Beijing subway swipe data betrays social class • ©[newscientist.com]
BEIJING is an enormous city, sprawling over an area 10 times larger than Greater London. To get around China’s capital, many residents rely on the metro, swiping a smartcard each time they jump on or off. Could their swiping patterns reveal their class?
At the Beijing Institute of City Planning, researchers led by urban planner Ying Long have been poring over the smartcard records of millions of riders to see what their travel patterns reveal.
They explored two separate, week-long snapshots of public transportation activity taken two years apart, each including the movements of more than 8 million riders along the city’s bus and subway lines.
Earlier studies and surveys have identified impoverished residents based on multiple data streams, but the researchers were able to pick out such residents using smartcard data alone. They found that those who often travel long distances are likelier to live in remote, less-desirable areas, while unpredictable movement patterns can be a sign that someone does not have a stable job or housing.