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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 using data to increase passenger safety. This article explains how to use new technologies to implement at your station.

Robert Versteeg· 7 minute read

Understanding pedestrian flows

The station layout and peak passenger numbers are key variables determining how many passengers your station can process. Efficient station layout designs help improve your capacity during those busy hours. However, the physical station design limits space, making stations crowded.

The smart transit station uses technological solutions to optimize the flow of pedestrians and reduce crowded conditions.

By measuring the volume of pedestrians, this solution can create a real-time heartbeat of all passenger flows on platforms, staircases, and fare boxes. This helps station owners understand which areas have high pedestrian traffic volumes and when. These insights assist stakeholders in understanding where, when, and the source of the crowding.

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.

Train Timetables

Passengers 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. Train schedules are an important source for creating a peak in passenger numbers shortly before and after a train's arrival. Information about train timetables can often be found online, free of charge.

Counting Passengers

You also need to know what passenger numbers your station can handle safely. By counting the number of passengers, you can identify potential peaks in passenger numbers and when crowding can occur at your station. See the example of a dashboard counting passengers below:


Route Choices

Next, you need to understand the passenger routes through the station. This helps to understand stations where pedestrians walk past 'pinch points' that crowd easily and create potential safety hazards for passengers. To understand route choices, technologies such as Bluetooth, wifi sensors, or stereo cameras help to collect that data to create that insight. By identifying pinch points, you will get a better understanding which crowding measure to put in place to ensure passenger safety during the busy times at your station.

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 density, station managers better understand where crowding occurs on the route.

Building a Smart Transit Station

Suppose you want to update your station design as a smart transit station. What are the domains that you need to cover? In the next section, I will point out the needed infrastructure, unit mounting, ownership, and privacy and technology solutions.

Hardware Infrastructure

In planning for new hardware at your station, research which data is already available to use. To create a smart transit network, you may already have good data sources from ticket gates, cameras, cellular towers, or wifi networks. Additional sensors can then solve data quality and gaps. Hence, all the sensors need to be connected to electricity and connectivity through a wifi or cellular network. The collected data is stored and processed in a cloud database and displayed in BI tooling such as PowerBI for station managers to use.

Ownership & Permitting

The necessary permits, procedures, and stakeholder collaborations can be complex. Different areas of each station may have different 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 service-level agreements to allow for data exchange between different companies.

EU Privacy Assessments

All station owners need to be aware of the Data Privacy Act when installing a smart transit station. 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. 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.

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 Quality 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, finding good data quality sensors that deliver consistent data in the format you need can be challenging and costly. An MSP data integrator can help you centralize data from various sources and ensure you can see the metrics you need.

Business Models

Smart transit station clients tend to stick to a design-build-handover. However, these new technologies do create interesting business models to explore, including:

  • 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.


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

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