That’s one dense apple! Taxi e-hails in New York City


Everyone knows New York City is huge, but for transportation purposes what makes it both an exceptionally interesting and exceptionally challenging place for taxis is just how dense it can be. (An aside for you urban planning nerds: LA actually has a higher average density in its metro region. But a more relevant metric called weighted average density confirms New York City’s denseness.)

If you look at all e-hail requests over a 2 week period, you see what you might expect: taxi drivers use Uber get requests in all 5 boroughs, but demand is concentrated in the financial district and midtown Manhattan.

Requests, which span all 5 boroughs of New York City, are in green. Higher densities of requests are in red, and are mainly in midtown Manhattan and the Financial District.

In other words, it’s not just that there’s a lot of people that want taxis — it’s that a lot of people want them at the same place and at the same time.  Now that Uber can be used for e-hailing in New York City, we thought we’d see how our data confirms this observation.

First, we took the above data and aggregated them into neighborhoods using an algorithm called k-means (specifically, I used a modified version of a script I found here). Apologies to all you amateur map-makers out there: we made our best guesses naming them by matching the centroids of our polygons to shapefiles provided by the New York Department of City Planning.  They also provided water boundaries so we could clip my shapes to land. Here are the neighborhoods as you know them (click to see in more detail; don’t complain if we didn’t get your area just right):


Using a nifty visualization called a cartogram, we show what each neighborhood looks like, scaled by where people are using the uberTAXI e-hail option:


The second thing to know about New York City demand (or anywhere, really) is that it varies over time.  The city that never sleeps looks more like the city where people all wake up at once: huge spikes in demand occur on weekday mornings, with smaller bumps during the afternoon rush (more on this in the final figure).

Interestingly, not having a bar time means that weekend evenings have a shorter peak and longer tail than most places, with the last stragglers heading home around 4 am to 5 am.  (In the image, green signifies a low number of e-hails; yellow, then red show increasing demand density.

New York City is also special because of a phenomenon that commuters feel intuitively, but that the New York Times recently quantified: because of the way cab shifts are staggered, supply goes offline just when demand begins picking up again for the afternoon commute.

Here’s where Uber comes in. Our app supports both taxi e-hail as well as UberBLACK and uberX. Drivers are independent contractors who can drive when they want. And as it turns out, if you let the market work, supply steps up to meet demand:

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