John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on 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: