Hardware stores, outdoor adventures and Asian food: Google data reveals Ottawa's pandemic habits

Hardware stores, outdoor adventures and Asian food: Google data reveals Ottawa’s pandemic habits

While 2020 was a year of hardship for many, it was also a year of change. 

The search giant Google was tracking those changes in Ottawa, noting just how much residents of the nation’s capital switched their habits to better cope with the pandemic. 

“We’ve noticed that people in Ottawa were opting for less crowded modes of transportation,” Luiza Staniec, who works for the tech company, told CBC Radio’s All In A Day on Wednesday. “So we saw a sharp decline in the interest in public transit ridership.”

She said approximately half as many searches regarding public transit were entered into Google Maps this year compared to previous years.  

Data shows peak hours at stores 

Cycling directions, however, saw a spike of 40 per cent — the second largest increase in Canada behind only Vancouver. 

Ottawa also saw a rise in searches like “parks near me” and for popular hiking locations. The destinations Mer Bleue Bog, Gatineau Park and Pink Lake topped the latter list. 

The data suggest the busiest times at pharmacies were Thursdays and Fridays between noon and 3 p.m. The best time to visit grocery stores and pharmacies, Staniec said, is right when they open around 9 a.m.

Besides filling prescriptions and buying grub, Ottawans were also on the prowl for nearby hardware stores.

“I think it would be strongly associated [with] the fact that we’ve put off all of these little jobs that we wanted to do around the house for when we have time,” she said. “But now that we’re home, it’s time to change that battery in the smoke detector.” 

Canadians crave takeout during pandemic

Beyond where people were going, Google was also able to glean something about what they ordered. Searches for takeout food skyrocketed by a whopping 216 per cent in Canada.

Staniec said the top searches were halal, Chinese, Indian, ramen and pho. 

The data collected, she said, is both aggregated and anonymized from the Google Maps location history function. She said an individual’s data is compiled into a sea of other data, meaning that while Google knows someone travelled from point A to point B, it doesn’t know who that person was.

Users can switch off and delete data if they’re uncomfortable with it being collected, she said. 

“We can be used as data to plan better for when we go outside and we want to get somewhere,” she said. “What is the best way to get there? And also, what is the busiest time, the safest time to go, especially now that all this social distancing is implemented.”

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