Wifi tracking in London’s mass transit system to gather data about commuter travel activity

By Jonathan Crowl

A new pilot program called Transport for London will track commuters’ travel activities and routes throughout London through wifi services offered in mass-transit stations. The four-week wifi tracking program will assess a range of commuter behaviors, from which routes they take on a daily basis to how they behave inside stations.

According to ZDNet, the wifi tracking study will also examine how commuters operate at the transfers between trains and other vehicles for mass transportation, along with common transit problems such as heavy crowding, which slows down commuters and the transit system.

At present, Transport for London is able to track commuters as they enter and exit stations through the use of the Oyster card program. It shows where commuters are coming from and where they’re going but doesn’t offer any insight into what their commuting experiences are like or which pain points they routinely face.

Now, the organization will gather additional behavioral data based on when commuters connect to wifi through their smartphones or tablet devices. The transit system offers free wifi at certain stations, which will encourage commuters to access it, especially when they’re underground and don’t have a signal from their service providers.

Though wifi tracking won’t provide quite the depth and breadth of user data that beacon technology could provide, there is still plenty of insight to be gained and several ways for the transit service to leverage this data to its benefit. Not only could the information help create more efficient transit services, but it could also pinpoint the most active and lucrative advertising hot spots and guide Transport for London’s investment priorities.

Although the pilot program will collect customer data, the organization emphasized that the data would be anonymized and would not be sold to third parties. Signs will also alert commuters when they have entered a station where wifi tracking is set up to collect any data.