Uber to help cities get a better grasp on traffic patterns

Uber is offering a helping hand to some of the same city leaders it sometimes antagonizes with the aggressive way it runs its popular ride-hailing service.

The assistance will come in the form of a free website, called "Movement," expected to be available to the public in mid-February. Uber announced the new website Sunday, on the eve of a transportation-planning conference in Washington.

Although anyone can use the website, Uber says it believes its main audience will be city officials dealing with congestion in their streets and transit systems.

The website draws upon data Uber gathers from its ride-hailing service showing average travel times on specific routes at any day or time. The San Francisco company believes that information will enable city officials to make better planning decisions about road closures and transportation improvements.

The site won't be comprehensive because Uber acknowledges its service hasn't provided enough rides on some routes to give reliable estimates on typical travel times. But it remains confident the service will be a popular tool for city planners who currently have to pay for similar data from a variety of vendors.

The website will start with private tests covering the Washington, Sydney and Manila, Philippines. Once the website opens to the public, Uber hopes to gradually provide travel-time data on maps covering most of the hundreds of cities where its service operates.

Uber's goodwill gesture is a bit of a departure for a company that has tussled with cities around the world about whether its service needs to follow the same regulations as taxis.

And just last month, Uber upset city leaders in its hometown by rolling out a small fleet of self-driving cars without the permits that California state regulators said were needed to cruise the streets, even with a human prepared to take control of the vehicle. The state revoked the registrations for Uber's self-driving cars, prompting the company to move the testing of the vehicles to Arizona.