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Which transport counting technologies best meet your needs?

There are many different technologies available today for measuring passenger numbers on public transport: from simple manual counting to counting via WiFi or Bluetooth to the most advanced systems using stereoscopic 3D video, networks can use a variety of different and even complementary methods.

Manual counting and counting at doors are the methods most commonly used by transport operators... However, they are not always the most appropriate. Not all technologies are suitable for all needs!

When launching a project to measure footfall, it is advisable to take into account as many factors as possible to optimise the hardware/results ratio: this article will help you to identify them so that you can make the right choice.

What decision-making parameters need to be taken into account when counting passengers in transport?

The type of transport you use (metro, bus, tram, train, etc.) can greatly influence the choice of your future counting system, which will measure your ridership. The number of doors, the need to take account of equipment downtime ("hidden costs" rarely included in counting projects), the number of vehicles and stops, the frequency of service, the estimated ridership on the lines, the stability of the network and existing connectivity, the space available in the means of transport to add equipment, the ownership of the rolling stock, etc., can all have an impact on the quality of the data or the budget associated with counting.

It is also important to prioritise the objectives of collecting this data: is it to study and optimise your transport plan? Enrich passenger information with real-time data on passenger numbers? To monitor your passenger numbers as part of the Operator/Organising Authority PSD contract?

All these factors will help you to determine the counting technology best suited to your transport network and the method for making your data available.

Which counting technology is best suited to your needs?

Manual counting

Manual counting can be a good solution in very specific cases, particularly for studies requiring the collection of qualitative data such as passenger typology, frequency of travel, or knowledge of origin-destination.

That said, this method is rather expensive because of the labour involved, particularly on a large scale, and cannot be considered representative of all situations (the data may be biased in the event of strikes, technical incidents, etc.). In fact, they provide a "snapshot" of passenger numbers on the network but do not provide long-term data... In addition, manual counting requires considerable post-processing and it is impossible to provide real-time information to passengers.

In short, this method can be used to collect data "at the margin" for research purposes, but it cannot be used to monitor ridership and its evolution, or to communicate ridership to passengers.

Derived from manual counting, participatory data is highly unreliable and cannot be considered a good counting method.

Counting at the gates

Gates counting is now the norm in the transport sector. It allows a very comprehensive set of data to be collected (boardings/alightings per stop, load, overall ridership on a line, etc.).

It is particularly well suited to short routes with few doors (buses, shuttles or city centre buses) and to free networks, which have no validation data.

This makes it a good tool for obtaining a precise view of ridership (study of the relevance of the transport plan, monitoring of the contract between the operator and the Transit Authority, measurement of fare evasion, etc.).

It is possible to obtain this data in real time so that you can communicate it to your passengers, but only on one condition: you must have 3G/4G network coverage and a reliable GPS signal, which is not always the case...

On the other hand, for long means of transport such as metros, trams or trains, which have a lot of doors, it becomes costly and time-consuming to deploy - and you need to anticipate the costs of equipment downtime.

Attention must also be paid to the risk of errors accumulating over the course of the journey and, on long vehicles, to the distribution of the load between two trains (which may vary if passengers can move from one side to the other once they have boarded).

Video surveillance counting

Unlike counting at the doors, this video surveillance system only requires a single box for counting, so installation is relatively simple and straightforward. In addition, it makes it possible to capitalise on existing equipment, correctly restores the load between the different cars and avoids any accumulation of errors.

However, it should be noted that this method only provides data on the load, and not on passenger boarding and alighting. Furthermore, it is not applicable to all types of equipment, as it requires the use of IP (digital) cameras in some cases.

Scan technology

Scan technology consists of 'scanning' passengers through the windows of the metro, train or tramway: it reproduces the principle of a human being on a platform assessing the number of passengers through the windows. It allows the load level to be determined with the same accuracy as a human estimate, while overcoming the constraints of installation in rolling stock (limited space available, fluctuating 3G/4G network, ownership and immobilisation of rolling stock, etc.).

It is independent of rolling stock and highly suitable for long vehicles such as metros, trains and trams. As with video surveillance counting, this method does not accumulate errors and is very well suited to identifying the load distribution between different carriages. It is therefore particularly useful for communicating affluence to passengers in real time.

However, it only provides ridership levels, not the exact number of passengers or the number of boardings and alightings. It is therefore less suitable for buses, particularly if they have few doors, little rolling stock or many stops - and for networks that need to study boarding and alighting by stop.

To help you choose the most appropriate method for your needs, we recommend that you choose the most technology-neutral partner possible. Before making any decisions, find out what already exists and review your in-house requirements.

Investment in metering is important, both for the organising authority and for the transport operator, and it's a necessary step if you are to make the right decision and improve the quality of service for passengers!



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