New website visualizes ‘A Day in the Life’ of a NYC taxi cab

The new website 'A Day in the Life' gives users virtual access to the trip data of a random taxi cab's data for 24 hours of 2013. Credit: 'A Day in the Life'
The new website “A Day in the Life” gives users virtual access to the trip data of a random taxi cab’s data for 24 hours of 2013.
Credit: “A Day in the Life”

There are things that you’re curious about, then there are things you didn’t know you were curious about. After checking out “A Day in the Life”, it’s clear the route of a taxi cab falls squarely into the latter category.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Law, self-described “urbanist, mapmaker and data junkie” Chris Whong was able to get his hands on New York’s Taxi and Limousine Company’s trip data from last year, which he then compiled and transcribed (synthesized?) onto a map, resulting in a hypnotic visualization of the seemingly arbitrary circles of the ferocious yellow lions in our favorite urban jungle.

Here’s how it works: Click “begin” and the website will  assign you to one of 30 randomly chosen taxi cab days. From 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on that day, you watch the cab as it roams around, collecting and dropping off passengers and accumulating revenue and tips — data automatically collected by the GPS trackers with which cabs are all installed.

The way New York is set up, with its distinct residential and commercial neighborhoods, makes certain trip patterns readily apparent. For example, on weekday mornings, trips usually end in the financial district, or midtown, whose offices thousands of people commute to every day, and vice versa in the late afternoons. For the most part, however, it seems like the general trend is for cabbies to circle around endlessly in Manhattan, with the occasional trip to the airport or populous Queens or Brooklyn neighborhood.

While fun, mesmerizing and informative, the visualization isn’t perfect.  Though the start and end points of each trip are accurate, the trips themselves are determined by what a Google program believes is the quickest way to get from A to B; one cannot assume the cabbies took those paths, especially considering the gridlock New York is known for and the shortcuts cabbies learn over the years. The tips amassed by the drivers don’t tell the whole story either – only credit card tips are recorded and reported; cash tips are off the books. Lastly, the routes between trips are not recorded, they too are simply the “best routes” from the last passenger’s drop-off point to the next passenger’s pick up. Nevertheless, A Day in the Life offers a unique perspective on the services of the ever-ubiquitous yellow taxi cab.


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