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Maybe you use public transportation to go to work every morning or go to the city center on the weekends. Have you ever been stopped by a ticket collector? Have you ever filled in a questionnaire of a public transport operator? Have you noticed a small sensor above a door in a public transport vehicle? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ve taken part in a mobility study.

 

After carrying out in depth interviews¹ with 40 public transport operators and authorities we have found out that performing mobility studies is a generalized practice. However, old methodologies such as in-board questionnaires remain as the most common methods used, which provide unreliable data, as the sample tends to be small. Fortunately, times of change are coming and the use of people counters and passenger analytics tools is growing. Let’s go a little deeper.

 

As said, performing mobility studies is a generalized practice: 90% of public transport operators and authorities do it, and 67% of the ones that don’t, plan to do it in the near future.

 

By order of usage, the information collected by mobility studies includes*:

User satisfaction (73%)
Frequency of service usage (70%)
Origin and destination of journeys (65%)
Reasons for using public transportation (65%)
Fraud level (30%)

 

By order of importance, the main actions implemented with the data gathered are*:

– To optimize routes (62%)
– To realign the amount of vehicles to routes (57%)
– To adapt the sizes of the vehicles used (38%)

 

By order of usage, the main methods used to study passenger behavior are*:

In-vehicle questionnaires to passengers (68%)
Ticketing analysis (65%)
Manual counting (54%)

* (in brackets there is the percentage of respondents that performs it)

 

So, as seen, traditional methods are really popular among operators and authorities, as more than 50% of respondents use these three techniques, which at the same time causes to understand passenger behavior partially and not really know the real usage of their service.

Nevertheless, the use of technology to understand passenger behavior is growing. In this regard, among our interviewees, the 40% of them already uses automatic people counters to have passenger information along the whole year, instead of only having data of a few punctual days. They’re also able to understand how actual demand fluctuates along time and identify what external factors affect it the most and to what extent. Furthermore, they’re able to know how passengers move through different transportation modes, and predict public transport use in a given day. It’s important to highlight that some of them only use that technology in small samples of their fleet, but that is indeed a first step.

 

According to the market research report “Automated Passenger Counter and Passenger Information System Market”², the automatic passenger counting market is expected to reach $194.17 million by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 22.2% from 2014 to 2020. We have identified various trends that explain this growth:

 

Growing urbanization: the world’s population is increasingly city-based, 53% of the population currently lives in urban areas and by 2050 this number is expected to reach 67%. Growing urbanization leads to an increasing demand for transport, which requires a corresponding increase in mass transit supply in order to absorb it.

 

Customers expect operational excellence: besides challenges linked to quantitative growth, public transport must make significant qualitative improvements in order to become more attractive. This operational excellence should include frequency, punctuality and reliability of the service thanks to optimized network design and performance.

 

Business-driven decisions: the participation of private players in public transport innovative projects is increasing. This brings more private investment and venture funding that lead to an increase in public-private partnerships and more business driven decisions, which will boost the usage of people counters as they help to evaluate performance from an objective point of view.

 

Technology improvement and investment in R+D: the market is regularly increasing and the interest in the technology has not reached its maximum yet. Moreover, accuracy of people counters is improving as competition grows.

 

Decrease in the price of hardware components: automatic people counters are composed by a camera and a processor. Regarding cameras, over the last few years, there has been a significant decrease in the prices of the ones based on 3D technology. This decrease in prices has been led by recently emerging 3D technology, such as time-of-flight (TOF) and structured light.

 

Knowing passenger behavior is essential to create the best service. Furthermore, people counters help to perform better mobility studies, providing more information, and offering applications that otherwise operators and authorities would not have without this system.

 

¹ Interviews performed as part of the Horizon 2020 project “Data Driven Decisions for Intelligent Management of Public Transportation

² MarketsandMarkets report: Automated Passenger Counter and Passenger Information System Market