By Eric Fischer on June 23 2014

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 AndrĂ©s 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