Most humans now live in growing cities where increasing traffic congestion risks liveability, the environment and economic productivity. Public transport is now widely seen a solution for mega-city growth due to its social, economic and mass travel efficiency. However the industry faces significant challenges. Infrastructure, systems and even thinking in the industry is old and out of date. Policy and regulatory structures are ‘path dependent’ on historical approaches and lack progressive thinking. There is a global need to revitalise public transport with new knowledge and thinking to build a progressive future for the industry.
Researching Transit introduces listeners to the latest thinking in global public transit research. It aims to engage the industry, researchers and the wider community in shared learnings about the latest innovations in public transport research providing a platform for research communication. Professor Graham Currie and Laura Aston talk to some of the world's leading researchers in a podcast series brought to you by the Monash University Public Transport Research Group.
RT15 - Fostering Transit Innovation: TRB's Transit IDEA Program
In this episode of Researching Transit, Professor Graham Currie speaks with innovators Dr. Velvet Basemera-Fitzpatrick and Dr. Drew Dara-Abrams. Dr. Fitzpatrick is a Senior Program Officer for the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. TRB, host of the world’s largest annual meeting for transportation research, plays an immense role in both generating and disseminating transport research.
Dr. Fitzpatrick discusses her work with novel technology projects through TRB’s Transit IDEA program. The Transit IDEA program – Transit Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis - was founded in 1992 with the aim of funding unproven early-stage research; projects that are too risky for other institutions to invest in. Each year, a call for proposals is developed which reflects needs in the field of transportation. An expert panel evaluates proposals and selects eligible projects. To date, 99 projects have received funding through the program.
Transit projects funded through the program are diverse in scope. Examples include drone technologies that make parking at Commuter Rail stations safer; and bus sensor technology that identifies riders in need of extra assistance for boarding and alighting. Dr. Drew Dara-Abrams of Interline Technologies has been involved in a recent IDEA-funded project. Drew works with transit agencies realise the value of high quality real-time transit data (through general transit feed specifications, or gtfs). Funding from the IDEA program has spurred incorporation of this real-time data into the Transit.Land open access platform, that provides an interface for agencies to query their timetable data. Learn more about Interline Technologies’ work by visiting www.interline.io.
Dr. Fitzpatrick speaks about the complexity, partnerships, risks and dedication that go into developing implemenetation-ready technologies in transport. One challenge is the longer-term payoff associated with early-stage innovation; which means projects require sustained effort and investment beyond the life of Transit IDEA funding. This is why Transit IDEA works with project teams to grow their networks and attract funding. She highlights two key lessons for innovators in transportation should be:
1. Project goals should be sustainable, beyond the life and modality of the project
2. Project teams must be flexible; accepting of risk and unexpected events
Want to learn more about transit innovations?
• Visit project descriptions on the Transit IDEA website: http://www.trb.org/IDEAProgram/IDEATransit.aspx
• Innovation in Action is the Transit IDEA Program’s first ever innovation report. Released in January 2020, the report highlights the impact of the program to date: http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/IDEA/FinalReports/Transit/TransitJ04A.pdf
• The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) first received funding in 1991 after Willim (Bill) Millar and APTA highlighted the importance of research in public transportation. Since then, over $10 million has been invested in over 500 projects under the TRB banner. Source: Bill Millar’s Exit Interview: APTA’s Chief Signs Off (Metro Magazine, 2011)
Sign up for updates when we release new Researching Transit episodes: http://eepurl.com/g9tCdb
Music from this episode is from https://www.purple-planet.com
RT14 - Harnessing data science in public transport operations and planning
Dr Zhenliang Ma is a researcher and lecturer at Monash University and co-director of the graduate transport program jointly run by Monash University and Southeast University in China. Dr Ma moved to Monash after working at MIT, to join its interdisciplinary public research team.
This episode addresses the potential for data analytics to help transit agencies diagnose problems and identify opportunities to improve operations and customer satisfaction. Dr Ma provides some examples of problems that are suited to a data-driven solution, and some that aren’t.
“[Data analytics] is used to try to transform data into information to derive insights, and from those insights, make better decisions.”
He characterises three particular applications of data analysis to transit problems:
1. Inferences problems, which leverage descriptive and diagnostic problems, which use travel data to understand system performance, and passenger decision making
2. Prediction problems, which use predictive analysis to improve real time control of vehicles based on traffic conditions and disruption
3. Long-term demand management problems, which use prescriptive analysis to test how users would respond to different incentives designed to change travel behaviour.
We discuss the application of prescriptive data analysis to address severe crowding in Hong Kong’s metro system (a similar solution to peak crowding is discussed in the Singapore context by Dr Waiyan Leong in Episode 7). This project sought to improve the payoff for demand management interventions by identifying users most likely to respond.
Dr Ma mentions a trial of a personalised incentive system for San Francisco’s Bay Area Transportation Authority (BART). The success rate of demand management improved for incentives targeted toward individuals rather than the station. Data analysis was used to understand behavioural responses to incentives, and to design the final demand management strategy to optimise success.
“The transportation system is very complex. By changing a small portion of the passengers behaviour, congestion will be solved”
Dr Ma defines three steps to tackle constrained public transport capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting this very deliberate approach to thinking about data science problems, he does so in the language of data science, proposing first to use data to describe usage patterns, diagnose problematic times, and predict what response might occur under different policy scenarios. Being deliberate in the way you approach the problem is key.
“We really need to think about how to represent our data, to tell the story or to understand the problem, and then we can develop new insights from that”
However, although data analysis is useful for exploring a problem, it cannot explain why. Data-driven solutions alone are not enough to understand why human make decisions.
“Data science is just one of the tools, out of the set of tool that we can use to solve transport problems”
What makes a great public transport data analyst? First, is an interest in data, and and open and sceptical mind (prepared to challenge results). Skills in programming, statistics and visualisation will give the aspiring data analyst a toolbox for their work. Finally and most importantly, is domain knowledge.
Find Dr Ma’s publications and recommendations for upskilling in the full shownotes on our website: http://publictransportresearchgroup.info/?p=51742
Sing up for updates when we release shows: http://eepurl.com/g9tCdb
Music from this episode is from https://www.purple-planet.com
RT13 - Angel Cantillo - Understanding fare evasion to improve transit
In this episode of Researching Transit, Angel Cantillo from the Catholic University of Santiago explains the impacts of fare evasion, and new approaches to understanding and addressing the motivations of fare evaders
Fare evasion impacts the operating costs of transit network around the world. It can create negative perceptions toward the public transport network, of insecurity and unfairness, which in turn impacts transit use.
However, traditional approaches to enforcing fare compliance, including physical barriers or fines, are no longer regarded as effective. Facebook groups and other ‘out in the open’ anti-fare groups demonstrate the limits of physical barriers when enforceability is limited. Conversely, such approaches may have unintended consequences for certain users.
“When the same person fare evades many times, something is not working”
Can understanding the nuanced motivations unlock more effective solutions than the traditional enforcement approach? According to Angel, when it comes to understanding and addressing fare evasion, obtaining good evidence is key.
“Your solution will be as good as your data is”
Fare evaders are different, and motivated by different factors. The actions of fare evaders often signpost opportunities to improve our transit systems.
In this episode, Angel refers to work by PTRG to understand fare evaders ' motivations. Learn more: http://publictransportresearchgroup.info/?p=16705
Delbosc, A., & Currie, G. (2019). Why do people fare evade? A global shift in fare evasion research. Transport Reviews, 39(3), 376-391. https://doi.org/10.1080/01441647.2018.1482382
Researching Transit is brought to you by the Public Transport Research Group in the Monash University Department of Civil Engineering.
Music from this episode is from https://www.purple-planet.com
RT12 - Dr Taru Jain - The role of car share in the mobility ecosystem
Car share is a subscription service for cars. It allows users to drive a car, without owning a car. The city of Melbourne, Australia, plays host to over 1,500 shared vehicles which operate as part of commercial fleets or peer-to-peer (privately owned) vehicles. But the benefits of car share go beyond those to the individual (flexibility and cost savings from registration, fuel and the capital cost of cars). At a societal level, car share also benefits cities by reducing parking demand and congestion.
But what is the role of car share in the transport system? How does it serve the mobility needs of its users and provide an alternative to car ownership?
Taru’s research aimed to help different levels of Government in Victoria understand how car share was affecting mobility choices and thus its role in supporting the State’s transport and sustainability objectives.
“Public transport is great, but not having a car on weekends when you want to travel different places can be frustrating, and that’s what the role of car share was.”
To gain this understanding, Taru’s project pursued three objectives: exploring trends in usage and availability of care share, understanding car share impacts on travel behaviour; and gaining an understanding of the psycho-social motives and barriers for care share use.
Interviews of car share users also revealed five types of users. Importantly, two of the user groups – the car aspirers and car sellers – were characterised by changes in their car usage and ownership over the course of their car share membership. Taru emphasises the importance of major life events – a detail that often goes overlooked in purely quantitative studies. By limiting unnecessary trips, and limiting the acquisition of new cars, car share also contributes to a more efficient transport network.
Taru’s research also identified an important role for Local Government in maximising uptake, retention of car share subscribers and stemming car ownership. Dr Jain emphasises the need for clear regulation and supportive policies so that operators can ensure widespread availability of car share vehicles, emphasising the importance of providing car share proximity to public transport. In doing so, governments will help maximise retention of car share subscribers and stem car ownership. Her work suggests that rather than being seen as a silver bullet to private car related problems, car share should be seen as part of a mobility ecosystem which encourages sustainable travel practices.
This research has introduced Dr Jain to some useful frameworks for understanding behavioural motivations and enablers, which she explains with reference to the developing Corona virus pandemic and the behavioural responses seen in its midst.
Taru’s publications can be accessed at the links below
Jain, T., Johnson, M., & Rose, G. (2020). Exploring the process of travel behaviour change and mobility trajectories associated with car share adoption. Travel Behaviour and Society, 18, 117–131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tbs.2019.10.006
Jain, T., Wang, X., Rose, G., & Johnson, M. (2018). Does the role of a bicycle share system in a city change over time? A longitudinal analysis of casual users and long-term subscribers. Journal of Transport Geography, 71, 45–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2018.06.023
Music from this episode is from https://www.purple-planet.com
RT11 - Dr George Sun - Rail transit research at LTA Singapore
Singapore is a leading force in railway reliability and service quality. In this episode of researching transit, Professor Graham Currie speaks with George Sun of Singapore’s Land Transport Authority’s (LTA), to find out how research contributes to Singapore’s rail transit success.
Mr Sun discusses how Singapore’s rapid network growth is an important factor in creating the environment for research to thrive. LTA has leveraged research to educate and upskill its entire workforce. This has helped the organisation shift away from reactive, to proactive reliability engineering. The emergence of data analytics and automation have helped this effort, though it is with a cautious attitude that LTA is embracing these technologies.
“People thought that data analytics was about building fancy models, but it is far more important to clean the data, to have domain knowledge, to make judgements in] what type of model can deliver a quick solution.”
Mr Sun expresses the role of automation in decoupling rail reliability from human performance. He notes that while Singapore’s rolling stock are embedded with automated capabilities, infrastructure has yet to be upgraded before the rail network (MRT) can become fully automated.
Key to Singapore’s excellent track record in railway reliability (1) is its commitment to an ecosystem of research. Mr Sun discusses LTA’s vision for the future of railway transit reliability in Singapore. He notes a shift toward solutions that are not only research-focused, but also technology and innovation driven, requiring the involvement of stakeholders from start-up companies to operators as well as universities.
To learn more about public transport in Singapore, visit the LTA’s website: https://www.lta.gov.sg/content/ltagov/en/upcoming_projects.html#technologies_innovations
1 – Professor Currie notes MRt experienced just 20 major delays, referring to figures published in 2018 (https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/singapores-rail-reliability-continues-to-improve-in-first-half-of-2019)
RT10 - Dr Kara Kockelman - Self-driving vehicle fleets: a new form of transit
In our tenth show, we explore a variety of topics that showcase Dr Kara Kockelman’s curiosity and the collaboration across disciplines that is a hallmark of her research.
Dr Kockelman provides a refreshing take on the power of statistics as a tool for making sense of information. It has allowed her to probe a range of issues and bridge topics such as transport and land use, welfare and congestion. We speak about her early work at the nexus of transport and land use, when interest was first directed toward the role of planning in affecting traffic outcomes.
Based on extensive research, Dr Kara Kockelman provides a clear picture of shared autonomy and its distinct safety and efficiency advantages. According to Dr Kockelman, designing compact AVs which run on electric power, and operate on a dynamic ridesharing basis, will be essential for keeping congestion down and fostering sustainable mobility.
“Every time we make driving easier, we get more of it. Those downsides were a concern to me… I wanted to think about how we can mitigate those accompanying issues.”
Dr Kockelmam speaks about a model for SAV operation in which they are run by transit operators. SAVs operating in centralised fleets will be nimble, demand-responsive and able to take advantage of existing infrastructure investments. The role of conventional transit, however, will likely diminish, with central SAV fleets offering a more flexible and frequent service. She suggests private ridesharing models will continue to play a role among those wanting the most flexible and individualised service. This new style of publicly-deployed mobility has significant equity advantages; removing the ability to drive as a prerequisite for automobility.
We shift our conversation to one of Dr Kockelman’s co-curricular pursuits; the Bridging Transportation Research virtual conference series. Dr Kockelman gained some valuable experience with virtual conferencing pre-pandemic, with the inaugural BTR in January 2019. With COVID-19 putting a halt on international conference travel, the second BTR has been brought forward to 11-12 August. Kara explains the issues of equity, cost, fatigue and environmental impacts that inspired her to initiate the conference series together with hard working colleagues from around the world. The second BTR sees 70 registrations, up from 18. This uptake reflects an increase in exposure and traction, but is also a sign of COVID-19 changing the game for virtual conferencing both in the short and long term. The pandemic has shone a light on the ease and convenience of conferencing, taking the focus away from those aspects of conferences that are less readily substituted.
Dr Kockelman and her team are committed to keeping the conference free and open and welcome volunteers to help deliver the BTR series. Find out ways to get involved, including registering for future conferences at bridgingtransport.org
Kara closes our conversation with an authentic reflection on the simple approach that guides her impactful research:
“By teaming you really can address a lot more questions than you yourself might be able to… Just keep your eyes open for what’s important.”
Find out more about Dr Kockelman, including contact information, by visiting her website https://www.caee.utexas.edu/prof/kockelman/. There you’ll find a wealth of open access research sorted by topic, ranging from autonomous vehicles to traffic safety, modelling and pricing.
Chapter eight of The Economics of Transportation Systems: A Reference for Practitioners, co-authored by Dr Kockelman, explores the use econometrics for transportation data analysis. The book is available as an open source resource at https://www.caee.utexas.edu/prof/kockelman/TransportationEconomics_Website/TranspEconReference.pdf
For information about the Bridging Transportation Research online confere