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Which is best: Manual Passenger Counting or Automatic Passenger Counting?

There are two main ways to count passengers: manually or automatically. Manual passenger counts are performed by a manual checker who sits in the vehicle and counts passengers passing in front of him or her. Automatic passenger counts are performed by an electronic system installed in the vehicle.

When using manual checkers, it may become difficult to keep control of costs while at the same time achieve an acceptable level of data quantity and accuracy. Manual counting is labour intensive and time consuming:

  • Checkers have to physically be on the vehicle.
  • Professional staff must spend time scheduling the checkers.
  • Manual count data must be edited and refined before it is usable.

Traffic checkers can give you counts, though not very accurate. It is a very difficult job, almost impossible to do perfectly. Checkers make all sorts of errors:

  • Numbers are in error when many people board and alight.
  • People counted "IN" may be marked "OUT" (and vice-versa) by mistake.
  • They forget to count themselves, their colleagues or the driver.

Traffic checkers can tell you where there is congestion, when drivers are dragging the street, detours, etc., just like the driver could, if he does not mind telling on his/her driving practices. However, much of this information can be produced using Infodev's software with no human intervention.

In a 200-bus APC system, it takes 80 checkers to obtain data from just half the vehicles running for six hours. It is harder to schedule checkers and they are worn out in the counting process. Where checkers might observe only one day, the APC observes every day.

The report Passenger Counting Technologies and Procedures evaluated the usefulness of manual counting techniques opposed to automatic passenger counting (APC):


Data Collection








System Level







Route Level







Trip Level







Route Segment Level







Stop Level







Scale: 1=Least useful, 5=Most useful

Source: Daniel K. Boyle and al., Synthesis of Transit Practice 29: Passenger Counting Technologies and Procedures, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1998

While manual checkers can achieve a good level of accuracy when few passengers board and alight at the same time, they quickly loose their reliability as time goes by or when passenger boardings become denser. An automatic system, however, is not affected by the number of people boarding or the length of time it is in service. We can guarantee our system's accuracy through testing with digital video event recorders.

Moreover, manual counting data needs to be processed, while automatic counting data files are simply imported in the analysis software, often through an automated process.

While it is true installing a people counting system might represent a larger initial investment than employing manual checkers, once installed and operational, Infodev's APC system will operate without human intervention or supplemental costs to you. Files are transferred and imported automatically into the analysis software.

Over the years, your automatic passenger counting system will give you reliable comparison data that requires no post-processing. Can you say the same about your manual checkers?