How TfL is using the iPad to revolutionise the Tube
If you live in London, you might have noticed the dozens of blue hoardings covering various building sites. That’s Crossrail, the new east-west rail link spanning the capital. When the new line starts operations in 2018 (under the new name of the Queen Elizabeth line), the London Underground will have expanded once again. But this isn’t the only part of the Tube that is changing, massively.
What’s most interesting is how Transport for London (TfL) is improving its processes using digital tools. Under the new regime, staff will be issued with iPad minis loaded with custom apps, some details of which I can reveal for the first time below. So integral are these new apps to TfL’s new processes that staff uniforms have even been redesigned to include a special pocket that can hold an iPad.
I’d love to say I obtained the screenshots and details within this piece from a shadowy secret source at TfL, who handed me the data in a brown envelope late at night in an underground car park, but I just submitted a Freedom of Information Request, and TfL kindly provided what I asked for. That’s why some of the images are low resolution, strangely stretched or partially censored – they came from PDFs created with no respect for aspect ratios.
So let’s take a look at the apps.
Station log book
Traditionally, the station log book was a paper record of anything “noteworthy” that happened at Tube stations, with records kept so that incident details could be shared with staff on other shifts. For example, if you lose your phone while sitting on the platforms at Oxford Circus, it’ll get recorded in the log book.
The log book is now being replaced with an app that essentially recreates the experience, but digitally. Staff can add items to the log, select a relevant category and add free-form notes to each item. Using the iPad’s camera, they can even attach a photo if need be. This data is searchable, and other staff can leave notes on each item so that everyone can see what the status is. Items can be tagged as “restricted”, only visible to supervisors or people of a higher rank – which is good for privacy.
At the end of the shift, all the staff member needs to do is hit the “handover” button and the person picking up after them will immediately have access to everything they need to know. Helpfully, you can also export the logs as PDFs so that the data can be shared with less tech-savvy outsiders. Smartly, too, staff have to pick the reason they are exporting the data from a dropdown menu – again, as another safeguard on privacy.
Although there will no longer be TfL staff sitting in ticket offices, all stations will still be staffed – and we can expect to see employees continuing to patrol the ticket barriers (or gate line, in Tube jargon), as this is where some problems tend to arise.
To help support staff, there’s now an app they can use to monitor both the barriers and the ticket machines, to make sure they’re all functioning correctly – with one screen showing traffic-light-style coloured icons on a map of the station to indicate their status. If there’s a problem, staff can submit an incident report to get a machine fixed.
Not only does this allow all staff to monitor which machines need fixing, but it will even send notifications when a ticket machine is running low on coins. It should also make it less likely that you’ll ever tap your Oyster only to find the gates don’t swing open, because it will no longer rely on passengers reporting problems to get something fixed.