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TfL considers 4G use to collect bus passenger weight data

24 Oct 2013
Concept image of a new model of the double decker red London bus

Transport for London (TfL) has said it could use 4G services to share more data about its buses such as the passenger weight of a bus or the specific number of passengers that would be made available for developers to use within apps.

Currently each bus is fitted with a terminal, which updates location data every 30 seconds via a 2G connection. This information is shared as part of TfL's open data strategy and has helped developers produce a raft of apps that use this data to inform passengers of the next bus arrival time.

At present only 52KB of data is sent each time because, as head of technical services group Simon Reed explained, the use of data services at TfL dates back to 2005, when data was too expensive to consider sending any more, especially with 8,500 vehicles on the network.

However, he said that in the future TfL could use 4G to gather more data and this could help provide more information to passengers.

“The next time we refresh that contract I would expect us to get on to a data bundle that will allow us to draw more [data] through,” Reed said at an event on location services organised by Cambridge Wireless.

“There are always more things we can do with data. Specifically, the two main ones we reckon would be useful are the weight of the vehicle as a proxy for the number of people on it, or literally the number of passengers on it any one time.”

This would be done by collecting Oyster and bankcard data used by passengers to board a bus that would then be sent to the TfL database.

Developers could use this data to enhance existing apps or create new ones so someone waiting for a bus would not only know how long it would be but how busy it was too.

GPS data of a bus's approximate location may also be released in the future. “We don’t do GPS coordinates yet but that is something we are working on,” Reed added.
As this data is only shared every 30 seconds it would not be completely accurate, but Reed said it could increase the frequency to get more real-time data, although this would put more pressure on the systems used by TfL to gather such data.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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