Technological interventions in the area of passenger facilitation have gained importance over time. More recently, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for technology solutions to ensure passenger safety and physical distancing.
At a recent webinar organised by India Infrastructure, Florian Eggenschwiler, managing director, Airports, Xovis AG; Arun Kumar, general manager, Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation (IRSDC); Ravi Kumar, additional chief engineer, telecom, Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL); Joven Varghese, joint general manager, Airports Authority of India (AAI), Ranjit Narayan, executive director, security, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL); and VivekPangare, telecom head, L&T Metro Rail Hyderabad Limited, shared their experience with video analytics in passenger facilitation and their future strategies to handle passenger traffic in the context of COVID-19. Excerpts…
DIAL has been using video analytics as a supervisory as well as passenger-focused tool. In the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the airport operator is also planning to implement video analytics for ensuring physical distancing and passenger safety. Thus, DIAL has been using technology and innovation keeping in view the ultimate objectives of passenger and staff safety, airport security and passenger facilitation. Besides, the airport security force has been deployed to ensure adequate sanitisation and use of technological initiatives to ensure safe distancing. DIAL has also installed CCTV cameras to keep track of sanitisation measures. Facilities including self check-in and baggage drop at airports are also being provided to passengers, taking into account all safety measures including scanning of passengers and luggage. Innovative technologies have also been deployed to minimise procedural delays and enhance customer satisfaction. Meanwhile, pat-down security check has been replaced by CCTV camera surveillance and measures have been taken for scanning passengers while maintaining adequate physical distance. The airport had typically faced high passenger levels just before the onset of the lockdown and at the time flights were being cancelled on account of COVID-19. However, this was efficiently managed with support from transport operators and security forces. Going forward, DIAL has been preparing itself to handle the increase in passenger numbers when all flight operations commence.
AAI, which manages more than 100 airports across the country, has installed CCTV cameras at some major airports such as those in Chennai and Kolkata, besides simpler equipment such as magnifying glasses at smaller airports to ensure adequate screening, airport security and passenger safety. Further, the video analytics feature has been activated in security cameras installed at the Chennai and Kolkata airports. Various other video analytics interventions have been made to analyse crowd movement at the airports. At smaller airports, initiatives are being taken to maintain physical distancing at the entry point to the airport terminal itself, apart from basic sanitisation measures. Meanwhile, technology initiatives such as the DigiYatra platform and body scanners are in the pipeline. Currently, AAI is working on rolling out a pilot study on DigiYatra by end 2020, at four airports to begin with, namely, the Kolkata, Varanasi, Vijayawada and Pune airports. Once implemented, it will significantly reduce the check-in time for passengers by doing away with the need for physical documentation. The authority is also working on deploying about 200 body scanners at various airports.
The IRSDC is presently handling facility management at five railway stations on a pilot basis. Given that passenger traffic at railway stations is highly unorganised, it has become a necessity to manage it efficiently with physical distancing and sanitisation measures in place. Although CCTV cameras have been deployed at railway stations, they are not embedded with video analytics features. As a result, passenger facilitation and physical distancing is mostly being ensured manually. However, a few of the newly developed stations such as the Habibganj station have deployed IP-based video surveillance systems. In an attempt to upgrade its video surveillance capabilities, Indian Railways (IR) is working on deploying more cameras and enabling them with video analytics features.
IR is trying to maintain adequate physical distancing by limiting the number of passengers at each platform as well as inside train coaches. For example, the Shramik Express trains have been carrying only about 1,200 passengers in each train. Although the current challenge is not as much given that only a few trains are operational at present, the railway system must gear up to handle the heavy inflow of passenger traffic in the days to come. Besides, support from the local police is needed to handle the huge crowds inside as well as outside railway stations, especially during the festive season. IR is a decentralised system and hence each division is coming up with its own solutions to tackle the COVID-19 situation.
COVID-19 has provided a golden opportunity to L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) for complete recalibration of its systems, since metro operations are currently closed owing to the pandemic. L&T has installed about 4,000 cameras across the Hyderabad metro network. Besides, about 25 cameras at each station of the metro rail network have been allocated for video analytics for ensuring passenger safety and crowd detection. However, Hyderabad metro’s experience with video analytics has not been a good one so far due to frequent mismatches between the statistics provided by the technology and the actual situation at metro stations. Moreover, L&T believes that video analytics is helpful in a controlled environment, but poses challenges in a more open environment such as in metro systems due to the issue of false alarms. Going forward, the Hyderabad metro is planning to do away with video analytics and instead focus on other technological interventions such as thermal screening and contactless QR code-based ticketing to ensure safe distancing and passenger safety in the COVID-19 situation. As far as CCTV cameras are concerned, architects engaged in station design need to be adequately trained to give due attention to the positioning and effectiveness of the cameras at the planning and design stage itself. Besides, station security should also be taken up on a priority basis at the planning stage of any metro station.
Currently, BMRCL is gearing up for the resumption of metro operations and has equipped metro stations with thermal screening facilities to ensure passenger safety during the pandemic. However, the metro corporation is facing some issues due to the lack of localised alarm systems and is now working in this direction to enhance passenger screening. BMRCL also believes that video analytics is difficult in the case of metro systems due to the issue of false alarms.
Controlling passenger throngs becomes critical especially at ticket counters and at metro platforms as such areas are more prone to crowding. To this end, BMRCL is working towards restricting the number of people at the entry level itself to avoid the possibility of crowding. Besides, it has converted all its three-car trains to six-car trains, and is well placed to increase passenger handling capacity in the near future.