Mar 18, 2013

Demand Responsive Transportation: Case Study

Metropol project, which is a joint venture of HSL, Finnish Transport Agency, Aalto University, Ajelo Oy and Goodmill Systems Ltd., is developing a new demand responsive public transport service that offers individually tailored bus journeys with the help of a smart, real-time booking system. The service is being developed in a research project carried out by Aalto University School of Science and Technology. HSL (earlier HKL and YTV) has participated in the project since 2007. The aim is to launch a pilot of the service in the end of 2012. 

The Service

Customers can book a ride and travel from almost any location to another within the service area of the bus. The booking and control system is fully automated and all bookings are made over the internet or via SMS. Service level and price vary according to the customer’s choices. If the customer accepts that the departure time is adjusted to accommodate other passenger's and that the bus does not take the shortest route, the price is close to a regular public transport fare. If the customer wants to get a ride immediately and take the shortest possible route, the price is close to a taxi fare.

The Pilot

In the pilot phase the service is operated by 10 minibuses. In addition, the aim is to cooperate with the taxi industry. The pilot area includes parts of Helsinki that lie south of Ring Road I excluding eastern Helsinki. The Viikki campus and Otaniemi are also included in the pilot.

The preparation phase of the five-year pilot project will run until 2012 and the pilot will be carried out in 2012-2015.HSL will carry out the pilot in cooperation with the Finnish Traffic Agency, Aalto University, Ajelo Oy and Goodmill Systems Ltd.

The Equipment in the Vehicle

The vehicle equipment consists of a tablet computer which runs the application software. This has a critical connection to the backend system and updates the routes online as the rides change with new customers hopping in. The routes are shared on a bigger screen so that customers can see the route and their accepted arrival time just as in normal transport with predefined traffic plans. There is also a possibility for the WiFi hotspot and other customer experience enhancing services through the system.

The Technical Solution

The technical requirements for the solution include the ordering and billing system, the algorithm based route planning that uses GPS information and a very reliable broadband connection that exchanges information between the vehicle and the system. Additionally customer services, like reliable wireless hotspot can be offered for the passengers.

The imperative for the successful operation is the continuous GPS connectivity and the always online broadband to ensure that the logistics algorithms are always calculated based on the correct updated information. It is thus possible to alter the route and optimize it for the best possible customer experience. If the connectivity fails, the whole service is dysfunctional. It is thus additionally important that the connectivity can be monitored and all needed system set ups or upgrades can be done remotely. This means updates to the routers as well as updates to the vehicle computer systems.

The Future of DRT

Metropol project is one of the spearhead projects outlined in the letter of intent between the Government and Helsinki region municipalities aiming to enhance the competitiveness of the metropolitan area. HSL’s aim is to create a high-quality public transport service that will attract a substantial number of motorists to public transport.

If the system is widely introduced in the Helsinki region, the number of daily journeys made using the service could be in the hundreds of thousands within a decade. This would substantially reduce congestion from the use of private cars and need for large-scale road investments.

The Executive Board of HSL decided on 29 March to propose to the General Assembly of HSL that it would grant Ajelo Oy a subordinated loan of EUR 400,000, provided that HSL's member municipalities grant a corresponding loan to  HSL. The municipalities are committed to finance the five-year pilot with around EUR 5 million, of which operating costs are around EUR 4.5 million.

Goodmill Systems Ltd. provides for the project the managed multichannel routing that is the enabler of this groundbreaking service. Goodmill offers the most reliable solution for vehicle broadband everywhere the connectivity plays a critical role.

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