Transport for London, the body which operates the capital's public transport, has today announced that from tomorrow, it will be starting a new automatic passenger counting trial on buses, which it says could lead to better bus journeys in the future.
The three month trial will take place on seven buses across five bus routes - the 55, 47, 222, 507, and 521 - and what's fascinating is that it will use a number of different counting techniques, with the aim of the trial being to discover what works best for collecting data.
According to TfL, the technologies trialled will be:
- Cameras aimed across the bus floor, to observe footsteps of passengers getting on and off buses
- Sensors over each bus door
- Real-time analysis of existing CCTV footage
- Analysis of changes to the buses weight and air pressure (this is definitely the one that intrigues us the most)
- Wifi data collection
If that last one sounds familiar, then good, as it means you've been paying attention to Gizmodo UK before. TfL has previously used wifi data collection in trials on the Tube, to monitor passenger movements and journeys on the network.
As with the Tube trial, TfL promises that bus data will be suitably anonymised, as per the information commissioner's guidance. though it seems inevitable that privacy advocates will still have ask questions, as with the tube trials.
We also asked TfL about the CCTV analysis, and a spokesperson told us that it will no be performing any sort of face tracking, and that the analysis will only be looking for human-shaped objects. So if you're really paranoid, remember to take your privacy mannequin with you when you take the 55 bus. TfL also notes that all of the buses in the trial will have posters up clearly flagging that data is being collected.
So what's the point in doing all of this anyway? The hope is that better data could mean that TfL can make better planning decisions about what to do with the bus network, and also open up the data to enable passengers to see just how busy the next bus will be - perhaps using apps like CityMapper. And if the technology is deployed more widely, it'll definitely be an improvement on the current system of analysing Oyster card data (which only measures when people get on the bus, not when they get off) and carrying out expensive and inefficient paper-based manual surveys.
It'll be fun to see which collection technique is judged to have worked best when the trial is over.