Go Ahead Using mobile network data to increase bus patronage in Plymouth

Ariel view of people walking in a paved area.
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Go Ahead is keen to ensure its bus operations in and around Plymouth meet the current and future needs of its customers, providing a better customer experience and increasing bus patronage.

Since the pandemic, travel patterns have evolved greatly with people making different kind of trips, and at different times of the day. This means that bus services designed some years ago may no longer align with people’s current travel demand and behaviour.

There is an urgent need to reverse the worrying trend of people using their cars for trips in Plymouth. Go Ahead engaged Amey to take a data driven approach to obtain actionable origin and destination insights into the changes to the mobility landscape.

Amey used anonymised information derived from millions of mobile devices to produce detailed views of travel patterns between census boundaries in and around Plymouth, identifying journey characteristics such as

  • Mode: road based/active travel
  • In school/out of school
  • Day of the week
  • Time of the day
  • Reason for travel: eg commuter trips
  • Gender
  • Age bands

To bring the data to life, a series of dashboards were developed to interrogate and visualise the data in an interactive way via a web-based portal, applying filters and thresholds to identify valuable insights into travel patterns across the city. Patterns were also linked to bus route catchment areas, allowing Go Ahead to ensure individual bus routes and schedules are best aligned to the key movements from and to the route catchment area.

Put simply, the data will enable Go Ahead to best provide the bus services potential passengers need at the time they need them, optimising their own operations whilst putting customers first (a win win). Mark Anderson, Customer and Commercial Director at Go Ahead said “This is an excellent project which has helped us to shape services to meet our customers’ needs. It is a good example of the way big data can be used in an imaginative, visually striking, accessible way. We were proud to work with Amey on it”.

Our approach

Typically bus operations and route planning has required local knowledge from experts having a strong knowledge of people behaviour towards travel. However, COVID and more frequent changes in travel behaviour mean that local knowledge is no longer sufficient to fully understand how people’s travel routines have and will change (whether it be in terms of spatial distributions, time or frequency of travel).

Go Ahead wanted a more data driven approach to keep their operations in sync with the population they are servicing and aimed to map off-peak demand, to target service enhancements that can be made using Bus Service Improvement Plan Plus (BSIP+) government funding. Go Ahead worked with Amey to develop an innovative approach using spatio-temporal data to understand people movements.

Amey used mobile network data, harnessing information from millions of devices to derive a clear picture of travel patterns in and around Plymouth. Whilst mobile network data has been used extensively in the past to inform transport modelling, using this data to enhance bus operations is a new innovative approach that empowers bus operators to validate their local knowledge and discover new actionable insights of people movements.


Because of the richness of the mobile network data, more than 5 million trips in one month have been directly observed and expanded to represent about 850,000 daily trips around Plymouth. This level of information allows bus operators to deep dive into travel patterns, an activity facilitated by the purpose-built dashboards. The dashboard allows users to understand trip patterns for any time period, considering mode, age band, type of day and holiday period, including focus on a specific bus route.

Insights are enhanced with contextual information such as gender, age and trip purpose also helping to understand potential beneficiaries of service optimisations, again ensuring the best service possible to the community.

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