Four week trial will use depersonalised data from collecting MAC addresses of devices to look at movements within stations
Transport for London is ready to begin a four week trial of Wi-Fi connections in its Underground stations, with the aim of understanding passengers’ movements and their interchanges between lines.
The trial is due to begin on Monday 21 November, using connection data in the form of the Media Access Control (MAC) addresses from mobile devices at 54 stations in zones 1-4.
Wi-Fi is available in 250 stations around London under a deal that TfL struck with Virgin Media in 2012.
It said that if the trial is successful, data could be used to improve services, provide better travel information and inform investment decisions.
TfL is already using depersonalised data from travellers’ Oyster cards and contactless cards, but these are limited to recording when they go through the ticket barriers. Monitoring the Wi-Fi connections from mobile phones could give it a more detailed picture of how they are moving within stations.
It has anticipated any privacy concerns by insisting that individuals cannot be identified, and it will not include any details on their internet browsing. The MAC addresses will be depersonalised and encrypted, and the data will be stored in a restricted area of a secure server and not linked to any other data.
None of it will be made available to third parties.
Posters are being put up at the entrances and on the platforms of all the relevant stations, telling travellers the trial is taking place and that they can opt out by turning off the Wi-Fi connection on their phones.
A TfL spokesperson told UKAuthority: “From the Wi-Fi data we hope we can better understand how people are moving around the network, and identify areas where we can address any problems straight away.”
Among the benefits it hopes to obtain are managing disruptions better, improving its planning of timetables and station designs, and increasing revenue from companies that advertise or rent retail units in the stations.
Shashi Verma, chief technology officer at TfL, said: “This short trial will help us understand whether Wi-Fi connection data could help us plan and operate our transport network more effectively for customers.
“Historically, if we wanted to know how people travelled we would have to rely on paper surveys and manual counting, which is expensive, time consuming and limited in detail and reliability.
“We hope the results of this trial will enable us to provide customers with even better information for journey planning and avoiding congestion.”
Image by Lukes_photo, CC BY-SA 2.0 through flickr