Improving customer experience while ensuring data privacy for intelligent mobility

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment


The proposed research applies computer science solutions to an end-user-focussed challenge. The challenge is how to achieve an enhanced customer experience during a journey, through detailed knowledge of an individual traveller, whilst protecting the privacy of their data. As well as developing technical solutions to data privacy, this project aims to encourage passengers to provide this data by developing an evaluation framework to enhance their understanding of how it is used and how they can control it, thus maximising trust in the service. Currently, such a framework does not exist and this is an impediment to the opportunities offered by increased sharing of personal data, i.e. transport customers are, in the majority, unwilling to share personal data due to privacy concerns. The research findings will be applicable to a range of journey modes but the focus here will be on rail travel.

The project has been developed closely with the rail industry through partnership with the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). In recent years, the availability of data in the rail industry has increased significantly in terms of timetabling, disruption and real-time provision to passengers. Currently there is little in the way of individual customer information but this is increasingly possible through smartphones and other mobile devices and will become more prevalent with the introduction of smartcards and contactless technologies. The industry's Rail Technical Strategy aims to establish rail as customers' preferred form of transport for reliability, ease of use and perceived value. Increased understanding of passengers through information such as their location, their plans, their mobility or luggage limitations, or where they are on the train would enable a more personalised service and an improved experience. The challenge is to assure customers that their data is being protected and used appropriately and that they are fully in control.

The consortium assembled for this project brings together the three academic disciplines required to solve this challenge: computer science, to develop the framework and technical solutions (University of Surrey and Royal Holloway, University of London); human factors, to develop the use cases, evaluate passenger perceptions and ensure usable solutions (Loughborough University) and transport systems to bring understanding of the data streams to be integrated (University of Southampton). To ensure the solutions are co-created with the industry and have a direct pathway to impact, ATOC and RSSB have a key role as stakeholders and on the project's External Advisory board, alongside other sector experts such as EnableID (Internet of Things and personal data), the Transport Systems Catapult (the UK government's innovation centre for intelligent mobility knowledge exchange) and ThalesUK (rail technology).

The objective is to develop a privacy evaluation framework underpinned by statistical analysis, data provenance and mobile technology. This framework will be integrated with emerging data systems being developed by the rail industry and also into a wider (sector-independent) framework being proposed by the Digital Catapult (the UK government's innovation centre for digital technologies). This will enable better communication to passengers as to why their data is needed and how it will be handled in order to increase trust and feelings of control, thus providing a virtuous circle of data provision, leading to enhanced customer experience and hence further data provision.


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Description The research has included a review of rail customer complaints to help identify where better information provision and/or the use of more personal data could be used to mitigate issues in the future, and survey work to understand how rail passengers value data privacy. Analysis of data for one train operating company showed how there is a trade-off between how anonymous data really are and the usefulness of the data (e.g. for making operational decisions or providing passenger information).
Different scenarios were considered, which highlight the potential for better information provision and the potential for personal data to enhance the experience of passengers. Outputs from the survey work have helped to establish the extent to which railway passengers are willing to trade personal information in order to gain a better level of service. This analysis has focused particularly on passenger behaviour during disruptions to services.
Exploitation Route The outcomes from the funding have significant potential benefits for the rail industry and for rail passengers. In particular, they could be used to develop a framework for evaluating the benefits of improved information provision and service enhancements, which properly takes in to account the importance of data privacy and the willingness of passengers to provide any necessary data. We plan to continue to work with rail industry partners, in particular the Rail Delivery Group and the Rail Safety and Standards Board, in order to achieve this.
Sectors Transport