Looker Blog : Data Matters

Using New York City Taxi Data to Avoid Airport Traffic

Looker Team, New York

May 9, 2017

exploring taxi data

As Looker’s New York team, we’re constantly using taxis to get around the city. Taxis are a huge part of New York City culture and they play a key role in our team’s productivity. Since data is central to everything we do at Looker, we thought it’d be interesting to see if we can use data to optimize the taxi experience.

New Yorkers rely on taxis, that much is clear to anyone who’s been there and it was immediately clear in the data. The data also supports a hunch that many New Yorkers have; it is nearly impossible to get a cab at 4:30 p.m.. This is due to the unfortunate alignment of a shift change and rush hour.

Members of our NYC team are constantly heading to the airport to meet with customers or to fly out to our Santa Cruz HQ, so we decided to use this opportunity to gather some data and use it to improve our travel experience. (As opposed to our current ‘system’ of simply relying on the advice of our team’s native-New Yorkers).

By looking at NYC taxi trip data (count, location, and trip length), we formulated some tips for our own taxi-taking strategy.


Good News for Morning People

The data confirms that the best time to catch a cab to the airport is 4:00 a.m. At this prime hour, the average cab ride to takes 20 minutes compared to the 41 minutes it takes to travel 3:00 p.m. - the worst time to try to get to the airport.

Since most of us agree that hailing a cab at 4:00 a.m. is ridiculous (unless you’re coming home from an amazing night out), the next best times to get a taxi are between 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

We were also surprised to find that traffic from Manhattan towards both Laguardia and JFK is relatively smooth at 7:00 a.m.; We expect this is because early birds are already at their destination for the day. Also, the bulk of the 7am traffic is heading into Manhattan, rather than outbound.

If an early morning trip isn’t possible, we advise you avoid scheduling trips to the airport between 1:00p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Overall, the data states that if you’re heading to the airport, an early or late travel time will serve you better than an afternoon trip.

length of taxi trip

Image: Length of Taxi Trip (in minutes) by Hour of Day

Best Days to Taxi to the Airport

If you want to optimize your taxi-time to the airport based on day of the week, Monday is clearly your best bet. Want to be extra swift? Nothing beats Monday at 4:00 a.m.

Alternately, Thursday is the worst day catch a cab to the airport with traffic at its peak from 3:00 p.m. clear through to the end of rush hour. Next time you decide to take Friday off for a three-day weekend, you may want to consider leaving on Thursday at lunchtime, or waiting until Friday morning to skip the peak traffic and taxi demand time.

Worst Locations to Catch a Taxi to the Airport

The data confirmed our collective suspicion that Times Square and Rockefeller Center are the absolute worst spots to catch a taxi in NYC. (Yet another reason for New Yorkers to avoid the touristy spots!)

manhattan heatmap

Image: Heatmap of pickup locations for taxi trips headed to the airport

While our deep dive into New York City Taxi data validated many of our hunches, it also revealed some great travel tips, less-than-optimum hailing locations and travel times to avoid.

If you’d still like to explore and optimize your own taxi strategy, we’ve the loaded our findings into Looker’s public data with BigQuery, and you can access it here.

If you’d like to learn more about doing cool things with data in Looker, or optimizing your business strategy with data, request a chat with our technical team.

Wishing you safe and data-driven travels,

The Looker Team, NYC

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