Keeping connected

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Both Director at LetsJoin, Sam Glover (right) and Programme Director, Moray Barclay (left) attended this year’s ALBUM conference. GARETH EVANS

LetsJoin’s data collection services are billed by Sam Glover, Director at LetsJoin, as being “revolutionary.” Dominic Ward caught up with Sam to find out more.

Established in 2013, LetsJoin offers operators an all-encompassing media solution, improving passenger experience, the company says.

With an office next to Paddington Station in London, and another in Edinburgh, the company prides itself on its unique data collection and analytics services, allowing operators to get a detailed breakdown of bus passengers and their habits, as well as allowing for targeted ad placement as an additional revenue stream.

I caught up with LetsJoin’s Director, Sam Glover, to find out more about their On-board Data Analytic Network, or ODAN for short.[wlm_nonmember][…]

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Challenges in the industry

A large number of bus operators have taken to improving the passenger experience by installing WiFi systems on their services. However, Sam says that three problems with this have been identified:

  • The service is intermittent and can be frustrating for the passenger;
  •  It is very costly to operate and there is a relatively high operating expense, which goes straight to the bottom line of the operator’s profit & loss statement; and
  •  On-board WiFi equipment isn’t really being fully leveraged – “there are lots of other things you can do with it, other than passenger WiFi, to create value for the operator,” said Sam.

Sam continued: “In order to overcome those challenges, the first thing that we do is put content on-board the vehicle. That means that the connection between the vehicle and the internet is not so contended – in other words, there’s not so much bandwidth being used by people trying to connect to the internet, because they’re looking at content on-board the vehicle.

“Because it’s then an intranet – in other words the content’s on-board the vehicle – it streams and is viewable very quickly, so it’s very, very fast – you don’t have any frustration. If that content is on-board, it means you’re using less data to connect the vehicle to the internet, but also means you’re able to generate revenue from this service.”

Part of the system works through targeted advertising and means that, as a vehicle approaches a nearby coffee shop for example, an advert can be displayed with a voucher. Sam said that this tends to work better than a standard banner advert: “If you plonk up just a banner, people tend to ignore it. Whereas if you give the passenger a special offer which is specific to that particular environment so, you’re on Lothian Buses and here’s a voucher for a discount in Costa Coffee, and you’re only getting that on the bus, then that’s quite a nice little exchange of value, and passengers will appreciate it.”

Sam said the currency that media buyers really deal in is data, and that they’re able to provide retailers – who might want to invest in the advertising space – with the information they actually want.


ODAN, said Sam, answers the third challenge they identified – how to get a better return on investment out of the WiFi system: “The data set that we collect means that we can see where passengers get on, where they get off, where they interchange with other services, and how they move through the transport network itself. And then we can attach profiles to those passenger movements as well, so we can, for example, say the passenger is of a particular gender, in a particular age group, and what their online behaviours are. For example, in my case it might show ‘interested in cycling,’ because that’s the type of data we use to drive the advertising model. But, of course, that data is increasingly valuable – it’s very valuable actually to transport operators.”

The system itself works using the equipment supplied by the passenger WiFi manufacturers, meaning no other on-board equipment is needed. Sam said that quite often, they’ll find a piece of equipment sat on-board a vehicle, with an operator bemoaning how expensive the service charge and data costs are. LetsJoin will then come along and explain to the operator that not only can the operator in question provide content to its passengers, but the data is actually very valuable.

Sam continued to say: “Increasingly actually we’ve got quite a few customers now who don’t necessarily offer content, or indeed offer any vouchers, but what they want is the data. It’s invisible to the passenger, but we’re still able to collect that data and provide it to the operator.”

Sam said the system has benefits to the passenger, too. It has the ability to track a customer through the transport network, and can see where they interchange. “A good example,” said Sam, “would be we can actually identify where you’re getting pools of, say, students, and identify where they’re coming into the transport network, where they’re interchanging, and they’re quite often transiting through the city centre, interchanging in the city centre and then having to catch a short stop out to university for example. And, in fact, that’s a real example where we’ve identified both the age distribution across the transport network.

“Then bus operating companies might say ‘well actually maybe what we should do is extend that route to the university rather than simply terminating it in the town centre,’ so passengers don’t have to interchange for example. Therefore transport operators are able to find efficiencies from the data, but also the passenger experience is improved.”

On-board WiFi equipment isn’t being fully leveraged, Sam said. GARETH EVANS

Delivering the data

Sam said the data can be delivered in a number of ways: “The first way is in a graphical visualisation. Really, operators only use that for presentational purposes because, as you can appreciate, there’s a huge amount of data that we’re producing. And so when they’re presenting to their internal management team or indeed to shareholders, then that visualisation is helpful, but it isn’t really how you use this data.

“The most common form is that we provide an Application Programming Interface, and that then plugs in to their Customer Relationship Management or, if they’re using a Software-as-a-service type platform for route planning etc, it will plug into those platforms as well. Or we can provide a web dashboard that effectively allows them to handle the data if they don’t have a platform already, so some of the smaller municipal operators, for example, might not have an ability to manage that data so we can provide the platform to do that.

“We’ve got some patents pending on our technology. It’s effectively an Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform, so it’s machine-to-machine collecting data – effectively these buses become intelligent, or can become intelligent, and the bit that correlates with data in the middle is using AI to learn from various patterns, so the output is effectively a summary of the behaviours and the trends, because of course the amount of data involved is so very large. It would be very difficult for an operator to actually correlate it themselves.

“We’re the only people, as far as we’re aware, doing this at the moment. And it’s really quite unique.”

Sam believes that what LetsJoin offers is revolutionary. Said Sam: “To give you an idea, the first operator we showed this to said that this is really the Holy Grail of the data they’re looking for. The application is currently installed on about 3,500 vehicles, and we have a pipeline of around 9,000 vehicles that it’s due to be deployed to. This obviously aligns with the Bus Services Act in terms of passenger information etc, and also General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is really important.”

Sam went on to explain GDPR: “When you log on to a WiFi network, if you can be identified as an individual, then you fall within the GDPR regulation. And the relevance of that is that personal data must be handled in a particular way – it has to be opt-in rather than opt-out. If that data is to be used commercially, then you have to be explicit in that opt-in. For operational purposes, that isn’t actually the case, which is interesting. However, even if you don’t actually register your name on a WiFi network, your MAC address actually is deemed to be personal information, because it’s unique to your mobile phone. A MAC address is something which is recorded when you connect to any network. Part of the service that we offer is to ensure that your WiFi network is compliant with GDPR.”

Closing remarks

Sam added that the system was installed across Lothian Buses’ entire fleet back in 2015, and they’ve installed the invisible data services on two of the major fleet operators. Sam also added that they’re installed on four of the larger independent fleet operators, and a handful of the not-so-large independents.

Sam also commented that the data is useful not just in terms of marketing: “We sat down with one of the major operators recently and each of the stakeholders from each of their various teams – marketing, operations etc. – and the data was valuable across the whole of the business. It’s interesting how it provides the data set where decisions can be made on a much lower risk basis than using anecdotal data, and obviously on a much lower cost basis, and you would never have to send anybody out to do any passenger counting or any questionnaires or anything like that, because we can actually collect that data automatically.”[/wlm_ismember]