Uber Movement Gives Officials Unique San Francisco View

Uber has brought its publicly available tool for viewing and analyzing Uber trip information to its hometown of San Francisco.The tool, called Uber Movement, provides large sets of data about the trips that Uber cars make, along with tools for crunching that data. Anyone with an Uber account can use it. It’s designed to help city officials and the public study traffic trends and predict how events or changes might affect mobility around the region.

Uber released Movement for the San Francisco Bay Area on January 30, about a year after it was introduced. The tool is already available for at least three other cities — Boston, Cincinnati and Washington, DC — and the company has said it plans eventually to make it available for all cities where Uber operates.

Uber has been at odds with many cities since it started disrupting taxi services and transit in 2009. But the very popularity that makes Uber look like a threat to some city agencies also gives it great visibility into the day-to-day transportation experience. As a single entity providing a large percentage of the trips made in cities, Uber can uncover a lot of information about how well the road network operates.

Uber says Movement provides planners with better, fresher information than they can get from traditional studies, which may be years old and not as comprehensive. Plus, the data and analysis are free and easily available online, a boon to both professionals and ordinary citizens.

Movement data is anonymized so users can’t see who took each trip, Uber says. Its main function is to show how long trips took between one area and another during a given time period, date range, or day of the week. For example, if a construction project blocked one lane of a street for a week, Movement could show how much that slowed down drivers who traveled through that part of the city. In some cases, trip data could even help to reveal where potholes are.

The tool is one step toward making Uber a part of cities’ overall transportation systems rather than just a provider of cars for hire. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi described this ambitious goal in a speech to an investment banking conference last week.

“I want to run the bus systems for a city,” Khosrowshahi said, according to Recode. He also envisions Uber trips that combine modes of transportation, such as a subway ride to a station where a car — or a bike — is waiting for the rider to travel the last mile to their destination.

Some municipalities are already integrating ride-hailing services into their transportation plans. Five cities in central Florida now offer discounted Uber rides as a form of public transit. But in many places, Uber’s relationship with transit is tense and competitive. To some, the multiple-passenger service UberPool looks alarmingly like a replacement for public buses. Some cities are borrowing aspects of the private ride-hailing experience to help their own services compete against companies like Uber.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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