November 14, 2018

How Transport for London is using data to create a smarter city

4 minute read

We may be biased, but we think London is one of the best cities in the world. Our capital has been home since Quant was formed in 2000 and in that time, it’s never stopped developing, something that has no doubt helped it become one of the ‘smartest’ cities going. In fact, in 2018, London is rated second in the world’s rankings of smart cities, just behind New York, and ahead of Paris, Tokyo, Reykjavik and Singapore.

So, what exactly is a ‘smart city’ and how has London achieved its position as one of the world’s leading examples? Definitions vary but, generally-speaking, a smart city is one that implements information technologies to improve the way of life for its inhabitants and visitors, in terms of updating existing systems and future urban planning. The world’s cities are more crowded than ever – 55% of the global population currently lives in urban areas, which is expected to increase to 68% by 2050 – so the smart city initiative is an important one.

Local government body Transport for London (TfL) continues to be instrumental in pioneering the capital’s transformation into a smart city. Here’s how TfL has harnessed data to make London a smarter place to be.

A quick and simple contactless payment system

Since 2012, commuters in London have been able to pay for their journeys on public transport networks by simply swiping an Oyster card, bank card or mobile device as they move around the city. TfL, which is responsible for London’s bus, tube and rail infrastructure, reports that half of all pay-as-you-go journeys are now made using contactless payment, and many cities around the world are adopting London’s approaches as best practice.

As well as making travel around London quicker and more convenient for commuters, contactless payments offer a treasure trove of invaluable data about public transport usage. Tapping in and out of the tube, for example, creates a city-wide picture of the London Underground in action, revealing pressure points and peak times for congestion; vital information for the planning of network maintenance and expansion.

What’s more, connecting each individual commuter’s service usage to a personal card or device generates a unique data set that can be used to improve commuter experience even further. As of this year, TfL has added new layers of personalisation to the contactless payment system via an app, which enables users to view their journey history and add Oyster credit quickly and simply.

A source of economy-boosting open data

Many agree that a key feature of a smart city is the extent to which it makes data free and available. Open data – that which is published in a format that allows for it to be shared and repurposed – provides an invaluable platform from which new applications can be developed and, in all their complexity, cities generate vast amounts of highly versatile data.

TfL are a leading provider of open data, having launched more than 80 open data feeds and a free unified API. This transport-based information has led to the creation of over 600 apps and use cases, including a live map of London’s tube map and apps including Citymapper, which provides real-time departure and service status updates. Such is the combined success of these apps, the release of TfL’s open data has so far earned the city’s economy more than £130m a year in savings and returns.

IoT on the city streets

As part of the new wave of projects for London as a smart city, TfL are planning a collaborative project designed to revolutionise the city’s street lights, alongside the government and the police force. The idea is to turn lampposts into smart devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), so that people can use them as a source of useful local information. Plus, when fitted with air quality sensors and electric vehicle charging points, the seemingly humble lamppost can become an important contributor to London’s sustainability efforts.

Not only would these lampposts be able to access and dispense say, directions or weather data to passers-by, sensors and charging points would gather essential data about where clean air initiatives are most needed, and the uptake and usage of plug-in vehicles. Data like this will be key for London moving forward and should help to shape new solutions for city improvements in the future.

But not just TFL has plans for a smarter London…

Uber also has been working on new projects to enhance its Uber Movement platform to feed global cities with deeper insights.

Uber has just launched its new bike mobility platform for bikers, available to city program managers via Uber Movement. This platform helps users to view Jump data including total number of bike trips and miles travelled.  Apparently e-scooter is the next in line and clearly all these insights have started helping cities and city planners to make faster and more reliable decisions for smarter urban planning and developments.

Data enables smarter marketing too

Just as TfL and Uber are using data innovation to make London a smarter city, its potential for enhancing marketing campaigns is boundless. With data about your customers and target markets working behind the scenes, your marketing benefits from a detailed picture of what they want and how they behave, and a feed of new campaign data that can be used to further hone forthcoming communications.

We can help you seize smarter marketing right now, and in the future. Talk to us today about your CRM and data marketing needs, we’d love to help.

Posted by Sarah Cumber


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How Transport for London is using data to create a smarter city