Artificial Intelligence: Optimizing Public Transit for Social Distancing Amid COVID-19

July 13, 2020 | Artificial Intelligence, News

Abhishek Dubey, Vanderbilt University, is applying AI to navigate the complexity of public transit logistics following COVID-19.

COVID-19 has subjected public transit systems to twin upheavals. One, the need for maintaining social distancing among commuters to reduce the spread of virus infections. Two, the change in ridership patterns due to the virus as the flow of people commuting between home and work has changed dramatically. The latter, particularly, has created logistical nightmares for public transit authorities. These are problems in planning, service reliability, and funding disruptions. Abhishek Dubey, a Vanderbilt University professor is applying AI to the solution of these problems. The study covers the public transit systems of Nashville and Chattanooga. (Vanderbilt University)

COVID-19 has imposed other challenges on the transit systems. These include the limited availability of drivers as well as the need to disinfect the vehicles between trips.

AI for public transit logistics

The National Science Foundation Division of Computer and Network Systems has awarded a grant to Abhishek Dubey and Aron Laszka to facilitate their project to deploy AI for the essential public transit systems of Nashville (WeGo Public Transit) and Chattanooga (CARTA).

Dubey is an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Vanderbilt University. He is also a senior research scientist at the Vanderbilt Institute for Software Integrated Systems.

Laszka is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Houston and a former research assistant professor at Vanderbilt.

The primary goals of the project are:

  • to analyze the changes in demand for public transit in each of the two cities
  • to analyze bus occupancy data to optimize social distancing norms between passengers and drivers

Pay-offs from the project

The AI algorithms will help to create usable, real-time seat maps to strike the optimum balance between social distancing and capacity utilization.

The analyses and conclusions will help the researchers to recommend the number of buses that should be deployed on each route. This will ensure passenger safety in the context of COVID 19.

Soon, the project could play a role in the development of smart city technologies and be used to solve similar problems in other cities.

“Computer science allows us to understand data, see patterns and in this case, apply them to how people move around cities,” said Dubey. “Operational and logistical optimization of vehicles is quite intricate. AI is helping us navigate this complexity. We are excited to leverage this technology and our research for the good of the community.”

Related Story:  Automaker Ford Using Artificial Intelligence To Optimize Daily Driving                                            

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