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Do taxis help or hurt public transit?

What role do taxis play in a city's transit network? Researchers visualized data of cab trips in New York City to help find an answer.
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Written by Tyler Falk on

Eric Jaffe posts an interesting video on Atlantic Cities showing the taxi pulse in New York City. The video visualizes the origin and destination densities of taxis in the city over a 24-hour period.

The animation is pretty straightforward, with people arriving in Midtown Manhattan in the morning, people coming and going from Midtown evens out during the day, and finally the number of cabs leaving Midtown peaks when a majority of people leave work and move throughout the city (mostly to the outer boroughs).

But as Jaffe explains, this analysis could also explain the importance of cabs as part of the overall transit network.

King [the professor who guided the study] sees an important pattern for the data points: the origins and destinations have a geographical asymmetry that suggests people are only using cabs for one leg of their daily round trip. If this were a video of people driving their own car to and from work, the morning and evening rush would be a perfect mirror. It stands to reason, then, that the other leg of the trip is taken by public transportation; after all, it's unlikely that many people park their car somewhere then take a cab home.

In other words, writes King, New York City taxi cabs appear to work within the existing transit network, not against it:

"This matters because it means that individual's travel journeys are multi-modal. If we want to have transit oriented cities we have to plan for high quality, door-to-door services that allow spontaneous one-way travel. Yet for all of the billions of dollars we have spent of fixed-route transit and the built environment we haven't spent any time thinking about how taxis (and related services) can help us reach our goals."

Basically, transit is great, but it's also fixed along a route. Cars can provide the freedom and spontaneity that you can't get with fixed transit lines. But in places where cars are less practical or you want to stay out later than the bus or train runs, cities need to supplement transit lines and fill in the gaps. Taxis have a role to play in the transit mix by offering freedom to generally move when and where you want, while at the same time complementing other modes of transit.

What Taxis Add to Public Transit [Atlantic Cities]

Photo: onesevenone/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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