Comment: Evolving the passenger experience with data-driven insights


The UK transport industry is at a crossroads. In little over three years, the rise of remote working and reduced travel have had transformative effects on our leisure and retail habits – potentially permanently.

While the sector faces a period of change, there is also opportunity. By using data-driven insights, we will be able to reimagine transport hubs, predict and prevent breakdowns, and improve customer experiences.

In response to this, we have launched the Virgin Media O2 Business Movers Index, which highlights key trends and insights into the behaviour of the British public and businesses – and notably the evolving transport sector.

The Movers Index, which will be published quarterly, is built using anonymised and aggregated data on population movement captured by mobile and Wi-Fi events, which in turn can be used to reveal patterns and trends across the country.

This data is further supported by findings from commissioned polling of businesses and consumers to paint a clear picture of UK movement patterns and the reasons behind them.

What did we uncover? Despite ongoing strikes, Brits still found a way to get to their destinations within the first three months of the year. More than half (63%) of respondents have maintained the same use of public transport compared with only 14% who reduced their trips. However, with further strikes planned for summer, it is critical that movement data is used to help understand and plan for the potential impact on both people and businesses across the UK.

For example, UK transport use varies strongly across regions and demographics. The Movers Index revealed that respondents in Scotland are leading the pack in the usage of rail services, with 61% choosing to take trains as part of their journey.

However, rail is less popular in other regions, with only one in ten (13%) in the North East and a fifth (21%) in the South West choosing to take a train.

In terms of demographics, one age group is particularly keen to travel back into work. Over half (58%) of 18–24-year-olds say that they’ve increased their trips to work in the past month, compared with just 45% of 24-34 year-olds. Using these insights, transport companies can make informed decisions based on data.

Today, data is key to success. So how can anonymised, predictive data help to improve passenger experiences across the country?

Creating an inclusive transport network

Data can provide insights into people’s varying needs and help to identify areas with limited transport access. By analysing demographic and movement data, transport authorities can identify travel patterns and determine the specific needs of the public, such as those with disabilities or elderly travellers.

Once areas which are lacking adequate transport options have been identified, decision-makers can consider how to enhance connectivity and mobility to support disadvantaged communities.

One of the most obvious benefits of movement data is helping to determine how well existing infrastructure is performing and being used. This can enable transport authorities to prioritise investments in infrastructure improvements such as ramps, elevators, tactile paving, and accessible bus stops - ensuring that transport facilities meet the needs of all users.

Certain data garnered for transport authorities can also be made available to the public via the creation of digital accessibility maps. These maps provide guidance on the accessibility of different routes and the facilities available like wheelchair-friendly entrances or toilets.

Optimising maintenance and repair

Service punctuality is a cornerstone of passenger experience, yet delays are all too frequent. Between January and March, almost one-third (32%) of trains did not arrive at stops on time, while almost one in twenty (3%) were cancelled altogether.

Maintenance and equipment failures are key contributors to these delays. Condition monitoring data for predictive and preventative maintenance is something Network Rail is exploring. The national operator is seeking to accelerate the shift by deploying more sensors on tracks and trackside equipment and making smarter use of the data.

Emerging technology holds the key. For example, in the rail sector, the Department for Transport continues to advocate for the use of digital twins, with a view to reducing maintenance costs as well as delays.

Meanwhile, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) technology use a wide range of sensors covering areas like vibration, pressure and temperature. Cloud-based processing, analytics and dashboards turn sensor data into real-time predictive insight, thereby speeding up engineering fixes and maintenance and reducing delays.

From helping navigate ongoing strike action to addressing the accessibility requirements of transport for the public, data is a critical component in transport's success.

The effective use of data requires collaboration between transport authorities, operators, and data analytics experts alike, whilst also ensuring data privacy and security are adhered to throughout. When utilised effectively, data can enable efficient and sustainable transportation systems to meet the needs of individuals, businesses, and society as a whole.

Mónica Mercado Páez is head of AI and data at Virgin Media O2

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