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Digital traveler

Digital traveler

How many hours a week do you spend sitting in traffic?

Peter Van den Spiegel, Director Technology Advisory KPMG in Belgium

Partner, Head of Lighthouse

KPMG in Belgium


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digital traveler

How many hours a week do you spend sitting in traffic? How often have you rushed to catch a train only to find out it has a delay? Or missed a connecting flight because your first flight didn’t take off on time? These are only some of the frustrations we face when it comes to our commuting options. But perhaps the future holds something different for commuters.

Nowadays, where people live and work, where they are at during particular times, their preferred modes of transportation, and even the location of their sports center or children’s daycare can be determined with a high degree of accuracy. This massive amount of data is increasingly used in different fields to make our daily commute, occasional trip, or last minute journey more enjoyable.

Belgian public transportation companies are shifting towards a more digital business model

There is a new focus on creating an entirely new experience for both service providers and users. Digital registration of travelers allows providers to gather more passenger details and compile data on their travel habits. This data can be used for a wide range of purposes and support decision at different levels. Management can use commuting data for strategic decisions such as to decide where to install new lines or expand current capacity. And combined with location analytics they can get information on exact vehicle locations, the number of passengers getting on and off each train, bus, or metro for example, and how long queues are to buy tickets. They even know where this happens, allowing them to optimize daily operations and ultimately, provide better service. Moreover, this data is used to inform passengers more accurately on estimated arrival times or alert them when their stop is approaching. 

What this means for your future journeys

A deeper understanding of individuals’ daily journeys and the ability to create a customized experience for each traveler could lead to a personalized service that provides personal recommendations. Imagine your train being delayed or cancelled and an announcement over the speakers calling out alternatives: everybody rushes to the substitute train, which is overpopulated in no time, completely congesting that line and spreading delays throughout the entire network. Personalized services on the other hand, could suggest alternative routes to each individual based on their known travel needs, dispersing passengers across the network and avoiding the aforementioned network congestions. 


Another recent development is sharing systems. Bike and car sharing systems are popping up everywhere. Data analytics are vital in improving the reliability and convenience of these systems. Companies involved in car sharing apply user data to derive the attractiveness of certain areas and to identify regions for business location or expansion. Bike sharing systems apply their real time information streams to optimize the reallocation of the bikes - avoiding empty or full stations – or to predict which bikes are more likely to break down and should undergo a preventive check-up. 

On the roads and in the skies

Commuters in Brussels waste more than 50 hours a year in traffic jams. Digitalization, in the form of increasing data availability, can help decrease this number. The spread of GPS and other programmable navigation devices, better use of mobile phone network data and the rise in connected cars – which are sharing information in real time - are tremendously increasing the amount of available data. Analyzing the amount of cars on the road and the distance between them gives accurate insights on congestion and how to avoid it. Traffic light phasing can be altered and variable speed limit signalization can be made more effective. Moreover, road users can make accurate simulations upfront to get more insights on where and when their trip will be congested, allowing them to shift their journey in time or take alternative routes or modes of transportation.


Aviation traffic has been growing fast over the past decade, Brussels airport now transports 45% more commercial passengers then 10 years ago and this number is expected to increase even more in the coming years. Not surprisingly, airport congestion is a growing concern. Airports could start to use data analytics to optimize the use of available airspace, enabling less separation between aircraft and shorter routes. Gates could be assigned more dynamically to control passenger flows and biometric data from iris scans is used to track passenger movements across the airport and provide passengers with personalized experiences.

The total package in the future of travel

The explosion in ‘apps’ has permitted a widespread shift from paper to digital ticketing and search engines have significantly eased journey planning. Nonetheless, most travelers must still put together the various elements of a multimodal journey themselves, purchasing a series of tickets from different providers. Greater data exchange, new payment systems, analytics and automation provide a way forward here.  

In fact, we’re already going down this road, with Google and Apple providing digital ticket wallets. But again, let’s take it a step further. While transport operators still sell individual tickets, the managed service provider (MPS) would be responsible for the entire journey.  

MSPs could present travelers with a range of alternative journey plans, calculating and aggregating total costs, purchasing all elements of a chosen route and uploading tickets to the passenger’s smartphone. 

With live data feeds brining in real-time information, the MSP would know immediately of any change in travel conditions. So if a train is cancelled or a bus route is congested, the MSP could alert the traveler and offer alternative routes. The traveler could select their preference and allow the MSP to cash in existing tickets and purchase and upload a new set to the traveler’s phone.  

This would, of course, retail at a higher price. For many travelers however, certainty when it comes to more guaranteed arrival time this is a valuable commodity and worth paying for. And why not use data analytics to roll out variable pricing systems such as congesting pricing, where the cost of travelling is more expensive during busy times. This encourages a redistribution of transportation in space and in time, not only balancing traffic and decrease congestion but also avoiding expensive new investments just to satisfy peak demand.  

The future is open and data holds one of the keys. It is no secret that we live in a data-driven age. But are we using that data to really improve our personal lives to the best of our ability? 

© 2021 KPMG Central Services, a Belgian Economic Interest Grouping ("ESV/GIE") and a member firm of the KPMG global organization of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Limited, a private English company limited by guarantee. All rights reserved. 

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