As it upended the taxicab business model and ignored municipal regulations worldwide, Uber created a ride-hailing empire that gathers massive amounts of data about its riders, data which the company is now prepared to offer to city governments.
The company wants to help urban planners solve transportation issues by sharing how long it takes Uber vehicles to drive around cities, among other insights. The data comes in the form of a new product called Movement, which Uber launched on Sunday. It's currently only available to city officials, planners, and policy makers, but the company said it intends to open up the data to the public in the future.
"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," Andrew Salzberg, Uber's head of transportation policy, wrote in a blog post. "Since Uber is available 24/7, we can compare travel conditions across different times of day, days of the week, or months of the year—and how travel times are impacted by big events, road closures or other things happening in a city."
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The company says it anonymizes and aggregates all of the data to protect the privacy of riders and drivers. The data is then organized into categories like census tracts and traffic analysis zones to match the statistics that planners usually work with.
Meanwhile, Uber's self-driving cars ran afoul of California regulations just days after they began roaming the streets of San Francisco in December. After Uber refused to apply for a permit to test self-driving cars, the state Department of Motor Vehicles threatened legal action and suspended the cars' registrations. In response, Uber pulled the cars off the streets and sent them to Arizona to resume testing.