact, what gives it a competitive edge in the world of ride-sharing services.

But Uber actually stands to gain in the long run, specifically by having a bit of a say in how infrastructure could be improved in the cities in which it operates. “We don’t plan infrastructure, we don’t plan cities, we’re never going to do that,” explained Jordan Gilbertson, Uber Product Manager, in a briefing.

Better traffic means better Uber service, and ultimately, that is what Uber’s willingness to share information boils down to. Certainly, it’s a welcome thing for promoting research and development in a competitive industry that’s advancing rapidly.

Credits: Uber Movement, screenshot
Credits: Uber Movement, screenshot