Data from Uber Movement Means a Bright Future for Cities

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In 2006, Google pulled back the curtain a bit and gave us Google Trends. For the first time, we could get a sense for the search volume of specific keywords and how they were trending over time, and most interestingly, how search volume compares between keywords. This provided a wealth of context about the world around us, both fun and serious. For instance, Google Trends proves unequivocally that interest in “chicken wings” peaks like clockwork every year around Super Bowl Sunday and that ranch is more popular than blue cheese dressing. On the flip-side, while Google Flu Trends ended up ultimately failing in its mission, it gave us a concrete example of what might be possible when internet giants put their massive data sets to work.

Last week Uber gave us their version of Google Trends. It’s called Uber Movement.

Uber Movement

At its core, Uber Movement is really quite simple. Uber takes aggregate, anonymized ridership data and lets anyone see how long an average trip takes between two points. You can segment by day of the week and time of day, but what you can’t do is see travel time between two exact addresses. Uber withholds this information for privacy reasons.

Simplicity aside, Uber Movement sounds useful enough to let anyone answer basic questions like:

  • How early will I need to leave on Sunday to make the 49’ers game?
  • When should I actually leave work on Friday to beat traffic?
  • Can I avoid traffic by taking a 7:00 a.m. Saturday flight?

Each of these statements is forward looking because Uber Movement provides dimensionality to data we already have access to. Google Maps can already give you accurate real-time travel estimates, but it can’t look into the future and estimate how long your trip might take. If you’re making plans or going somewhere for the first time, Uber Movement could be helpful.

Uber Movement shows true promise in how it’s potential service to municipalities and city planners. Uber Movement might end up providing data that informs decisions that impact the lives of millions of citizens and billions of dollars in government budgets. Example: Is it more beneficial to improve a road system or should the money be invested in a big public transportation project? There’s a litany of examples just like this one, but the important thing is that the data is freely available and constantly evolves along with cities themselves. Building a data set on the scale of Uber Movement would likely be out of the question for any city in the world, both technically and financially.

The Challenge for Researchers and Municipalities

Uber Movement isn’t available yet, but I can’t help to think about what it might make possible. To the primary recipients of this data, city officials and researchers, here’s your challenge: can you dream up big, audacious projects like Google Flu Trends and make your cities better? I hope so. Here’s a few things for you to consider before you get your hands on the Uber Movement data for your city:

Public Benchmarking and Measurement

Which city would you rather live or work in? One whose average travel time is 30 minutes or one that’s 15 minutes? Uber Movement is going to make this type of data widely available very soon. People will be watching, comparing, and stacking up cities where data is available. You can use this opportunity to measure yourself and get better, or ignore it and fall behind. The choice is yours.

Testing the Real World

Testing websites and apps is an expectation nowadays. Given the costs associated with municipal infrastructure projects, why shouldn’t you have the same option? Real-time Uber Movement data will allow you to test the efficacy of infrastructure projects on a small scale before committing to huge upfront expenditures. Just like software makers might tweak and tune their apps, you could do the same to your city’s transportation systems. This is an opportunity to maximize your budget and optimize the outcome of your transportation projects.

The Data Advantage

Having data to help drive decision making is a clear advantage regardless of the position you hold or the business you’re in. Uber Movement provides a data set you otherwise would never have access to. Will you use it to make your city better? I’m confident that the municipalities who do choose to leverage Uber Movement to make their transportation systems better will gain an advantage over those that do not. They’ll have better odds of making citizens happier and improving economic prosperity.

Not saying Lyft and other competitors should consider shutting their doors but as Google showed us early on, accessible data is king and Uber just took a huge leap in the industry.

Harry_GlaserContributed by: Harry Glaser, CEO of Periscope Data. Periscope is cloud software for querying your database and creating beautiful charts and dashboards to share with your team and customers.


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