Most cities do not have a timely estimate of the travel demand. Hence, all congestions mitigation plans are essentially a cure for the symptom and not the cause and we grope in the dark for the magic bullet that will make congestion disappear. All cities should put in place measures that will provide them with continuous estimate of travel patterns. There are a number of ways to achieve this. Mobile operators keep track of mobile phone locations. Travel patterns can be estimated using anonymised version of this dataset from mobile operators. This has become an accepted methodology in countries like the UK and this technology has been demonstrated in India by CDAC and ITSPE. Some cloud data providers such as TomTom also provide OD estimates using crowd-sourced data. Alternatively, smart cities have citizen apps. These apps could be upgraded to collect anonymous location data to estimate travel patterns. Such estimates could be combined with traffic detector data to improve accuracy. A number of Area Traffic Control Systems (ATCS) deployed by Smart Cities have this capability. The bottom line is that we need to measure travel patterns of citizens so that we can give an optimised mobility solution across modes.
Travel Demand Information
Once we understand the mobility needs of citizens, we need to have a plan for provisioning for travel demand. We have an evolving mobility ecosystem today, with a number of new mobility on demand and shared mobility services. It goes without saying that all the models need to be considered in a holistic fashion when one analyses the transport system
in a city. This is more of an administrative rather than a technological challenge as it requires coordination between multiple agencies. The formation of Metropolitan Transport Authorities (MTA) will ease this process. Cities like Kochi are early movers with respect to such reforms. Cities should use travel demand information to determine the best way to cater to the demand. Transport models, including simulation models, are a necessary tool in this step. Based on the analysis, cities should determine the segment of travel demand that the public transport should fulfil while ensuring that there is no excess congestion either on the roads or on public transport vehicles.
As we all agree, one of the causalities of COVID-19 has been the public transport sector. People are rightfully cautious about using public transport where they come into close proximity with strangers who may or may not follow the basic requirements. Adding to this are questions about the cleanliness of surfaces inside the public transport vehicles and ventilation. However, this trend has not so far resulted in massive traffic congestion since the demand for travel has also reduced due to the epidemic. However, once we hobble back to normalcy, our roads could look much worse in terms of congestion, resulting in loss of productivity, increased fuel usage and carbon emissions& pollution. We could do a number of things to make effective use of existing public transport infrastructure in the new normal, says Dr. Rajesh Krishnan, Chief Executive Officer, ITS Planners and Engineers Private Ltd.
Flexible uses of
In the new normal, the public will grapple with infection phobia for some time. Hence, public transport operators should anticipate it and take steps to alleviate the concern. The alternative will be a permanent reduction
in capacity of the public transport system with resultant consequences. Cities could take the following steps to reduce concern around the use of public transport.
Reduce crowding: Technology can be put in place to measure the number of occupants in buses. This can be done using a combination of AFC data, people detectors mounted on entry/exit points or using video analytics of CCTV footage. The city could use this data to restrict the maximum number of people inside a given bus at any time and hence avoid crowding. Such measures have to be combined with traveller information so that people can take a decision on the mode and time of travel based on current crowding levels.
Dynamic routing: With the implementation of crowd control, it is possible that buses are deployed sub-optimally with respect to demand. Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) is a mechanism by which buses can be run on routes and schedules that are dynamically created based on travel requests from the public between bus stops. The citizens would board and alight
buses from existing bus stops, and request for travel is made based on an app. Travel requests can be made for immediate travel or be placed
for a future date and time. Existing buses are deployed with the aim to
maximise the number of passenger journey requests fulfilled while ensuring that maximum capacity is not exceeded. Requests that cannot be fulfilled are communicated to the customer. City can use the data to hire or lease more vehicles based on patterns of unfulfilled demand. This information can also be used to create new bus routes as the new normal reverts back to the old normal.
Automatic Fare Collection (AFC): According to a recent study, currency notes are a major carrier of corona virus. Bus operators should put in
place facilities for digital payment so as to avoid the use of physical currency. AFC systems that support common digital payment modes are the need of the hour.
Traveller information: Public transport services are disrupted in many cities and frequent changes have been made to bus services over the last few months. A section of population may not use public transport due to the uncertainty about services running on a given day. A traveller information app, or the provision of up to date public transport services on citizen apps,
would go a long way in bridging this information gap and getting more people to use public transport. Cities should also consider using Google Transit feed for this, and make use of software that enables management of route and time table information with export features in the back office.
During the uncertain times of pandemic and the recovery period, cities should engage with the citizens to provide for their mobility needs. Cities should also use this time to ensure that negative travel behavioural changes do not take root amongst the population, so that we have a sustainable future from a mobility perspective post COVID. Flexible use of public transport during this period with the aid of technology is a key component of such a plan, as this will reduce the probability of long term changes in travel behaviour shifting away from public transport