A City’s Dependance on Uber

Ben Thornton
2 min readJan 13, 2017


Screenshot of Uber’s new tool, Movement, in action and one of its use cases. (movement.uber.com/cities)

With the launch of Uber’s new data service, Uber Movement, cities are able to gain new insight to how this private ride-sharing service has been behaving in their city. Another huge part of the data, and the one that Uber is pitching, is the anonymized traffic data from 2 billion rides. With this, Uber hopes that cities will be able to gain insight to how traffic functions around the city.

Included on the site were a series of case studies to show the insight that can be gained from the data. I found the Washington DC study most interesting and it provides a hidden lesson for cities to understand as they continue to understand how Uber fits into their larger transit plans.

The case study found that after a major transit shutdown, the roads and traffic were congested with cars and created a nightmare scenario for commuters. Looking at the analysis quickly, your immediate realization is to possibly look at traffic and the road infrastructure in order to create better flow in instances of this.

This is not what city officials should draw from this tool however. It needs to be a wake up call that reliance on Uber is not a long term solution. Our road networks are not designed to account for that type of unpredictable vehicle behavior.

Transit lines are the answer. And better transit options will not only avoid situations like those face during the March 16th Shutdown, but also provide increased quality of service for commuters each day.

Transitions from rail systems when more nimble and adaptable bus systems might be a better fit for sections of the transit systems are moves that cities need to address. Seattle has had huge success with their bus system while now their rail system is beginning to take form.

So to all cities out there, don’t let a Ünicorn be your saving grace to transit perils facing your citizens. They rely on you to provide comprehensive transit options as their population grows and demand increases. It is not necessary to create the next cutting edge subways or light rail systems. Bike lanes, buses, and wider sidewalks are small improvements that make the broader commute better. Don’t let a car dependent company backtrack the progress made since the highway revolution towards a future of better transit.

I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on how these data can be used for transit agencies. How Uber and other ridesharing platforms fit into transit plans for cities is also another conversation to begin. Hit me up on Twitter (@91degN) to start chatting or drop a comment!