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July 18, 2019

University may begin testing new kind of on-demand transit system

October 31, 2016

University may begin testing new kind of on-demand transit system

Topic: Campus News

Passengers could be trying out a new urban mobility system on the University of Michigan's North Campus as soon as summer 2017.

Its creators say it could deliver riders to their destinations in as little as half the time of the existing bus system at a lower cost, eventually using a fleet of autonomous shared vehicles. The limited test deployment would likely mark the world's first on-the-ground implementation of such a system.

Called Reinventing Public Urban Transportation and Mobility — or RITMO for short — the proposed system mashes up aspects of Uber-style ridesharing, fixed-route buses and light rail into a single system called "hub-and-shuttle."

It would combine high-frequency buses serving the busiest transportation hubs with a fleet of about 50 on-demand shared shuttles to get riders to and from those hubs.

Passengers would hail rides using a smartphone app that would calculate the most efficient journey for a given destination — it could be a direct shuttle ride from A to B, a shuttle followed by a bus trip or any similar combination.

The app would track the progress of each passenger and each vehicle, feeding data to a back-end system that would be optimized in real time to minimize congestion and maximize efficiency.

This heatmap video shows usage of the current U-M bus system throughout the day. It shows that most usage is concentrated in a few high-traffic areas, while other areas show far less usage.

The on-demand vehicles would have human drivers at first, but the designers hope they would eventually be replaced with autonomous vehicles, lowering costs further, says RITMO lead research Pascal Van Hentenryck, the Seth Bonder Collegiate Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering.

Development of the system is funded with a $1.4 million grant from the Michigan Institute for Data Science. If the test deployment is successful, the team plans to expand the system across U-M's campus within a year, to all of Ann Arbor within three years and eventually to the Detroit area as well.

"It's similar in some ways to the ride sharing that's available now, but much more sophisticated," Van Hentenryck said. "Obviously you can't have everyone using something like Uber because that would cause massive congestion. But on-demand hub-and-shuttle can provide some of the convenience of point-to-point travel along with the efficiency of a high-frequency transit system."

The proposed system was inspired by a 2015 study that examined the viability of a similar approach in Canberra, Australia. Led by Van Hentenryck, that project showed that a hub-and-shuttle system would likely cost the same or less than a traditional bus system because fewer fixed-route buses would be required.

"A bus costs many times more than a car, so high-capacity buses often aren't the most efficient way to serve areas where demand is low," he said. "Serving those areas with small, on-demand vehicles would be much more efficient and more convenient for riders."

Van Hentenryck says that if the new system is successful, it could gradually complement U-M's existing fixed-route bus system. The core U-M system would remain free to users, although he believes that riders eventually will be able to choose from several different transportation options for a given journey — some free, some not.

"The app could display several different choices with a range of costs, depending, for instance, on the type of vehicle and the speed of the journey," he said. "It's a way to offer riders more options, and also to avoid overloading the on-demand component."

The key to making it all work, Van Hentenryck says, is data. The team has already begun collecting that data, asking students and staff to volunteer anonymous GPS tracking information through the existing U-M smartphone app.

The detailed data will enable them to apply data mining, machine learning and mathematical optimization techniques to tease out patterns and make predictions about how people move around U-M's campus. They're also using existing data from the U-M and Ann Arbor public transportation systems, as well as demographic and mobility data.

"From a data science standpoint, it's a fascinating optimization problem," Van Hentenryck said. "What are the mobility patterns in Ann Arbor? How do you define the size of the fleets, where do you put the high-frequency buses and how many? Those are the kinds of questions we're answering with the data we collect in this initial part of the study."

The team, which also includes Information and Technology Services and the School of Information, hopes to have an initial version up and running by early 2017.

"We're working to build a deep understanding of how people use transportation solutions," said Ceren Budak, assistant professor of information. "That will help us build transportation planning tools that will be a permanent part of users' mobile lives."

Other U-M departments involved in the project include the U-M Transportation Research Institute, Department of Emergency Medicine, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Parking and Transportation Services, and Advanced Research Computing Technology Services.

The 2015 study upon which the project is based is titled "Benders decomposition for the design of a hub and shuttle public transit system."


Brian R
on 11/01/16 at 7:33 am

When I first read about efficiency and "on demand," this seemed (and to a degree, still seems) like an interesting approach to public transportation. However, as I read on, words like:
"...the designers hope they would eventually be replaced with autonomous vehicles, lowering costs further..."
""The app could display several different choices with a range of costs, depending, for instance, on the type of vehicle and the speed of the journey..."
I see job loss and economic stratification. Those who currently provide an important service to our university--and community--would be facing replacement by automation. And while I can currently ride university buses without charge, it's not difficult for me to imagine a pricing structure which reflects our parking system, where the preferred parking is exclusive to those who can afford it. I would strongly dislike seeing campus transportation designed to benefit the wealthier among us.

Shane D
on 11/01/16 at 11:51 am

I agree. Public transportation should remain public, accesible to all, equally.

The model sounds interesting, and potentially beneficial, but we'll have to make appropriate considerations for how a system like this will affect all of our citizens, not just the average citizen. For instance, requiring the use of a smartphone disadvantages those without smartphones. (Some people can't afford a smartphone and data plan). It would be a shame to tailor our public transportation system to the average case, leaving out those who need it most.

The Reader
on 11/03/16 at 4:28 am

I agree this will create job loss. What about those who drive Taxi and Uber? And is the public transportation or just one person riding sharing in a cab provided by the UM? Like other have said Public Transportation should remain public and be able to move large amounts of people. This will only make traffic worse, add to cost by inflated prices like what is being done with parking prices and a lot of people will lose their jobs. Bus drives, Uber drives, Taxi drivers. I don't find it very responsible to cut jobs like this in Michigan. How are we as a community going to help those with the transition? What jobs will be offered? Or are we just going to say to bad like the major car companies did?

Also it is not clear if this will be public transportation or ride sharing, the author seems to confuse the both as the same, when its not. And I don't want to downloaded an app when we know the bust route and have used them for many years?

How are we going to use technology in an ethical way? With out putting people out in the chase to be the society of the future. I will vote against this for the human cost of jobs.

Ann Arbor
on 11/03/16 at 12:42 pm

I agree that making a smartphone vital in accessing the proposed system is a very real concern as it would most certainly decrease access to those most inclined to need it. As one concerned with privacy and the inherent concerns smartphones present in that realm, I have further concerns. Last, I also share the concern regarding job elimination.

Mark Bohm
on 11/04/16 at 4:03 pm

Totally autonomous fleets of vehicles may displace taxi and bus drivers (though it will be many years before that happens IMHO). That said, more efficient urban transportation that couples ride-hailing with public transportation will also improve the economy connecting people to jobs they might not otherwise be able to fill without efficient transportation. For example, today someone in Detroit without a car might not consider taking a job in Canton, much less Ann Arbor, because of limited or inefficient public transportation. Combining ride-hailing technology with public transportation infrastructure may make such opportunities truly feasible while also reducing overall traffic and increasing the income of people who can't afford cars. That's a major opportunity.

on 11/11/16 at 9:04 am

The best concept UM could use right now is a "people mover" above ground like Detroit Metro Airport or Downtown Detroit. Stops at each UM major campus, offsite employee parking, student housing and the stadiums. This will ease campus congestion and open more patient parking. For the money we pay for parking we should not have to stand in line and fight to park. We should be able to pull right in and park and then be able to return to your car in a reasonable amount of time. Parking to come to work should be stress free.

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