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TfL tests tech to count bus passengers



Three-month trial aimed at improving quality of data and cutting costs from manual surveys

Transport for London (TfL) is beginning a three-month trial to identify which technologies could be most effective in automatically counting passengers on buses.

The trial, which begins today, will assess which techniques capture passenger numbers in real time with the most accuracy. TfL said this could enable it to improve its services, provide better real time travel information and help prioritise investment

It should also be cheaper and more reliable than current manual counts.

The trial will run on seven buses over four routes and assess a handful of automatic counting techniques.

  • Cameras aimed across the bus floor observing the footsteps of passengers getting on and off the bus.
  • Real time analysis of existing safety camera footage.
  • Sensors over each door of the bus.
  • Analysis of the changes to the buses weight and air pressure.
  • Use of depersonalised Wi-Fi connection data.

All Wi-Fi data collected during the trial will be automatically depersonalised at the point of collection, no browsing data will be collected and no individuals will be identified.

Buses trialling the CCTV, sensors or WiFi techniques will display posters to ensure passengers are aware of the trial and that further information is available on TfL’s website.


Simon Reed, head of surface rechnology and data at TfL, said: “Technology is transforming our lives and creating huge potential to improve how we use and operate public transport. This short trial is an exciting opportunity to make it easier for everyone to use buses in London.

“We use a range of methods, such as ticketing data and manual paper surveys, to understand how customers travel across London, but we cannot measure in real time the number of people on a given bus. We hope this trial will show us the best way to identify real time bus usage, which in turn could help us plan our network better, run it more effectively and greatly enhance live customer information.” 

TfL added that this will contribute to its campaign to make data openly available for re-use.

The organisation already uses a range of data, such as that from aggregated and depersonalised Oyster and contactless payments and manual paper surveys, to understand how customers travel across London.

Manual surveys can provide some detail on how full a bus is, but this information takes time to process and cannot be instantly accessed. They are also expensive and can only provide a snapshot of bus usage on the day of survey.

Image by Aubrey Morandarte, Guildford, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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