TfL improving journey planner through WiFi tracking data

Following the Citymapper Pass topic and continuing in the theme of London transport, Ian Visits has a good write up about how TfL are using data from 260 WiFi enabled London Underground stations to track the interchanges made on journeys to improve their journey planner results:

On the other side of the coin, the article also notes:

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I wonder if they have thought about using the same system/technology for fares. It would be great to automatically have your fare calculated for the stations you travel through, especially when it’s so easy to forget to tap in at an interchange.

But that probably brings all sorts of privacy concerns.

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I guess you’d need to give your phones WiFi MAC to TfL to co-ordinate that with your payment card/account.

However, as you probably know, a lot of mobiles periodically randomise their MAC address these days to try and thwart this type of tracking, so it may not be something that could be done universally.

For data-scientists it’s still good though; they only need a sample of journeys for their stats.

Presumably it could be done through an app rather than using the network data. i.e app detects connection to tube WiFi/Tube WiFi in range and sends and updates a server with the current station your account is in. No need to hand over MAC addresses then.

I wouldn’t be confident that it would work consistently enough and the fare wouldn’t be wrong. And recently TfL seem a little tough on this:

In case that one is paywalled, here’s another (more sensational) one from Metro:

Fair point, actually phone battery issues was one of the first things that crossed my mind when thinking about it. But that kind of thing is for the great and the good at TfL to figure out, I’m just the ideas guy in this scenario.

The woman in the FT article had quite the string of bad luck circumstances!

Luckily my Samsung phone keeps a charge all day after heavy use, so no longer worried about using contactless on my phone while using the Overground/Tube.