Crowdsourced data – powering public transport with people

By Joe Spicer, Analyst

April 5, 2016   

CrowdsourcingTransport is one of the key areas of development within the “London Infrastructure Plan 2050”. The document outlines that the rail and tube capacity need to increase by 70% by 2050 to cater for the predicted 37% increase in London’s population- totalling 11 million people [1].

To help relieve pressure caused by this steep rise in population, providing more transport seems like an obvious solution, and will ensure London has the capacity to ferry its inhabitants about. However, improving the transport system is not only about increasing capacity. It also requires enhancing the travelling experience. To achieve this means giving Londoners the tools to make more informed travel choices.

This truly is a challenging effort. In order for a traveller to make an informed decision, they need real-time data about their journey and their options – and this data often needs to come from hundreds of observations and locations.

This may be an opportunity for technology to come to the rescue. Boris Johnson expresses that “we must be ready to swiftly adopt new technologies”, and identifies data collection, release and analytics of big data as “vital in modernising London’s infrastructure” [1].

Crowdsourcing, or obtaining data from the public, rather than special data providers, seems like a viable option. Utilising the thousands of commuters to gather and disseminate information can reduce the overall cost of data, but also provide information from multiple viewpoints and scalability.

The benefits of crowdsourcing are massive, and the reality is that we’re living in a culture of crowdsourcing, where more and more people are willing and interested in sharing what they know through social media [2].

On an international scale, San Francisco based startup ‘Premise’ [3] are using crowdsourced data to identify economic trends far quicker than government statistics are able to. Their network of users take photos (e.g. of the cost of rice) which are interpreted in real-time by software, and turned into valuable information. From here, Premise can create a huge network of data on a near-live timescale months before government statistics are published (e.g early identification of deflation in China).

Crowdsourcing data also has the potential to transform transport. ‘Moovit’ [4] uses crowdsourced data to provide real-time public transport information. The 28 million users that make use of the service in 700 cities around the world can provide previously unmonitored real-time updates on crowding, accidents and delays.  

What’s your morning commute like at the moment? Is it stuffy? Is it frustrating? Or, indifferent? What if you could choose the type of journey you would like to experience? Perhaps a route where you can sample the best doughnut in the city on the way to work, or one where you can hear artists playing in the street. Finding a route where the likelihood of being pressed against someone’s armpit is drastically lower could be enabled by using real-time data and information from customers. This would empower people to make better decisions in the future.

The beauty is that such data is already available, as more and more online users are willing to share information. Some people share information because they want to be “heard”, feel part of a community and have their opinions valued. Each and every one of us want to make an impact and crowdsourced data gives the opportunity to be part of something bigger.

This is why we think that using crowdsourced data is not only a way to cut costs and transform public transport, it is a way to engage with customers and allow people to co-create in real time the services and experiences they find most meaningful.

So… Are you willing to share?

At WAE Bootcamp ‘CX in a Day’ participants will be working closely with delegates from TfL looking into the implications of crowdsourced data and solutions using it to better the experience of TfL customers.