by Rik Williams, Senior Data Scientist, Policy Research, and Shin-pei Tsay, Director of Policy, Cities and Transportation

On March 16, 2020, the San Francisco Bay Area’s six counties issued the country’s first shelter-in-place order in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Three days later, the State of California issued its own order, with other jurisdictions across the US following suit in the subsequent days and weeks. Personal travel was brought to a virtual standstill as people stayed home, and many of California’s public transit agencies were forced to curtail service, sometimes drastically.

Nonetheless, people still needed to travel for essential purposes: buying groceries and supplies, medical appointments, caring for others, and — in the case of essential workers who are unable to work from home — commuting to and from their jobs. For the nearly 1 million California households without access to a vehicle (and many others with fewer than one vehicle per adult), these essential trips must be served by other modes like public transit, getting rides from friends and family, walking, biking, taxis, and ridesharing. In an unprecedented lockdown where people only travel when absolutely necessary, how does Uber help meet these essential needs? …

This is a personal article; all views and opinions expressed here are my own.

Prior to 1869, westward migration in the US moved at roughly walking speed, sometimes accompanied by covered wagons. Anyone who grew up playing The Oregon Trail knows this could take up to 6 months (with weaker members of your party inevitably succumbing to cholera — I’m looking at you, SHAWN). The First Transcontinental Railroad cut this down to 4–6 days, or a factor of 30 improvement: arguably the largest step change in our ability to move major quantities of people and goods across North America. Even skipping ahead to the jet age, where planes regularly traverse the continent in 5–6 hours, travel time declined by “only” another factor of 20 or so. …

Opinions in this post are entirely my own, and are not endorsed by any past, present, future, or parallel-universe employer.

Last week I attended my first community meeting in San Francisco: an open house and public hearing about the California Street Safety Project. For reference, this is California Street:

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Running east-west through the Richmond District about half a block from my apartment, California Street is six lanes wide (four travel and two parking lanes) with a nominal but usually flouted 25 mph speed limit. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has proposed adding safety improvements to a 1-mile stretch, including better crosswalks, no-parking zones at intersections to improve visibility (a.k.a.

By Rik Williams, Policy Research Data Scientist, and Chris Pangilinan, Head of Global Policy for Public Transportation

Over the past few years, something remarkable has taken place in Seattle. New Census data reveal that Seattle’s car ownership rate has dropped faster than any other US city. During this time, transit ridership has seen significant growth while Uber rideshare trips and JUMP bike share trips have also been growing. …

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Since its inception, Uber’s Policy Research team has partnered with the academic community to rigorously examine challenging topics like surge pricing, labor markets, gender and earnings, and many others. We’ve shared aggregated data and/or collaborated as co-authors on published academic papers, but ultimately the conclusions and framing of the results have been driven by the academics themselves. We believe independent and objective research like this is crucial for understanding emerging mobility options (and ensuring they have the greatest positive impact on the world).

Following input from the research community, we are thrilled to announce our latest pilot initiative: the Mobility Research Grant Fund. Through this program, awardees will receive matching funds (up to a dollar-for-dollar basis) to supplement their competitive research grants from governments, nonprofits and other sources. We hope this will not only enable more research on ridesharing, but also help unlock government grants that specifically encourage or require third-party contributions. …

Opinions in this post are entirely my own, and do not reflect the views of any past, present, or future employer.

The predawn sky is just starting to show hints of orange as I step out into the cul-de-sac. Half an hour later, Arizona sun in full force, I’m picking my way along a narrow, glass- and plastic-strewn strip of gravel between an irrigation ditch and the steady, percussive wind blasts of high-speed vehicles, hoping like hell one of the drivers doesn’t get a text message at the wrong moment.

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It’s mid-February and I’m in the western suburbs of Phoenix, visiting a good friend for the weekend. Taking advantage of one of my favorite structural perks of working for a big company, I’ve extended my trip by a few weekdays, intending to work from the downtown office during the day and hang out in the evenings. Through a mix of curiosity, thrift, and transit geekery, I’ve decided to take the bus to work. …

Note: This is a personal post and all opinions expressed here are my own — though if my employer has an opinion on “Secision Embinem Ridesharing Skop?”, I’d love to hear it.

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I think it might have something to do with projects.

Each January, the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (TRBAM) convenes over 10,000 practitioners to discuss every transportation-related topic imaginable: from road and rail infrastructure, to transit and land use, to equity and safety, and everything in between. I was thrilled to attend my third TRBAM last week, but as always, going to this conference is akin to drinking from the proverbial firehose — there are far too many sessions in just my field for one person to attend, let alone the hundreds of others. …

How do people get around?

This seemingly simple question belies the vastness and complexity of the transportation system that underpins almost every aspect of our lives: daily commutes to and from work; accessing vital services like child care, education, and medical appointments; social and recreational activities; and many others. Understanding how, where, and why people travel over time is necessary for transportation agencies and urban planners to manage the use of infrastructure effectively, and identify when it’s not meeting a community’s needs. …

As the world comes together this week to press for progress on International Women’s Day, we’re pleased to share recent research about how ridesharing has served women riders and drivers around the world and the barriers preventing more progress. Led by the International Finance Corporation, the Driving Toward Equality: Women, Ride-Hailing, and the Sharing Economy report represents a data-driven deep dive into how women use Uber as riders and drivers in six countries: Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

Report Background

Though some progress has been made, gender disparities persist across geographies, cultures, and sectors. In most countries, women do not have the same access as men to basic needs and amenities, including transportation services [1,2] and work opportunities [3]. Ridesharing has the potential to lower barriers for women in both of these areas — by providing flexible work opportunities for drivers, and reliable on-demand transportation for riders. Over the years there’s been mixed, largely anecdotal evidence to support this hypothesis, along with problematic issues that continue to affect women’s participation, like cultural norms and security concerns. …

A while back, we noticed something interesting in Uber’s data: a lot of trips don’t connect to other trips. In other words, a rider will use Uber to go somewhere, but they don’t return to their origin (or continue onward to their next destination) with Uber. This caught our attention because such journeys are typically not possible with a personal automobile: if you drive your own car somewhere, you almost always have to drive it back.

We’ve long suspected that these “one-way trips” are parts of multimodal journeys — in other words, riders are combining Uber with other modes of transportation to suit their needs, schedules, and budgets. For example, a rail commuter who works late one night might opt to take Uber home when the trains are running less often, or someone might use Uber to meet up with friends and then check out a bikeshare to ride to the park afterwards. We’ve already seen plenty of evidence that riders combine their Uber trips with public transit, and one-way trips might provide yet another measurable view into multimodality. …


Rik Williams

Data scientist @Uber Policy Research. Time also spent in US foreign assistance, astronomy, hiking, silicon wafers, fast food, and poorly-played music.

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