London is one of the largest and most frequently visited cities in the world. It experiences 30 million journeys on road and public transportation every day. Their public transportation systems include: the Underground (or the Tube as it is more fondly referred to as), Buses, Tramlink, the Docklands Light Railway, London River Services (leisurely transport on the River Thames) and the London Overground. It is all controlled by what they call Transport for London or TfL which is overseen by the mayor of London. The city is growing at an exponential rate which will only increase the demand for public transportation. The TfL has put into effect big data programs to help aid their efforts in maintaining an easy, reliable, and fast system.
The most important way that London gathers data is with the Oyster prepaid travel card. The Oyster card is much like a Charlie Card in that you tap it when you get on your form of transportation. Beyond that, however, a Charlie Card is child’s play compared to the capabilities of an Oyster card. Unlike the Charlie Card, you are able to refill the card at a station or online (which cuts down on lines within terminals). On the Tube, a passenger taps their card when they are entering and also when they are leaving to determine how much money is taken off. Depending on the amount of zones they travel more or less money is charged. Although passengers don’t tap out when leaving a bus, TfL is able to see if they hop onto another bus or underground line. From a tap, TfL receives data like the card carrier’s information, the amount of money they place on the card,the frequency of card use, travel routes, and the types of transport used most often.
How the information is put into effect
With the data collected, Transport for London can create maps of the most common routes people are taking and show an accurate depiction of what travel looks like in London. Delays and route changes are inevitable in a large city. By tracking and learning a customer’s frequent routes, TfL is able to send personalized information directly to their phone or email to help them in case there is a disruption to a frequented route.
In the Summer of 2014, the Putney Bridge had to be closed for emergency repair work. Pedestrians and bicycles could cross the bridge but bus services had to stop on either side. Through bus tracking technology equipped in every single bus and Oyster taps, TfL was able to determine how many passengers were affected by the emergency construction. They found that there were 111,000 bus journeys that crossed the bridge weekly. Of those, about half ended or started near the bridge. 56,000 journeys, however, crossed the bridge in the middle of their trip. To remedy this TfL arranged for transfer facilities so that customers wouldn’t be charged twice. They also sent targeted emails to notify them of this change and minimize impact.
Transport for London is aware when a passenger is charged incorrectly. If a customer experienced a large delay in their trip such as being on a broken down tram they will receive a notification via email or phone that they have been refunded some amount of money. They same thing will happen if a passenger has to take two modes of transportation during their journey.
Beyond route changes, TfL uses the data to determine customer needs. In February, TfL recognized through data collection that the traffic in Hammersmith Tube Station was not moving as efficiently as needed. Because of this, they added a new exit and entrance on Beadon Road and an extended platform. They will also hang posters in stations telling passengers the busiest times during the stations. That way, a customer has the knowledge and choice to possibly time their journey differently to avoid the the traffic.
London is all about the customer’s journey. Transport for London understands that the more information they have, the more information they can give to the customer, and they happier they will be. Big data is the future of public transportation and London is the perfect example for how to do it correctly.
****p.s. if you caught the Clash reference in my title you got a golden star