John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Thirty days, 30 random cabbie journeys based on actual location data.
To stand on a downtown Manhattan street corner is to be immersed in a ruckus of taxis, all madly gunning around like a school of mechanical fish. If you were to pick one from the group and ride it for a day, where exactly in the big, busy city might you go?
Chris Whong, a self-described "data junkie" from New York, has answered that question with a mesmerizing visualization, "NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life." He took a huge amount of ridership data for 2013—seriously, he had to give the city a new hard drive to obtain it—and then plotted a random sampling of 30 cabs' journeys over 24-hour periods. His model includes the number of passengers the taxis pick up as well as their daily earnings, which from the three I've viewed topped out at $491, $656, and $679. (Tips were not included unless paid by credit card.)
A few notes: Both the green pick-ups and red drop-offs are based on actual geographic data; however, the routes are simulated using Google Directions API and don't always reflect the exact path the driver took. When the taxi morphs into a big, yellow circle, it means it's empty (perhaps to allow the driver a meal break). And there is no glitch responsible for the cab ride in Clinton early in the morning on February 11 – somebody did just take a trip for one-and-a-half avenues. It's people like that who probably gave that day's cab such a huge passenger load of 185 rides.
One thing that becomes glaringly obvious after a few plays of this viz is how few cabs venture out into the non-Manhattan boroughs. That might change now that the city has adopted a "Boro Taxi program" for underserved areas, as pointed out by this Reddit user: "With just 6 trips out of 185 outside of Manhattan, it makes me realize more and more how the lime green taxis are a great idea. I just hope they start branching out from Williamsburg, Astoria, Downtown Brooklyn and Morningside Heights deeper into the outer boroughs."
Here's a sample from "NYC Taxis" showing treks for early in the day on April 17, 2013: