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Hacking travel: How TFL, Uber and others could use digital to improve London's infrastructure for commuters

By Nick McWilliams, AnalogFolk London

July 9, 2015 | 5 min read

Albert Einstein ‘loved to travel but hated to arrive’. He might’ve changed his mind had he been caught up in the tube strikes this morning.

But strikes or not, London travel has never been much fun. You don’t need Einsteinian levels of perception to see that not everyone traveling around the city is super happy about it. Aggressive drivers, cavalier cyclists, and that one inexplicably eager office-worker ramming themselves into a tube carriage that was already full 20 passengers ago. They all combine to make it a slow, frustrating, often dangerous experience.

And it’s intensified when the blazing heat of summer rolls around.

So it’s fitting that on the hottest day of the year and a week before tube stations shut their doors for 24 hours, a host of developers, designers, & all-round creatives descended on AnalogFolk’s offices on 4 July to solve a single problem. How can we use digital to improve London travel? We were looking for interactive experiences that help people. Not just ideas, but fully-built products and programmes that use digital to make the analog world better.

With only 12 hours to concept and build a category-changing prototype, it was a frantic day of hacking. But whether it was the initial insight, the creative concept, or the solutions to problems that arose throughout the day, the teams demonstrated a clear-headedness and creativity that shone through in the final products.

While the brief was specific to London travel, the insights that drove the ideas have implications far beyond the M25. Here we take a look at some of the prototypes built on the day and how they relate to wider cultural trends.

Going faster

As we get increasingly time-starved (or at least convince ourselves we are), we’re embracing accelerated services that allow us to queue-jump anywhere and everywhere. Nowhere is that more evident than in London travel, where there’s a verifiable stereotype of Londoners shoving past tourists on Oxford Street and beeping at anyone lingering a few milliseconds when the light goes green. Many ideas from the day looked to shave those valuable seconds off journey times. A Google StreetView hack turned directions into a virtual hyper-lapse film, helping people find new places quicker. Anyone doing their maiden walk into work this morning could’ve done with that.

Going cheaply

Uber, the scourge of black cabs across the city, has done more to revolutionise London travel than any other company in the last decade. The pace of technological advancements has allowed for these sorts of services, but it has also turned us into the most entitled generation in human history – we demand the best in quality and service while refusing to pay through the roof. A commuter social app built on the day looked to meet these unreasonable demands by allowing travellers doing similar routes to split a cab fare. Black cab drivers the city over will be elated.

Going green

Environmental consciousness is no new thing. It’s been front-of-mind for politicians and the public alike for many years now. But as marketers we’re getting larger and larger pools of data and increasingly good at disseminating that information to our audience in clear and concise packages. A clever use of the Google UriBeacon latched onto this trend by turning bus stops into air quality readers, providing a real-time map of the quality of air around London and enabling travellers to plan their journeys to avoid the more contaminated spots. Who wouldn’t rather stroll through Hyde Park than choke behind a lorry down Bayswater Road?

Going safely

It’s a good time to be a cyclist. Volvo’s LifePaint just won two Grands Prix in Cannes, and work has begun on Boris’ cycle superhighway. Yet there have been 8 cyclist deaths on London roads this year, so cycle safety was on everyone’s minds. With Apple’s iWatch helping finally force wearable tech into the mainstream, there was a lot more trust in the category. For example, a simple compass needle was suggested which could be clipped to a bike frame and connect with a smartphone to point towards a final chosen destination without any of the other distractions a map provides. After all, it’s probably best to avoid reading street names when you’re doing 20mph down Old Kent Road.

Of course none of these will be useful for the crowds stuck outside Oxford Circus station today, but it’s a worthy reminder that digital can be used to offer genuine utility for people. Because after all, that’s what we should always be doing – using technology to help people, not just for the sake of it.

Nick McWilliams is a strategist at AnalogFolk London

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