Uber hopes to butter up Brit transport chiefs with lots of lovely data

Much maligned not-a-taxi biz Uber has pledged to hand over travel data to Transport for London.

In a bid to suck up to the regulator that is currently considering whether to reinstate its licence in the UK’s capital, Uber has today launched laxative-sounding Uber Movement “tool” in the capital.

The move follows a missive from TfL last month that – as well as setting out ground rules for private-hire firms that want to operate in the city – suggested they should also share their data.

This is crucial for the body because it is under pressure to reduce traffic in the centre and improve air quality across the city, but Uber and others make up a chunk of movement that they can’t track.

Uber said it was opening up the data based on “feedback” from the cities it operates in, but it is part of major efforts to rebrand the biz after the mass data breach and concerns over passenger safety. The biz also this week changed the app so passengers are told that Uber London is the operator and that their driver is licensed by TfL.

The Movement tool promises to slurp up data from trips and is pitched as a way “to help urban planners make decisions about their city”.

The biz said the data will be anonymised before it is shared and a spokesperson told The Register that no personally identifiable info would be handed over.

“Our tool also allows people to see how journey times in different parts of the city are impacted by things like major events, road closures or infrastructure investment,” Fred Jones, Uber’s head of UK cities said.

To demonstrate its use, Uber looked at how the closure of Tower Bridge for maintenance between October and December 2016 affected traffic flows around the city.

For instance, travel times in eastern London north of the Thames were about 10 per cent longer in that time, while west of the bridge journey times were less affected. Uber put this down to the lack of other river crossings east of the bridge.

“The data clearly shows the cascading effects of the closure on London’s entire transportation grid,” Uber said in a blogpost. “Further investigation into those effects can help inform future decisions needed to effectively manage and plan for road and infrastructure closures.”

The biz said it planned to launch in Manchester and Birmingham in the next few months.

The move was welcomed by open data proponents, with Jeni Tennison, chief exec of the Open Data Institute, saying that such openness “unlocks innovation and creates economic and social value”.

A TfL spokesperson said: “We welcome any move that has the potential to provide a greater insight into how people move around London.”

Uber’s appeal against TfL’s September decision not to reinstate its licence is due to begin on April 30. ®

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