The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the way we think of public transport. Routine activities once so stable and predictable, such as commuting to work, seem so distant now that we are not even sure whether we’ll be able to resume them in the foreseeable future.
While these radical changes can be easily seen with the naked eye, their in-depth analysis is important if we are to understand what we can do to return, as much as possible, to our normal way of life. Uncovering these ‘secrets’ is our job at Emu Analytics. Over the past few weeks, Tudor who is in his final year at UCL and has been working with us during his Q-step internship has undertaken a project to delve deep into public transportation data in order to find out if, when and how will travelling by train safely resume in the United Kingdom - and together we are publishing the following report which sets out to answer this challenge
This 21-page report identifies issues related to overcrowding and highlight ways to diminish it and makes recommendations on how the rail stations can best adapt so as to allow passengers to maintain a safe distance, as per government guidelines.
We have analysed large amounts of various railway data collected in 2019, seeking to extract figures and patterns that might help us predict the short and medium-term behaviour of the phenomenon. After gathering the facts, we fit them together into a larger puzzle which helped us understand what is going to happen in the following months.
What areas we focused on
The stations we looked into are London Paddington and Manchester Piccadilly. They are large enough to analyse, representative of their respective areas, yet sufficiently simple to illustrate graphically. In each station, we have examined train arrivals, the flows of passengers, as well as the way these are spread across the platforms. The output is a series of graphs (and paragraphs) showing where and when social distancing measures imposed by the coronavirus pandemic will likely become impossible to observe.
We found that, during peak hours, the capacity of certain platforms will probably be exceeded given the two meters distancing required between each two persons. One solution would be to delay the trains in order to make sure there are as few timetable overlaps as possible. Another would be to transfer trains from the smaller, more crowded platforms, to the larger and less busy ones during peak hours. As train schedules are reasonably predictable in the short to medium run, the task of the relevant authorities should be ensuring that arrivals and departures are optimized in a way that enables mobility, while also providing a healthy environment for passengers and workers alike.
While we used different software to create different graphs, the most important has certainly been Emu’s Location Insights Explorer (LINE), an intuitive yet incredibly versatile tool used to create maps. With LINE, we have illustrated station plans, platform flows, as well as station data from London, Manchester, and across the United Kingdom. LINE allows users to create complex, fully interactive maps in just a few clicks. The results are easy to read, navigate and share, making LINE suitable for use by experts and non-experts alike due to its intuitive and tidy platform.
Finally, we reported our findings in an accessible and intuitive manner, and we drew our conclusions and recommendations for those in the industry. The end product is the result of a multi-disciplinary approach only made possible through teamwork, curiosity and perseverance. The techniques we used can be easily generalized to other transportation hubs, not limited to railway stations, which could give us a rich picture of how public transport should adapt to the exceptional circumstances we’re living in. Our project can provide the basis on which authorities and transport operators take all the necessary measures to ensure that public transport becomes safe and efficient again.