How London's Leading on Transit Data

Transport for London is forging ahead on several projects to collect and use more rider data. One initiative draws on WiFi connections to map users' paths through the London Underground.

1 minute read

December 13, 2017, 7:00 AM PST

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

London Underground

pisaphotography / Shutterstock

As Zulfikar Abbany writes, the last several decades have seen marked improvements in London's transit network. Data initiatives are one reason why. "It started with ticketing data - things like the Oyster Card, a simple 'tap on, tap off' payment system that has given Transport for London (TfL) masses of data on customer behavior. And they have gone from that to a trial in late 2016 that used WiFi in underground station to monitor the way people move within station, how they make connections, and how that can lead to - or avoid - overcrowding."

Abbany takes comment from Lauren Sager Weinstein, TfL's Chief Data Officer, who is well aware of privacy concerns. According to Weinstein, "We took the principle of data minimization [...] So you only take the data that you need to take. You don't collect more than you need for [your stated] reason. And we were very transparent about it, so customers could opt-out if they didn't want to participate."

In addition to methods like WiFi tracking, TfL maintains an open data policy letting third parties "extend the reach" of the system using certain datasets. The policy has yielded dividends. "A recent study by Deloitte, a financial consultancy, suggests TfL's open data policy was generating annual economic benefits and savings of up to £130 million (145 million euros) for travelers and the authority itself."

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