New research has revealed that Wi-fi data could be used to reduce crowding in London’s Tube stations and prioritise transport investment.
During a four week trial between November and December 2016, Transport for London (TfL) collected data from 5.6 million phones via Wi-fi, identifying what passengers were doing at particular points of their journeys like entering or exiting a station, changing between lines or passing through a station while on a train.
The Wi-Fi data was collected at 54 London Underground stations within Zones 1-4. The information was de-personalised, with nothing to identify individuals.
TfL said no browsing data was collected from devices and no data collected through the trial was made available to any third parties.
The data allowed TfL to generate more accurate data on crowding in stations. It revealed 18 different routes taken by customers between King’s Cross St Pancras and Waterloo, and many people don’t use the shortest route changing Tube lines.
The pilot revealed several results that could not have been identified from ticketing data or paper-based surveys, TfL said.
Various benefits from the pilot include, enabling TfL staff to better inform customers of the best way to prevent disruption or unnecessary crowding; helping customers plan the route that best suits them; and allowing greater sophistication in offering real-time information to customers as they travel across London.
It could also offer a better insight on customer flows which may increase commercial revenue from companies which advertise or rent retail units on the transport network.
TfL chief data officer Lauren Sager Weinstein said: “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.”
TfL is now working with the Information Commissioner’s Office, privacy campaigners and consumer groups on how the data collection could be undertaken on a permanent basis.