For several years, taxis in New York City have had GPS receivers to record the location of
the start and end of every trip, but the data has never been made available to
the general public. Chris Whong and Andrés Monroy used New York’s Freedom of Information Law
to request a copy of the taxi records from 2013
and publish them on the web.
I plotted the starts of trips in blue and the ends in orange on this map:
New York taxi pickups and dropoffs
It is a fascinating data set, one of the densest I’ve ever seen.
There were about 187 million taxi trips made during the year,
almost all of them within the confines of Manhattan Island.
There are dropoffs all over the city and at Newark Airport
in New Jersey, but if you want to catch a taxi, it helps to be
in the right place and even on the right side of the street.
The pattern is especially clear in Brooklyn, where taxis drop off
passengers on the sides of the streets leading away from the
Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and then pick up new passengers
on the other side of the street. A similar pattern is visible on
Broadway on the Upper West Side. Individual street corners stand
out in brightness as particularly popular places for people
to be picked up or dropped off.
Dropoffs and pickups on opposite sides of the street
The patterns at JFK and LaGuardia airports show interesting artifacts
of the data collection process.
Almost all of the trips there must have really begun or ended right at the
terminals, but many of them are attributed to the roads leading to and from
the airports, where the last good GPS fix must have occurred.
Terminal access roads at LaGuardia Airport
A different kind of GPS noise turns up in the fuzzy streets of
Midtown Manhattan, where the taxis don’t completely lose the GPS signal
but have to contend with signals bouncing off of tall buildings.
At the lower left are some very bright spots from the many taxi trips
to and from Penn Station.
GPS noise in Midtown Manhattan