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11. 05. 2019 10:05

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Data mining enables TfL to see where people go and help run its network better

New data has enabled Transport for London (TfL) to update its Journey Planner to reflect more accurately the time it takes to travel through stations during busy periods

It is the first of a series of improvements for passengers following the start of collection of Wi-Fi connection data earlier this year.

More than 2.7bn pieces of depersonalised data have been analysed and enabled TfL to update its Journey Planner to more accurately reflect the time it takes to travel through stations.

By collecting data TfL has gained a greater understanding of the routes people take across the network, where they interchange and how long people may have to wait at certain points along their journey due to crowding or maintenance work.

Work is now underway to improve data around crowding at platform level to help passengers consider alternatives before they travel

The changes are part of TfL’s wider improvements to passenger information which will be delivered within the next 12 months.

Piccadilly Circus

TfL’s in-house data scientists worked through the data and identified a number of instances where the length of time to travel through a station was greater than the time previously allocated on TfL’s Journey Planner.

TfL has now adjusted Journey Planner timings for journeys involving 55 stations. The changes, which will also be reflected in the Journey Planner open data in TfL’s free Unified API, include:

  • At major interchange stations like Baker Street, Canada Water, Earl’s Court and Notting Hill Gate, the time to interchange between lines has been adjusted to better reflect busy times at the stations. Historically, TfL has relied on customer surveys to understand the flow of movement through a station. Using depersonalised Wi-Fi data provides a more accurate understanding of how people interchange throughout the day.
  • At high tourist areas like Bond Street, Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, times have been adjusted to take account of higher usage outside of peak periods due to theatres, museums and other leisure activities nearby.
  • At stations towards the end of Underground lines in outer London, times have been adjusted to take account of increased passenger numbers.

The improvements to TfL’s Journey Planner will benefit all customers, including people with accessibility needs, as it will help provide clearer journey times and identify the quickest or most convenient option, especially for those who require a step-free route.

Following these changes, TfL will continue to analyse the depersonalised Wi-Fi data and make additional changes to Journey Planner should they be required in the future.

Work is also underway to see what further information can be sourced from the depersonalised Wi-Fi data to help provide further benefits to customers.

These include understanding where customers interchange on certain key routes in London, such as King’s Cross St Pancras to Waterloo and Liverpool Street to Victoria, to see whether better alternatives could be suggested at certain times to help customers find their best route.

TfL Journey PlannerThe aggregated data is also being prepared for use by TfL’s planning teams, who will use the better understanding of customer flows throughout stations to help identify improvement opportunities and target investment in the transport network.

The aggregated data is also being used by TfL’s advertising partner, Global, to improve where it positions advertising to help raise revenue for reinvestment in the transport network. 

The aggregated data will also be used in the future to help highlight the effectiveness and accountability of the advertising estate, based on measured footfall, which should also improve commercial revenue.

The data collection, which began on 8 July 2019, is harnessing existing Wi-Fi connection data from more than 260 Wi-Fi enabled London Underground stations.  All data collected by TfL is automatically depersonalised to ensure that it is not possible to identify any individual, and no browsing or historical data is collected from any devices.

The changes to Journey Planner are part of a wider set of improvements to how live travel information is shared with customers planned by TfL in the coming 12 months.

TfL has a number of ways which customers can find up to date travel information, including the TfL website, social media channels, or via hundreds of apps powered by TfL’s free open data feeds. TfL has recently begun improving the way data is shown on the status boards within stations to help make it easier for customers to see whether lines which serve their specific station are affected by any delays or planned closures.

Customers can also set up ‘Favourites’ to easily access live travel information on the TfL website, as well as use online Travel Tools such as Status Updates and Live Arrivals for stations, stops and piers.

Further improvements to TfL’s website and free open data Unified API are also expected to be made in the coming months, including providing better live accessibility data to passengers as well as incorporating real-time information for journeys on TfL-operated rail services within Journey Planner.

During 2020, passengers and TfL staff see further benefits from this depersonalised Wi-Fi data, including:

  • Providing updated crowding data via the TfL website to help customers better plan their route across London;
  • Incorporating updated crowding data into TfL’s free open-data API, which could allow app developers, academics and businesses to further utilise the data for new products and services;

Lauren Sager Weinstein, Chief Data Officer at Transport for London, says: “Our lives are now more data-rich than they have ever been and therefore we are working to use this data to allow our customers to better plan their journeys and find the best routes across our network.

"These changes to our online Journey Planner using depersonalised Wi-Fi data collection is just the start of wider improvements we are hoping to introduce which will provide better information to our customers and help us plan and operate our transport network more effectively for all.

"As we do this, we take our customers’ privacy extremely seriously. It is fundamental to our data approach and we do not identify any individuals from the Wi-Fi data collected.”

In October 2017, analysis by Deloitte showed that the provision of free open data by TfL, which powers over 675 apps and is accessed by thousands of developers, is helping London’s economy by up to £130m a year. Details here

Find out more about TfL’s Wi-Fi data collection programme: https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/privacy-and-cookies/wi-fi-data-collection

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