Now Uber wants to rewrite how we build our cities

By Oliver Smith 9 January 2017
Photo from iStock/nycshooter.

Is Uber's data-driven design the future?

Transport for London did something revolutionary in November 2016. It launched a slightly creepy scheme to track the movement of smartphones around Underground stations – which The Memo exclusively revealed in January 2016.

By collecting this movement data TfL hopes to change the way it designs and builds train stations, but what if data-driven design could be expanded across the whole of London?

That’s exactly what Uber promised this morning.

Data-driven design

Uber collects a huge amount of data on our cities, especially on days like today in London when Underground strikes have triggered Uber surge pricing of up to 4x usual prices.

But this data – which tracks the movement and flow of traffic, the peaks and dips, and real time demand for transportation – has been kept top secret by Uber, until now.

This morning the transport giant launched Movement, a new website where city officials and planners can register to access a huge wealth of data on their own city – data which could transform how we design and build the world around us.

“Cities we partner with that access… our aggregated data will inform decisions about how to adapt existing infrastructure and invest in future solutions to make our cities more efficient,” said Uber.

“We hope Uber Movement can play a role in helping cities grow in a way that works for everyone.”

An olive branch to cities

This global release of data might sound almost too good to be true, but it’s likely an olive branch from Uber to cities around the world which have been clamping down on the ride-hire app over the past few years.

Whether that’s California’s proposed $25,000 fines for Uber if it again tries to test driverless cars without seeking approval, in France where the service’s UberPop ride-sharing service was banned or indeed this morning in London where Uber’s 4x surge pricing was seen by many as profiteering on the back of the underground strike.

If Uber’s huge dataset can make it indispensable, not just for passangers, but for cities themselves, then it might just win some more friends in the right places.

And with the wave of hostility it’s facing around the world at the moment, Uber could sure use more friends.