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How TfL / London Underground is Wi-Fi tracking its users (Part 2)

Posted by Marcello Perricone on Sep 4, 2019

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This is part 2 of a two-part feature. To find out how TfL began its Wi-Fi tracking initiative and the steps necessary to make it work, read part 1 here.

"In order to understand the complex movement patterns, we needed to have detailed station mapping of where all of the Wi-Fi access points are so that we could assign the connection to a specific location," says Lauren Sager Weinstein, Chief Data Officer at TfL. "So we first of all undertook a very extensive mapping exercise to make sure that all our access points were reflected in our station models and, when there are updates, we have a process to ensure that these models are kept up to date. This includes taking into account where the Wi-Fi access points are in relation to corridors, lifts, escalators, etc."

"We also had to think about how this depersonalised and aggregated data could provide value to our operational teams," she continues. "We therefore worked with them to identify baseline profiles for stations, and then designed algorithms to work in real time. These can then highlight particularly busy times and places, which will benefit both for our operational controls and allow us to directly inform our customers to consider alternative routes or retime their journey."

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That improvement to customer experience and operational procedures are two sides of the same coin, which have the ultimate purpose of improving TfL's services -- be it by identifying traffic bottlenecks, or giving passengers more tailored routes.

"Since the pilot, TfL has been working to understand how this data could be usefully used to provide customers with new, more tailored information about their journeys – both before they begin and while they are travelling. As well as better customer data, this dataset will also help TfL station staff have the latest information to hand when they are giving customers assistance (particularly those with small children or with accessibility needs) as well as advising them about travel conditions on other parts of the network."

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"The insights gained from the Wi-Fi data collection pilot have already been used to help provide better information to customers, where we contact customers in advance of planned disruptions on the Tube. Our teams have looked at the flow patterns from the pilot to check our understanding of how our customers travel across the network, and make sure that the advice was relevant to that particular closure. As we get more aggregated information, we will be able to better refine this understanding, and make the information we share with customers even more tailored to the journeys they make."

"The data will also allow us to better understand customer flows throughout stations, which means we can prioritise investment to areas where we know there are existing congestion issues, as well as highlight the effectiveness and accountability of our extensive advertising estate based on actual customer volumes. Being able to reliably demonstrate this should improve commercial revenue, which can then be reinvested back into the transport network."

Part of that reinvestment comes in the way of capital, as TfL is hoping the system not only changes how they build and run stations, but help other operators around the world.

"We are currently considering whether there is a potential market for licensing our Intellectual Property (IPR) from this technology. Our technical approach to Wi-Fi data collection in transport networks is ground-breaking, and a number of authorities have already approached us to understand more about how we developed this. We therefore will be investigating opportunities for licensing this technology in the future, the money from which would be reinvested into London’s Transport network."

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"The benefits this new depersonalised dataset could unlock across our network—from providing customers with better alerts about overcrowding to helping station staff have a better understanding of the network in near-real time — are enormous. By better understanding overall patterns and flows, we can provide better information to our customers and help us plan and operate our transport network more effectively for all."

"While I am excited about the potential of this new dataset, I am equally mindful of the responsibility that comes with it. We at TfL take our customers’ privacy extremely seriously and will not identify individuals from the Wi-Fi data collected. Transparency, privacy and ethics need to be at the forefront of data work in society and we recognise the trust that our customers place in us, and safeguarding our customers’ data is absolutely fundamental."

This is part 2 of a two-part feature. To find out how TfL began its Wi-Fi tracking initiative and the steps necessary to make it work, read part 1 here.

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Topics: Transport For London (TfL), Wi-Fi, SRW Featured

Marcello Perricone

Written by Marcello Perricone

The Editor of SmartRail World and Transport Security World.

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