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Labour calls for phone data to support public transport


Parliamentary Correspondent

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Mobile phone location data could be used to plan out new bus and rail routes, according to the Labour Party’s spokesperson on transport.

Rachael Maskell, the shadow transport minister, told the Press Association in an interview that phone data has “huge potential” to improve transport links and said the Department for Transport (DfT) was failing to use it sufficiently.

“It's really interesting talking to some of the phone companies about what is possible,” Maskell said.

“We forget sometimes that phones travel around with us everywhere and by using that data you can map people's travel habits. It is a really powerful tool and can really drive decision making.”

She added: “So, for example, we could harness that and see when and where people are making consistent journeys. You could then look at whether there is public transport in place on that route and if not why not.

"It could mean soft options like buses being planned and harder options, if there is a big demand, like rail."

The DfT has explored using mobile network data in transport modelling, publishing recommendations in a report on the issue published a year ago.

However, its use so far has focused on the immediate potential benefits for easing traffic congestion, rather than for planning future public transport investments.

York trial

Initiatives have been taking place at a local level including in Maskell’s constituency. Earlier this year, York City Council announced a trial, reported in The Daily Telegraph, to tap into drivers' and passengers' phone signals to track how cars move around the traffic choked city.

The innovation collects signals via the internet or using sensors on the roadside and, if successful, could be rolled out across the country.

The council said the detectors would be fitted to lights, bollards, and other street furniture and would detect and process anonymous "signatures" from people using mobile phone services.

The only way to opt out of the scheme would be to turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Each vehicle would be given a unique code, which would change every day. 

It would also include data about weather patterns, allowing officers to change traffic light sequences if, for example, there is sudden heavy rain.

Image by Chris McAndrew CC BY 3.0

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