To better plan services and provide information to customers, Transport for London (TfL) is collecting and analyzing the massive amounts of data it has collected from ticketing systems, sensors attached to vehicles and traffic signals, surveys and focus groups, and social media.
TfL oversees a network of buses, trains, taxis, roads, cycle paths, footpaths, and even ferries which are used by millions every day. To provide the best services, the agency has to understand how London’s 8.6 million residents–as well as tourists–behave and how to manage their transportation needs, according to an article in the London Datastore, an initiative by the Greater London Authority to release as much of the data that it holds as possible.
“This rapid growth makes it integral to constantly improve the structure of the network, which is becoming easier than ever through Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT),” notes Larry Alton, author of the article.
For example, TfL collects data about the precise journeys people are taking when they swipe their Oyster prepaid travel cards to gain access to buses and trains. The data includes the card carrier’s information, how much money the individual adds to the card, how often he uses the card, the travel routes he takes, the types of transportation the card holder uses most often, etc. Then the data is anonymized and TfL produces maps that give a more accurate picture of when and where people are traveling.
“Big Data and the Internet of Things have amassed data in ways that regular ticket stands and cash purchasing will never be able to match,” Alton notes. “It allows for seamless data collection without inconveniencing the customer.”
The data TfL collects also enables the agency to handle service interruptions. For instance, if a bus breaks down, it could disrupt the entire day’s schedule. But using the data, officials can dispatch a replacement bus and send information about the delay right to citizens’ phones, he says.
Additionally, TfL uses travel data to identify customers who regularly use specific routes and send them personalized, relevant travel updates such as service changes in order to improve the traveler’s experience.
Customers can get this information via the TfL website or through third-party apps, including the BBC and Google Maps, that show such information as schedules, delays, and station updates, according to Alton.
Additionally, TfL uses the data it collects to identify major transportation needs and put changes into place that promote efficiency and ease of use. In February, for instance, TfL was able to implement some much-needed changes to improve one of the stations of the London Underground.
“Even though one of Britain’s favorite things to complain about is the transportation system, it’s getting better all the time,” Alton notes. “It’s come a long way since 1829, and big data and the Internet of Things will take it even further.