Published: Tue, January 10, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Can Uber's new data tool change how cities plan transportation?

The product is called Movement and it will use the data Uber has acquired over the last six-and-a-half years to help city planners make better decisions about how best to improve existing infrastructure and where investment should be targeted for future developments.

The company said: "Uber trips occur all over cities, so by analyzing a lot of trips over time, we can reliably estimate how long it takes to get from one area to another".

Uber data compiled from 42,000 drivers in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth has already been used to produce the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Transport Metric [pdf] - a detailed picture of how the country's road networks perform in major cities.

Releasing this information could also help Uber deflect requests for more specific data from city regulators, like those in NY and Seattle. Technology companies, from Uber to Facebook, hold growing stores of data about user behavior, and officials and academics want access to it. The study cost $2 million to conduct and ultimately did not recommend putting a cap on "for-hire vehicles" at that point in time, which drew a protracted fight between de Blasio and Uber to a close, at least for the time being. Movement will be made available to the public for free soon.

And although the TLC and Mayor Bill de Blasio's office have taken a more aggressive stance toward Uber (with infrequent success), the City Council may be more hospitable to the company.

A former head of the District Department of Transportation told the Post that "it's possible" that Uber is basically throwing cities a bone with this data. Once the website opens to the public, Uber hopes to gradually provide travel-time data on maps covering most of the hundreds of cities where its service operates.

The move will likely win Uber goodwill with city officials, even as the company has resisted other bids for data by some cities.

Uber is offering a helping hand to some of the same city leaders it sometimes antagonizes with the aggressive way it runs its popular ride-hailing service.

"One of the things that has been frustrating to cities is that they see this as a service that's making use of public right of way, public facilities, and isn't necessarily giving back on just basic openness", Bailey said.

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