You could use the public data released by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission to reveal critical insights about urban transit trends. Or you could use it to conduct a completely serious investigation on the plausibility of one of the transportation scenarios in Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
To be fair, developer Todd W. Schneider does both as he crunches a gigantic dataset including 1.1 billion New York City taxi trips from 2009 to 2015, and 19 million Uber rides from 2014 and 2015. Schneider answers plenty of fascinating questions with his excellent analysis of this information. But scanning through his findings, I immediately wanted to know the answer to this specific question: Could Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson really have made it from the Upper West Side to Wall Street in 30 minutes?
As you remember in Die Hard: With a Vengeance, John McClane and Zeus Carver are at 72nd and Broadway when they learn that a bomb is about to go off at the Wall Street 2/3 subway station. They have 30 minutes to get there, and of course it’s morning rush hour.
Here’s Schneider’s take:
McClane and Carver leave the Upper West Side at 9:50 AM, so I took all taxi rides that:
- Picked up in the Upper West Side census tracts between West 70th and West 74th streets
- Dropped off in the downtown tract containing the Wall Street 2/3 subway stop
- Picked up on a weekday morning between 9:20 and 10:20 AM
And made a histogram of travel times:
There are 580 such taxi trips in the dataset, with a mean travel time of 29.8 minutes, and a median of 29 minutes. That means that half of such trips actually made it within the allotted time of 30 minutes! Now, our heroes might need a few minutes to commandeer a cab and get down to the subway platform on foot, so if we allot 3 minutes for those tasks and 27 minutes for driving, then only 39% of trips make it in 27 minutes or less. Still, in the movie they make it seem like a herculean task with almost zero probability of success, when in reality it’s just about average. This seems to be the rare action movie sequence which is actually easier to recreate in real life than in the movies!
Now if that’s not a good use of publicly available data, then I don’t know what is.
Although there is no good answer to this question: Why didn’t they just take the subway? Update: SORRY I forgot the plot. They were not allowed to use public transportation. Okay, what about Citi Bike?
[Check out the whole study at Analyzing 1.1 Billion NYC Taxi and Uber Trips, with a Vengeance]
Follow the author at @awalkerinLA