Have you seen the bike share programs that are being put in use in major metro areas? I am intrigued, since running an effective bike share program requires a healthy dose of OR.
In bike share programs, bicycles are located at a number of hubs in an urban area. People with memberships can borrow a bike from one hub, ride from point A to point B, and then return it to another hub for someone else to use. People can purchase a membership through a number of different membership options. The concept is similar to how zip cars work, but it is more informal since there are no reservations. Bike sharing reminds me of the “take a penny, leave a penny” concept but with bikes. Learn more about ten major bicycle sharing programs here.
I recently read an article about bike share programs that really got me thinking about all of the opportunities:
- Facility location of bicycle hubs. The small number of existing facilities must be located given that many more facilities will be opened. Chicago is starting with six hubs. Paris’s mature program has 1450 hubs.
- Predicting temporal travel patterns to forecast demand. This can help predict where to locate additional hubs.
- Pricing options. Encouraging people to take short trips lets more bicycles be available for other riders. The article reports that one bicyclesharing system charges a fine for trips more than one hour long.
- Algorithms for relocating bicycles if one of hubs becomes empty (e.g., a hub near a train station may be emptied by commuters who travel to work in the morning, re be replenished in the afternoon) or strategies for eliminating the need to relocate bicycles.
- Designing the system to discourage theft (through bicycle design, better facility locations, etc.)
- Methods for purchasing or obtaining new bikes. Most systems have a single type of bicycle available. Rather than purchasing bicycles, London is experimenting with “donated” bikes from people with an extra bike to spare (it’s not clear of the owners receive compensation).
How would you use OR to run a bicycle sharing program?
Despite what you might have read in the news lately, a recent OR paper suggests that you should not use your cell phone while driving.
Alex Nikolaev, Matthew Robbins, and Sheldon Jacobson recently wrote a paper that analyzed traffic accidents in 62 counties in New York before and after a cell-phone-while-driving ban. The University of Illinois press release summarizes their results:
The team found that after banning hand-held cell phone use while driving, 46 counties in New York experienced lower fatal accident rates, 10 of which did so at a statistically significant level, while all 62 counties experienced lower personal injury accident rates.
They also discovered that the personal injury accident rate decrease was more substantive in counties such as Bronx, New York and Queens, where there was a high density of licensed drivers rather than in sparsely populated areas of upstate New York.
“What that suggests is, if you have a congestion of cars and you’re distracted, you’re more likely to hit someone,” Jacobson said. “If you have a lower congestion of cars, you’re still distracted, but you’re less likely to hit anyone because there are less people to hit. It’s simple probability.”
The results of this paper are particularly interesting, since it counters what we have been hearing in the news the last two weeks (namely, that cell phone bans do not reduce motor vehicle accidents).
Link: the full paper in Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice.
Do you use your cell phone while driving?
In most places in the United States, commuting to work using public transportation is not possible or is too difficult to be a viable alternative to driving. Sadly, this is the case where I live. The bus system is excellent, but isn’t extensive enough to take most people to and from work, since it mainly takes people to and from downtown. Riding the buses here worked for awhile when I lived in the city along a bus route, and my daughter’s day care happened to be along the same bus route within walking distance of my office (talk about being dealt a good hand!). Now that I live in suburbia and have two kids that attend two different day cares, I can only dream of using public transportation.
Here’s the problem. Many people who commute to work have families and have to work their commute around school and day care. Everyone driving themselves to work may not be ideal, but it is flexible and allows for you to pick up your kids on the way home from work. I have yet to see a bus or public transportation system address this reality. Until now. Unfortunately, the program got the ax.
Champaign-Urbana has been kicking around a proposal to build a big day care center near their bus hub, which would provide a park and ride alternative for working parents. Since most bus routes go through the hub (and the bus routes serve most of the C-U community), there would be no need to transfer several times to get from home to day care to work. This would make using public transportation efficient and flexible for parents. Hooray!
I miss the excellent bus service in Champaign-Urbana, which I used as a student even while working around the day care issue. The day care proposal isn’t perfect, but it’s good to hear that people are figuring out why many do not use public transportation. Here’s what they are not considering: most people use family members or in-home day care because day care centers are too expensive (day care centers cost roughly twice the amount as in-home day care in CU), and there would be a limited number of children that could be in the day care near the bus hub. Building an expensive day care center that people who would otherwise ride buses cannot afford isn’t going to work. They need to think bigger.
This is a huge opportunity for OR. Buses are a flexible form of transportation compared to, say, the subway. It should work around working parents’ existing schedules. Moving all schools to a central location near a public transportation hub, for example, is ridiculous. Although schools and day cares are spread out, working parents drive in predicable patterns that just might be well-serviced by better routed buses. Questioning existing public transportation paradigms may have big payoffs. I hope someone with the time and means to address this issue thinks outside the box.