The Pulse of a City: How People Move Using Uber Engineering
Uber Engineering’s platform was designed to connect riders and drivers–to help move people (and things) around their cities. Let’s see how one of our largest cities and oldest markets, New York City, moves through the lens of time:
Every row represents an hour, and every column represents a day of the week. The color brightness reflects the frequency (number) of rides for that hour, for that day. Each day is compared to itself. In total, we see how trip activity in New York City is distributed hourly across each day of the average week. Some interesting insights from this data:
- On weekdays from 7-9 am, trips spike on Monday through Friday. This likely represents people’s morning commute to work.
- As evening approaches, the city comes alive. From 5-10 pm, we see another set of concentrated trips. People leave work and head home or go out for dinner and drinks.
- On weekends, the pattern is completely different. Starting Friday night, people go out later; this is reflected in the brightness from 12-2 am on Saturday. Several hours later on Saturday morning, from 7-10 am, the number of Uber trips is considerably smaller as people sleep in. The same pattern picks up on Saturday night from 12-2 am, and then falls to a lull on Sunday morning as well (4-9 am), which extends a few hours beyond the 1-5 am trip dead zone on weekdays.
How revelatory is this? At least in major metropolises, don’t we all live under similar daily rhythms of work and play? Well, from our data, the short answer is no! Although you might think that every city is the same, every city has its own culture and signature. They all move differently.
Let’s look at London as a comparison. A quick glance at where brightness occurs shows just how different these cities are from each other:
Compared to New York City:
- London lives a lot later: while New York is an evening city, London lights up at night, from 6 pm until midnight on weekdays, and until 4 am on weekends.
- In London, Uber is not as popular for morning commutes: a lower proportion of London’s rides occur in morning commute windows compared to New York City.
Those are two examples, but to give you an idea of each city’s unique Uber rhythm, here’s New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and London:
Remember that all brightness levels are relative to each city. So Los Angeles’ peak brightness means more trips took place during that hour window than at any other time during that day.
Some quick takes:
- London and Miami are both nocturnal cities.
- San Francisco and Chicago are broadly similar, but Chicago tends to concentrate rides in a narrow window of commuting from 8-9 am and again from 6-8 pm from Monday through Thursday (you can see this from the bright stripes).
- Across the board, weekend trips are more concentrated on Friday and Saturday nights than during the day.
- In Los Angeles, Saturday night (Sunday from 12-2 am) is much bigger than Friday night.
Can you detect any other patterns and contrasts between these cities?
If you find this analysis interesting, we’ll show some other perspectives of how cities move using Uber’s platform in the coming months, as well as the tools and techniques behind making both static and interactive data visualizations. (By the way, if you want to be part of our story, we are hiring for data visualization and data science roles!)