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TfL have the data to improve your journey on the London Tube

Do you travel regularly on the London Tube? Ever get frustrated with the crowds when commuting or shopping? Just not certain which route is best?

All these issues may soon be a thing of the past.

Research by Transport for London could pave the way for less crowding and faster journeys. It could also pinpoint priority areas for investment.

In a four-week pilot study, depersonalised data was collected from millions of mobile devices carried by commuters. Over 42 million journeys were analysed.

How was the data collected?

The study focused on 54 stations.

TfL harvested data from customers Wi-Fi enabled devices. Over 500million pieces of data were analysed.

The data was depersonalised so no individuals could be identified. All customers could opt out if they wished and no browsing data was collected.

The ultimate aim of the study is to improve a customer's experience of travelling on the Tube.

Why Wi-Fi on the Tube?

Using Wi-Fi data is more accurate and comprehensive than paper studies. It is also more revealing than ticket sales as the customer’s entire journey can be accurately mapped. Analysts will be able to see where a customer changed trains and the full route taken between A and B.

The research provided some interesting statistics. For example, those customers travelling between King's Cross St Pancras and Waterloo took 18 different routes. Of those customers, 40% chose not to take the most popular routes.

Data such as this will eventually enable TfL to advise customers of the most efficient route for their journey.

For many of us that may mean less crowded carriages and more efficient journeys. Criteria which TfL are confident they can achieve if they are allowed to gather data on a permanent basis.

Lauren Sager Weinstein, Chief Data Officer at Transport for London, said: "Technology is transforming our lives, from how we work and enjoy our leisure time to the way we travel.

“This pilot has revealed useful insights into how people criss-cross London using the Tube, and the potential benefits this depersonalised data could unlock, from providing better customer data to helping address overcrowding, are enormous."

What are TfL hoping to achieve by collecting customers data?

Transport for London have identified potential benefits including:

  • Being able to advise a customer of the best route for their journey
  • Staff will be able to advise customers on how to avoid crowding and disruptions
  • Information can be provided to customers in real time
  • By monitoring the customer flow TfL will be able to pinpoint areas of the network which need more investment
  • Pinch points in the network can be identified and remedied
  • Knowing the customer flow will enable TfL to maximise advertising revenue

When will all this happen?

TfL are now working with the Information Commissioner's Office to see if the pilot study can be extended. Though experts see real value in analysing customer data on the underground.

Sue Daley, Head of Programme for Cloud, Data, Analytics and AI, techUK, said: "The TfL Wi-Fi pilot is a powerful example of how data collection and analysis can make a real difference to our everyday lives.

"By applying big data analytics and machine learning technologies, TfL gained a real-time understanding of how people are using the capital's transport system and these insights will help reduce overcrowding, improve service efficiency and customise information for travellers."

There are still privacy issues to overcome before TfL can collect data on a permanent basis.

Should they be given the go-ahead getting lost on the Tube or suffocating in overcrowded carriages could become a thing of the past.

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