Uber has launched its new Movement website (UberMovement.com) that it hopes will help city planners gain a better understanding of how traffic flows in their communities so that they can better plan for infrastructure development.
The public launch is a bit perplexing coming from Uber. The company does not stand to directly benefit from the website, and the Movement website could actually present some problems for the company.
“Uber is opening up in an area where it might make sense competitively for it to stay more closed off: The ride-hailing company’s new Movement website will offer up access to its data around traffic flow in scores where it operates, intended for use by city planners and researchers looking into ways to improve urban mobility,” writes Tech Crunch‘s Darrell Etherington.
— Mauro Martino (@martino_design) January 8, 2017
The problem with that, as Wired‘s Alex Davies points out, is that Uber has a contentious history with the governments of many cities and tends to butt heads with local leaders.
A global infographic published by Business Insider shows that Uber is banned by several cities, districts, and countries around the world for various reasons. The company often encourages drivers to keep operating even after the company has been informed it is not legal for them to do so in a given area.
Uber has also had numerous legal battles over labor issues, licensing regulations and other matters for several years.
“The latest battlefield is New York City, where Uber is refusing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s demand that it share with the city data on when and where it drops off every passenger,” Davies writes in the Wired piece.
It seems like a fairly reasonable request on New York City’s part, considering that cab companies have to log pick ups and drop offs.
Davies suggests that Uber making its traffic data available to the public is somewhat of a peace offering.
“It’s free, open to anybody who wants to use it—today that’s limited to select planning agencies and researchers—and lets users track car travel times between any two points in a city at any time of day,” Davies explains.
“It actually seems pretty helpful.”
If cities see a significant benefit at all from the service, it could earn Uber some leniency on certain local issues and just make city planners and leaders less adverse to the company in general.
Uber is acting as if the move is strictly altruistic.
“We don’t manage streets. We don’t plan infrastructure,” says Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s chief of transportation policy.
“So why have this stuff bottled up when it can provide immense value to the cities we’re working in?”
— Conor L. Myhrvold (@conormyhrvold) January 8, 2017
Uber committed a team of about 10 engineers to Movement and they have been working on the project for the past several months. The Movement website currently offers data for Manila, Sydney, and Washington, D.C., but is expected to bring information for several more cities online in the near future.
Davies notes that there are other companies participating in this type of data harvesting and sharing as well.
“Uber’s not the only company sharing the data its services generate,” Davies writes.
“Through its ‘Connected Citizens’ program, Waze works with cities all over the world, trading user driving info for real-time and advance notice of construction and road closures to put on its maps. Cycling app Strava peddles data to cities eager to know where their residents are riding.”
Uber Movement definitely has the potential to be an amazing source of data for researchers, planners, and engineers around the globe.
[Featured Image by Adam Berry/Getty Images]