Uber knows a lot about how people use big city roads: by last July, the company had completed two billion journeys across 450 cities. Now Uber is planning to open up its traffic data for the benefit of city planners and researchers around the world.
This help comes in the form of a website called Movements. Right now, you have to request access, but eventually the company plans to open access to everyone – including the general public, and therefore competitors.
The data provides insights into how traffic flows through cities at specific times of day and year, and is anonymised to ensure minimal criticism from privacy advocates. The company says it will block data from parts of any city where there isn’t enough data to protect passenger and driver anonymity.
“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,” the company writes in a FAQ on the Movements 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. We hope Uber Movement can play a role in helping cities grow in a way that works for everyone.”
Users of the website can break down a city’s data by time of day and day of the week to examine road trends. Using the data, the company has a few case studies on its website: holiday traffic trends in Manila, Australian road network performance, and a look at the road impact from Washington’s Metrorail service disruption from a single day in March 2016.
It’s all interesting stuff, but what’s in it for Uber? Giving away its valuable traffic insights may seem like the company is throwing away some of its competitive advantage, but the main benefit comes indirectly from improvements to city planning in the long term. “We don’t manage streets, we don’t plan infrastructure, we’re never going to do that," said Andrew Salzberg, head of Uber’s transportation policy. "So why have this stuff bottled up when it can provide immense value to the cities we’re working in?"