February 3, 2017

The story behind the Tube strike – a new era of 'smart travel' beckons

Next week’s proposed strike action is yet again set to cause travel misery across the capital. However, amidst the inevitable swathe of discontent as commuters take to crowded buses, bikes, and hit the pavement in a desperate bid to make it into the office, we should take this opportunity to look at the bigger picture.

The potential disruption is a reaction to the evolution of the London Underground network – as the RMT union raises its concerns about staffing levels in stations, in the wake of the ticket office closures that Boris Johnson delivered as Mayor of London.

Crucially, it’s a combination of boots on the ground and real-time big data analytics that holds the key to smarter network management, to deliver the level of service customers expect, whilst demand continues to increase at around three per cent per year.

Innovations in London Underground’s control rooms are already underway and it’s likely that in the next three to five years, analysts’ arsenal of predictive tools will be significantly expanded. By layering multiple data sets such as platform occupancy, carriage loading and gateline data, controllers will be able to anticipate congestion before it occurs on London’s rail network.

These emerging technologies provide better information to the operator, rather than simply knowing how many customers enter a station. This technology will empower station staff to make the best possible decisions, and will be vital, for example, in integrating Elizabeth line stations with the existing tube network – allowing staff to anticipate the impact of closures and disruptions in a range of scenarios.

The same technology shifts are happening on the streets too; bus location can be monitored using the on-board iBus system and the number of customers waiting at each stop could be detected by using Wi-Fi networks.

The closure of London Underground ticket offices was driven by the success of the Oyster card and contactless payment options.

Pairing the 10 per cent increase in rail capacity delivered by Crossrail with industry-leading big data analytics that supports station staff will prove instrumental in future-proofing the London transport network as travel demand in the capital continues to increase. Look beyond the strike itself, and a bold new era of ‘smart travel’ beckons.

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