Dutch national train operator, NS, says it plans to use WiFi tracking to help passengers find empty seats on its trains. However, the train company’s efforts may be blocked by the country’s Data Protection Authority which has yet to approve the plan.
NS says it would use on-train WiFi to boost and improve its current mobile app. Passengers have expressed dissatisfaction with the current arrangements, with the most common complaint being that is too imprecise.
According to Udo Oelen, the privacy director at NS told Dutch newspaper Truow, that in many cases the current system simply does not work. He said, "In the most modern trains there would be a sensor in every seat, so that you can see for each seat whether there is room.” However, he admits, the current NS trains do not have such sensors. According to Oelen the company works round this by using weight sensors to estimate how full the coaches are. He told Truow, "For this we use weight sensors in the tracks, originally intended for freight trains. However, we do not have that on all routes."
In its search for a solution, NS has hit on the on-board WiFi service. The company believes that a new system which uses a mobile phone's WiFi signal and its mac address could be co-opted into providing immediate feedback on which seats are occupied.
The problem is, that as each cell-phone is used only by its owner, such a system would use personal data and therefore has to comply with privacy laws. Oelen admitted that the scheme has not yet got the green light. He explained, "We want to guarantee that the mac address of the phone is counted by the sensor, but that this mac address is not actually registered. NS does not want to follow anyone, but only know how busy it will ultimately be in a train."
The privacy director continued "It is important for us to make this information accessible so that people can better divide themselves on the train and the chance of getting a seat increases. For safety it is also better if masses of people spread out on the train."
According to figures from BWCS’s online database of WiFi on train services Internet4Trains (www.Internet4Trains.com ), NS currently boasts WiFi on all 369 of its inter-city trains. However, on its regional services (431 trains), WiFi is only offered on its new Stadler Sprinter trains (58 FLIRT trains and 118 SNG trains). NS said it has no plans to retrofit its older regional rolling stock to offer WiFi. In total NS said it has WiFi on some 545 trains, out of a total of 800. By the end of this year, the company will have added some 118 new intercity trains
On-train WiFi services, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’s WiFi on Trains Conference next June. For information on speaking and sponsorship opportunities at the 2020 event, please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com .
The 2020 conference (www.Traincomms.com ) is sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, Fluidmesh and RADWIN.