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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

Improved Public Transport for London, Thanks to Big Data and the Internet of Things

London has long been known as one of the busiest cities in the world, and it would be difficult for it to function without Transport for London (TfL), which runs a network of footpaths, roads, cycle paths, buses, trains, taxis, and ferries. Millions use this service every day, which makes planning services and providing information for customers two of the biggest priorities for TfL. These priorities are magnified by the fact that the city is made up of 8.6 million people, not counting tourists, and that population is expected to reach 10 million within the next few years.

This rapid growth makes it integral to constantly improve the structure of the network, which is becoming easier than ever through big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). These systems see millions of people on a daily basis, all the while collecting scores of data through ticketing systems, sensors, surveys, social media, focus groups, and more. The data is used to improve the transport system as a whole, and it’s only improving.

For example, TfL begin working with Oyster prepaid travel cards more than 10 years ago. These cards enable passengers to load money onto the cards and used for TfL cash purposes. When the cards are swiped at various kiosks and stations around the city, it offers a world of data to the system, including the card carrier’s information, the amount of money they place on the card, the frequency of card use, travel routes, the types of transport used most often, and so much more.

This type of data collection presents an almost insignificant amount of data compared to the amount of data collected through other means. Here are just some of the ways that Big Data and the Internet of Things are transforming Transport for London.

Manages Disrupted Schedules

One of the biggest issues with current public transport in any city is how to handle unexpected events and delays. If a bus breaks down, it can disrupt the entire schedule for the rest of the day, unless it’s managed quickly and efficiently. Data gives transport officials the information they need to fix the breakdown, send replacement transport, and relay information regarding the delay  directly to citizens’ phones.

Offers Personalized News

Because travel data can be used to identify regular customers and the transportation routes they frequent, TfL has the power to send travel updates and news directly to those people. This makes the customer experience much better, since officials can send service changes and station updates as they happen. This information can be accessed through the TfL website or through a series of third party apps, such as BBC and Google Maps, that show schedules, delays, station updates, and more.

Displays Common Travel Mapping

Through anonymously taken data, transport officials can derive maps of the most common routes people are taking and show an accurate depiction of what travel looks like. This is a major step for TfL, particularly when we acknowledge the fact that this transport system has been running since 1829. Big Data and the Internet of Things have amassed data in ways that regular ticket stands and cash purchasing will never be able to match. It allows for seamless data collection without inconveniencing the customer.

Shows Travel Needs

What does TfL do with all of this data? They use it to identify the most major needs in transportation and implement changes that promote efficiency and ease of use. For example, in February, TfL was able to implement some much needed changes to improve Hammersmith Tube station. They realized the need from their data collection, and then added several improvements, including a new exit and entrance on Beadon Road and an extended platform.

Even though one of Britain’s favorite things to complain about is the transportation system, it’s getting better all the time. It’s come a long way since 1829, and Big Data and the Internet of Things will take it even further.