Uber throws big cities a bone with its Movement product

To say that major cities across North America have mixed feelings on Uber Technologies Inc. is an understatement.

Uber has totally disrupted the entire taxicab industry and market across major cities in Canada and the United States, leading to new legislation from municipalities, all-out bans of Uber drivers and the forced regulation of Uber itself in some regions.

But despite all that, the San Francisco-based online transportation network has created a new product to actually help cities better manage their traffic data.

It’s called Uber Movement, a Web site that uses data collected by the company through its GPS tracking system – and Uber wants to give this data to urban planners for free, hoping it will enable them to make more informed decisions about the cities they serve.

Futurist on digital transformation Greg Verdino said Uber is leveraging its vast amounts of GPS data to show urban planners traffic movements around there city. Uber Movement has been designed for urban planning professionals. Uber Movement attempts to show developing traffic changes over weeks and even years, he said.

“Uber has a lot of problems with cities and the regulated taxi services in those cities. So they are providing this for free,” Verdino said.

Uber provided ITBusiness.ca with a few stats regarding the Movement product. Uber says people use Uber in more than 450 cities around the world some as far away as Sydney, Australia. The company’s goal with Movement is to make cities cleaner, more efficient and less crowded.

What Uber has done is analyze all of the trips taken by Uber customers and tried to estimate how long it takes to get from point A to point B. With that information in hand, Uber was able to compare travel conditions across different times of the day, week, month and even year. One of the new data points Uber discovered was how big events impacted travel times or the delays from road closures.

Uber executives Jordan Gilbertson, the product manager for Uber Movement and Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s Head of Transportation Policy and Research, said in a Jan. 8 blog post that the platform’s data is anonymized and aggregated into the same types of geographic zones that transportation planners use to evaluate which parts of cities need expanded infrastructure, like Census Tracts and Traffic Analysis Zones (TAZs).

Uber’s next steps with Movement is to begin to invite planning agencies and researchers to access this data and explore zone-to-zone travel times.

Uber Movement may be free, but it’s not yet readily available, Gilbertson and Salzberg said.

Working with urban planners is key to the success of Uber Movement, the executives said. Uber will be targeting the city of Manila, capital of the Philippines; Melbourne, Australia; and Washington, D.C. to be the first areas for Uber Movement.

Both executives added that Uber Movement is just a first step. According to Gilbertson and Salzberg, city planners face a myriad of challenges, and the hope for Uber here is to help tackle more of them over time.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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