Pilot program to track riders via Bluetooth

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Pilot program to track riders via Bluetooth

Postby StefanW » Fri Oct 16, 2015 11:14 am

I was hoping something like this would be done, similar to how MassDOT tracks anonymous Bluetooth IDs to give the highway travel time estimates on those roadside LED boards. It's great to know how long until the next train arrives, and some developers are taking the real-time data and calculating trip times (like https://mbta.meteor.com/) but Bluetooth tracking would allow for real-world, end-to-end trip time predictions. Imagine if you knew in real time how long it would take you to make a trip through the system because someone before you had made the same trip just a few minutes earlier.

http://www.networkworld.com/article/2993491/mobile-security/tracking-is-no-longer-just-on-the-rails-for-bostons-mbta.html

Taylor Armerding wrote:Big Conductor could be watching you - but only if you want him (or her) to.

That, of course, is not the way a press release a couple of weeks ago put it, announcing the launch of a pilot program by private contractor Intersection to track riders who are using the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) system in 10 of its stations in Boston and Cambridge.

The pitch from Intersection, an "urban experience" company created through a merger of media company Titan and technology firm Control Group, is that the program's goals are to improve the rider experience and to help companies that advertise with the MBTA "increase engagement and interaction with commuters" who are near to their stores - targeted ads, in other words.

This will be accomplished through what Intersection says is, "a secure, closed network of Gimbal Bluetooth Smart beacons," that will collect no personally identifiable information (PII), since they are, "transmit-only Bluetooth low-energy devices that send out a signal that can only be used by user-enabled apps running on mobile devices to trigger location-specific content."

The company said riders will be tracked only if they, "download an app that utilizes the technology and opt in, to allow the app to receive the beacon's signal."

Gimbal, in a prepared statement, emphasized not only the anonymity of the program, but the choices to riders, who can disable it by turning off location services or Bluetooth on their phones.
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Re: Pilot program to track riders via Bluetooth

Postby rethcir » Sun Oct 18, 2015 6:44 pm

Hmm, as I understood it the highway signs work by tracking the Bluetooth identifiers bein transmitted freely by any connected phones going by. It seems like this works on a different, less public system, and I don't think a lot of people would bother to download the app.
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Re: Pilot program to track riders via Bluetooth

Postby StefanW » Tue Nov 03, 2015 1:01 pm

I finally was able to dig up the vendor & device that MassDOT is using for the highway Bluetooth tracking:
http://www.trafficcast.com/products/view/blue-toad/

As rethcir pointed out, those are passive monitoring stations. The ones the MBTA is going to use (from Gimbal) are active beacons which require opt-in.

The only reason I can think of for why the T is using the active beacons is perhaps about cost. Since it seems like the company "Intersection" wants to do location-specific ads, the cost to the MBTA might be low - or it might even earn ad revenue. I read that MassDOT got 80% federal funding for the highway Bluetooth tracking program. The T is probably not going to go beg the feds for new dollars as long as the GLX cost is an issue.


A few more articles on this which I found worth reading:
http://dailyfreepress.com/2015/09/30/mbta-technology-pilot-to-make-transportation-easier-track-riders/
http://bostinno.streetwise.co/2015/09/25/mbta-beacons-t-pilot-rider-tracking-tech-advertisers-others/
http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/intersection-pilots-beacon-technology-in-select-mbta-rail-stations-300149057.html
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