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Uber launches Movement, boon for urban planners

Currently catering to cities from 'Manila to Melbourne to Washington D.C.', the website will slowly make Uber's traffic data available in more cities and to all users.

January 09, 2017 07:28 pm | Updated September 09, 2019 06:55 pm IST

Uber Movement leverages GPS data collected from thousands of their anonymous vehicles across 545 cities. | Photo: Screengrab

Uber Movement leverages GPS data collected from thousands of their anonymous vehicles across 545 cities. | Photo: Screengrab

Uber hasn't driven over 2 billion trips across 66 countries and 545 cities for nothing. Along the way, the San-Fransisco-based transport network firm has aggregated traffic data and route management insights which it now plans to deploy in helping make "cities more efficient".

Uber on Sunday announced a website called Movement to "provide access to anonymized data from over 2 billion trips to help improve urban planning around the world". It allows users to analyse vehicle movement, travel duration estimates, and other route details over customisable date-ranges.

Movement, Uber's new website, provides tools to analyse traffic changes over days, weeks, and years, to extract patterns useful for city planners. | Photo: Screengrab from Uber's video

Movement, Uber's new website, provides tools to analyse traffic changes over days, weeks, and years, to extract patterns useful for city planners. | Photo: Screengrab from Uber's video

According to the website, Movement aims to provide city officials with "detailed historical insights [that] make it possible to measure the impact of road improvements, major events, new transit lines, and more"; help planners and policymakers "[conduct] complex analysis on transportation patterns [...] for better decision making around future infrastructure investments"; as well as inform the general public in due time.

Now, when city infrastructure planners sit down to decide whether to introduce a new lane, or build a stop-sign, or permit the construction of an office complex — within a Traffic Analysis Zone — they will have access to useful information about how it might affect the movement of traffic in the pertinent area, thanks to Uber's GPS-extracted information.

 
 

According to The Verge , an Uber official said: “As Uber drivers move through a city, they’re constantly collecting information. We’re generating this data, and it’s super valuable to people. There’s no reason not to share it.”

Uber's app records commute times, between 'check-in' and destination, for each trip — also collecting information about travel times, traffic patterns, road events (like closures, rush hours, etc.) within smaller segments of the journey.

Uber will also take care to prevent private data from becoming exposed as a result of this transparency. The "anonymised data" means that the maps would be stripped of any information on passenger behaviour or personal identifiability.

The service is currently available for select cities — Sydney, Washington D.C., Manila — and will be rolled out to other cities in "the weeks ahead".

What's in it for Uber?

Question is: Uber's competitive advantage in the ride-sharing industry comes from its ability to map traffic demand. Why would it relinquish this clout by making the data open to all? Can this move preempt onerous data requests in future as well as give them deeper access to city planning that might ease service delivery?

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