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Smart transit stations in practise

Smart transit stations in practise

Smart Transit stations allow passengers to transfer safely throughout the station. Data is collected for passenger safety. This article explains how to use new technologies to implement at your station.

Robert Versteeg· 8 minute read

Understanding pedestrian flows

The layout design of the station determines how pedestrians move through it. Efficient station layout designs help pedestrians understand how they get from A-B at the station and stay at a distance. But space is limited by the physical station design, so pedestrians have to compromise on space and break the social distancing rule.

The smart transit station uses technological solutions to allow the flow of pedestrians to move through the station more efficiently. These solutions digitally visualize the pedestrian flows moving through the station.

By measuring the volume of pedestrians, these tools can create a real-time heartbeat of all passengers flows throughout the station, across the platforms, up and down the staircases, and through fare boxes. This helps station owners see which areas have high pedestrian traffic and at what time. These insights will assist stakeholders in understanding where social distancing is an issue and which locations and times are at risk for underperforming, according to Covid-19 guidelines.

How does a smart transit station work?

Smart transit stations work by integrating important data feeds into one platform. The most important sources are train timetables, pedestrian counts, and route choices.

Rolling Stock Timetables

Commuters enter or leave the station by train. Therefore, it is essential to understand the real-time timetable of departing and arriving trains at your station because they determine when commuters enter and leave. Commuters clock their times in the station according to the train schedules creating a peak in passenger numbers shortly before and after a train's arrival. Many of these sources can be found online, free of charge and give accurate schedules.

Counting Passengers

You also need to know how many passengers are moving through your station. By counting the number of passengers moving through your station, you can identify potential peaks in passenger numbers and learn the locations where most passengers move through your station.


Route Choices

You then need to understand the passenger routes through the station. This helps to understand station areas where pedestrians walk past pinch points where they have difficulty following the social distancing rules. Bluetooth, wifi sensors, or stereo cameras help understand passengers' route choices at intersections. By using the sensors to sample the level of crowding at pinch points, you can identify when passengers are getting too close to each other when COVID-19 restrictions are in place.

Below is an example of how smart sensors register the silhouette of passengers at a pinch point on a transit platform. By comparing the time and distance between the shapes, an indicator of when and how many passengers find difficulty following the social distancing rules is created.

Building a Smart Transit Station

Suppose you want to update your station design to comply with new Covid-19 guidelines. In that case, you need to have a good understanding of station design principles, which means that you need a good understanding of your station's processes and how passengers make decisions in their routing. Hence, it would help if you understood station infrastructure, asset ownership, and privacy laws well.

Hardware Infrastructure

In planning for new hardware at your station, research how easily the data from each component is available in a usable format. You may already have good data sources such as ticket gates, cameras, cellular towers, or wifi networks. An electrical and connectivity plan must be made for the areas in the station where additional sensors are needed.

Stand-alone Units

Stand-alone units are a good option when you believe you'll need measurements only during this pandemic. The combination of a sensor with a battery-powered installation box makes it so that you don't need to make electrical or connectivity alterations to your current power or IT systems—reducing the number of permits required.

Ownership & Permitting

Checking the needed permits, procedures, and collaborations can also be complex. Different aspects of each station may have other owners. For example, in the Netherlands, all station elements related to the transfer of passengers are owned by a local authority. In contrast, the transport operator owns check-in counters, gate lines, and signage. That means that station hardware changes will require permits from one or more organizations. You will also have to set up SLAs to allow for data exchange.

EU Privacy Assessments

Regardless of COVID, you need to be aware of the data privacy act governing your personal data use. The EU Data Privacy Act aims to make companies aware of the personal data they work with and which measures they have taken to protect citizens' privacy. It is essential to describe what you do with the data being collected. This explanation might include the following:

  • What do you do with the data (nature)?

  • How much data do you need (size)?

  • Where do you collect the data (context)?

  • Why do you need the data (purpose)?

  • How do you take the rights of persons into account?

The first three points mainly consist of a methodological description of how the data is collected. Do you work with data partners? Then take them along in the formulation of your answers. Furthermore, it would help if you wrote down what privacy risks can occur and the measures you have put in place to mitigate them.

Explaining the legal reason why you are allowed to process personal data is noted in the fourth point.

The final and fifth point deals with the rights of individuals. This fortifies their right to inspect the data you have about them and allows them to remove all personal data records (right of being forgotten).

Technology Solutions

The technology solutions for your station can be customized according to your business case. The number and type of sensors used are the most important factors influencing a station upgrade. The following sensors are commonly used:

  • Stereo cameras to count passenger numbers and route choices.

  • Bluetooth/wifi sensors to understand passenger route choices.

  • Real-time arrival and departure schedules using open-source datasets.

  • Open source sets on type and formation of rolling stock used.

  • Ticket gates for passenger numbers and routing.

  • Cellular data for passenger numbers and route choices within the stations.

  • Origin and destination data for first- and last-mile solutions using cellular data.

The technological solutions mentioned above are building blocks that you can use to design your smart transit station. You can use a combination of technologies based on your business case, budget, needs, and privacy regulations.

You'll need to calibrate the sensors to ensure they work correctly. Therefore, we recommend using at least two different types of sensors to ensure you catch any irregularities and identify potential false positives.

Privacy Assessments

A privacy assessment is needed to explain why and how you want to use privacy-related data. Cellular and wifi/Bluetooth sensors work with pseudonym data. This means that it is strongly recommended to use a privacy data assessment. You need to check with your technology supplier if a privacy assessment is applicable in your case.

The use of stereo cameras has less privacy infringement, and data coming out of ticket gates and timetables generally has even fewer breaches or none.

Data Integration and Visualisation

When upgrading your station, it's essential to work with a systems integrator that can push the data from sensors into a dashboard where you can view the data as trends, charts, or maps. While buying sensors is very simple, it can be challenging and costly to find good-quality sensors that deliver consistent data in the format you need. A data integrator can help you centralize data from various sources and ensure you can see the metrics you need.

Business Models

While most of our smart transit station clients stick to a design-build-handover type of project, some alternative models could be interesting to explore, including:

  • Open source: Where a community develops the product. This model is attractive when the budget is low, technological solutions are unknown, and risks are expected to be high, such as counting passengers using A.I. from a security camera feed.

  • Subscription: Where the client pays a periodic fee without owning the product. This model is interesting for projects with high upfront capital investments, where new technologies come to market quickly. Some transit stations find this model interesting, but procurement can make implementing it difficult.

  • Pay-per-use: This model can be used to pay only for services used. This is interesting when different organizations make use of the same system. The results from the smart transit station can be paid for on a per pedestrian count or per dashboard login.

Societal contribution for citizens

Transit stations have limited space, and their designs influence passengers moving through them. Especially during rush hours, it can result in situations where social distancing rules are broken. Smart Transit stations are a solution to identify when and where passengers have trouble keeping their distance. Managers can use the insight to measure how and when additional measures are necessary to keep passengers safe inside the terminal. Therefore this solution supports our societies by maintaining a social distance and curbing the transfer of COVID-19 between commuters.


If you want more information about smart transit stations, get in touch.

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