Uber, the world’s giant ride sharing service, has released the ridership data for the city of Sydney and other cities across the globe. This is data that could be helpful to the city officials of Sydney since it provides info on how long it takes from certain points in the city, based on the hundreds of trips by Uber users collected from the Uber database. This information will be uploaded onto a public website that is called ‘Uber Movement’. This decision by Uber comes at a time when they are engaged in wrangles with various cities across the globe, such as New York. The New York City officials have been demanding for Uber to hand them the drop off times and locations of their drivers, but Uber have refused saying that it will be a breach of their passenger privacy. The New York City officials insist that it will help them to determine whether the Uber drivers are working more hours than is safe. The New York issue is just one of the problems Uber is facing since it is engaged in battles ranging from self-driving vehicles to driver working conditions with other cities around the globe.
The move to disclose their readership data is a move that is going to have a positive impact on Sydney. City planners will now have the ability to analyse travel patterns around Sydney, and especially when there are traffic interruptions due to things like events taking place. The events could include things like sporting activities and concerts. At the moment, Sydney is lucky to be amongst the cities whose data Uber Movement is disclosing, because there are only three other cities, namely Boston, Manila and the Washington metro area. Many more cities will be added onto Uber Movement soon, according to the Uber head of transportation policy, Andrew Salzberg, in an interview with reporters at the Uber headquarters in San Francisco. To date the Uber network covers approximately 450 cities.
This data has been created over time and could be used to examine how certain things affected the congestion of the streets. This could include things like a huge convention in the city, or the closure of the subway. This info will go a long way at aiding the cities where the date is being released. In the DC area in the United States, for example, the transportation department has to get information data from sources like the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, whereby there are logs of people’s entrance and exit, the Capital BikeShare as well as the DC Department of For Hire Vehicles.
When Uber discloses the ridership data, it will be much easier for the Sydney city officials to plan the improvements in the bus and train corridors. This will go a long way in reducing overcrowding and delays, something that affects most city transport systems. In the United States, for example, the inauguration of Donald Trump as the president will take place on the 20th. Armed with the data from Uber Movements, it will be easier for the DC city officials to think forward. The same will apply to Sydney should anything of that magnitude happen there. When they are planning the city, they can think forward for as many as four years.
Another plus for Sydney and other cities such as Los Angeles and many more was the traffic monitoring app, Waze. Waze started sharing its information with the traffic regulators making it easier to understand the traffic trends of the cities.
Many cities believe that Uber has been very stingy with its data in the past. They seemed to prefer to use it for marketing other than for the good of the city and the public good. A couple of years ago during a launch, Uber showed off their ‘God View’. This is a real-time map that Uber uses to keep track of the flow of their rides in New York City as they moved about. There were many complaints about violating of the passenger’s privacy, and Uber had to pull it down. Uber also had “Rides of Glory” posts on its website, where it would follow the sexual escapades of its passengers, even releasing data about one night stands. Those too were torn off their website and Uber is looking at partnering up with cities where they operate.
In New Jersey, for example, an Uber team that was formed almost a year ago, teamed up with the city officials. They came up with rides from people’s homes to the local train station at $4. Although it helped temporarily, this was aimed at putting off the need for the city to build a parking garage near the train station.
It is good to note that technology companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Zuckerberg’s Facebook are the ones that are now taking over in storing data about user behaviour. This data is what city officials want because they believe that it could help them bring better change for the public. What is of concern is that these technology companies only offer this data on their own terms. For most of these tech companies, giving up the data would be letting their competitors know their weak points. This data is crucial for them as it helps them to understand how to improve in their markets and if it gets into their competitions hands, they could be doomed. However, in order for us to better manage traffic in this century, this data is important and the tech companies should give it willingly for the public good.
Could Uber be throwing the cities the “bone” so that they could partner at some point? This is something that cannot be ruled out because of how important sharing open data can be for the partnership in terms of profitability. It is very important for the cities, Sydney included, to state clearly what they want. This way tech companies like Uber won’t get them off guard. According to some city officials, Uber is the custodian of their data and they can only access it on Uber terms.
We hope that disclosing the Sydney ridership data will be for the general good of the public. We look forward to better planning for the future of our streets.