Crowding on public transport may be as much the result of poor distribution of passengers in carriages and on platforms as of a shortage of resources. To counter this, an app called iNStApp helps to identify real-time passenger flows and spread people more evenly throughout the trains.

Public Transport: Spreading Passengers More Efficiently Translates to Resource Savings

For several years major railway companies have tried to allay the discontent of their passengers by providing apps to inform them about train arrivals and departures and timetables in real time. However, this has not stopped complaints being voiced about supposedly inadequate infrastructure and insufficient resources on the railways. Nevertheless, London and Amsterdam-based creative research company STBY is convinced that the main reason for most ‘overcrowding’ problems is simply poor passenger distribution inside the trains. This conclusion, the fruit of months of research and interviews with passengers in the Netherlands, inspired the Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the main Dutch railway company, to do something about the situation. Accordingly, the company has launched a new mobile app for its passengers. Called iNStApp, it identifies in real time which train carriages are crowded and so enables passengers to choose a section of the train with lower occupancy.

Improving the passenger experience

The app was on show at the Internet of Things event at Eindhoven in the Netherland in early June. It showed the passenger distribution in a train before the train arrives in the station, using colour-coding going from green to red to measure how crowded each carriage is. To collect the necessary real-time data, Nederlandse Spoorwegen has installed infrared sensors inside and outside each carriage of the trains running on the line where pilot testing is taking place. These sensors capture data on occupancy and passenger movement. The app goes further, however, indicating where the first and second class carriages are, which carriages have wifi, and which have access for disabled persons or bicycle access. The data underpinning the development of this project originally come from another project put forward in 2011 by STBY in association with ProRail, the company which manages the railway infrastructure in the Netherlands, which was funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs in tandem with the municipality of Utrecht and the Utrecht province authorities.

Passenger needs survey

The aim of the funding programme was to show how ‘Service Design’ can play a strategic role in the development of new services for companies,” explained Marie de Vos, Design Researcher at STBY’s Amsterdam office. For several months her team observed passengers and interviewed them on the reasons why they preferred to stand at a given spot on the platform. “The STBY survey was an important step towards understanding passenger needs,” she underlined. However the company was not involved in actually designing the app. The same information is now also displayed on an 180 metre LED screen on the platforms at 's-Hertogenbosch (commonly called Den Bosch) station, a major railway hub in the Netherlands. “The special feature of this display is that before a train arrives at the station, it also indicates exactly where each carriage will stop,” explains Marie de Vos.

By Aurore Geraud
Senior Editor & Analyst