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12 Sep 2017

A report has just been released by Transport for London or TfL, the people who are in charge of monitoring London’s Underground transport system, which states the result of their recently concluded one-month tracking trial. TfL reportedly used several Wi-Fi access points in a total of 54 stations in Central London where they tracked almost six million mobile phones. This resulted in them gathering over 500 million pieces of data which relates to a total of 42 million journeys taken on the London Tube.

In terms of privacy rights, TfL made sure that they followed all ICO guidelines before and while they were conducting this trial. They did so by depersonalizing the MAC addresses that were gathered after they monitored the commuters that used the London Tube. When the relevant statistics were compiled, they then deleted all the individual data that they gathered in order to secure the privacy of the London commuters.

In effect, it would be impossible for them to pinpoint what the original MAC addresses were. For the date that they kept, these were stored in a secure server which can be accessed only by a limited number of authorized users who previously underwent privacy and data protection training. A strict no-data sharing policy was also implemented all throughout the trial period. Aside from securing the data that was gathered during this trial, the passengers were made aware that they were being tracked through posters strategically placed at every station and even gave the people the option to opt out of the trial.

The tracking done during the trial provided a vast result of new information which according to analysts can be used to determine new measures to help alleviate the overcrowding that happens in the underground transport system at certain peak times.

The report highlights two examples that concern transport within a single station and those who are traveling between two specific stations. The results also produced an accurate graph of how much traffic can be expected at certain times in specific stations. The trial also produced interesting results which revealed that increased signage could help reduce foot traffic in several stations especially those that has interconnection tunnels.

According to the report, 32 percent of commuters went through Oxford Circus to get to and fro Waterloo and King’s Cross stations, two of the the main hub stations, while only 27 percent used a different line and when through Green Park. A few number comprising of 5 percent of commuters went through Leicester Square. The remaining 0.1 percent of people went from Waterloo to London Bridge then to Bank and to Liverpool Street and then arriving finally at King’s Cross. This means that increased foot traffic is expected through Oxford Circus compared to other stations due to the usage of such by most commuters who just pass by.

The tracking results have prompted TfL to update its travel assistance apps and tools to incorporate the data and results gathered from the said trial. They have also indicated that they will be updating their app designs to make it easier to use and making it more visual compared to the previous versions that used text-heavy guides.


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