It’s another step to the Big Brother future we know we’re all sleepwalking into, but if it can help in any way to sort out the hellish daily soul-torture that is travelling on the London Underground, then hey – we’re all for it.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Gizmodo UK has taken a fascinating look at the data collected when Transport for London (TfL) carried out a four week trial, tracking customers’ phones on the Underground, tracking anyone who had their wifi switched on, via their numerous wifi hotspots. 54 stations, mostly in Zone 1, including everything in the red zone below (other than Tottenham Court Road, which doesn’t yet have wifi).
The primary reason for conducting the trial was to better understand the journeys that people make – Oyster data can tell them which stations people get on and off at, but it can’t tell them any information between these two points. By ‘following’ customers via wifi, they could see exactly how their little commuter ants moved around the system.
A lovely bit of tube nerd catnip includes how people travelled between Liverpool Street and Victoria. Would people opt for the quickest option, but one which involved a change (Liverpool Street-Oxford Circus-Victoria), or the leisurely but easy one (Liverpool Street-Victoria on Circle)? We now have exact percentages – including those crazy folk who opted for a more complicated route.
Secondly, it could also see how people moved within stations, by tracking people moving between different wifi hotspots. It produced this brilliant heat map of Euston, revealing that the busiest platform was the southbound Victoria Line.
TfL hopes that these twin reams of data will ultimately enable our tube overlords to tackle the following:
-By knowing popular routes, they can better allocate resources in terms of trains
-By knowing movement within stations they can address crowding and try and optimise the movement of people – they’ll be able to roll out more tests like the escalator standing at Holborn, and analyse whether they’ve worked or not
-They can also better allocate staff to where they’re needed
-Data could even be shared with passengers, giving a real-time map of which stations, line interchanges and platforms are currently busy
-They can improve evacuation planning
-And, of course, since the issue of money is never far away, more accurate in-station knowledge will better help them price advertising space – which spots are worth more than others in terms of guaranteeing eyeballs on adverts
You can read the whole investigation over at Gizmodo.