line of buses

Visualizing data for on-demand transit planning

A new cloud-based tool lets transit agencies visualize data to learn where on-demand transit can supplement their existing fixed-route public transportation network.

The tool, called On-demand Planning, is the first joint product to be offered by startup Remix since Via, a transit technology company, acquired it in March. It combines data from Via’s more than 500 global partnerships and nearly 100 million rides with Remix’s intelligent transportation-planning software to reveal service gaps, evaluate demographics and determine how on-demand programs can augment fixed-route services.

“A lot of our customers were asking for different ways to plan on-demand services,” but they didn’t want to make decisions in a vacuum, said Tiffany Chu, senior vice president of Remix at Via. Agencies wanted to make sure that on-demand services were relevant and complemented the existing transit services, she said.

Fixed-route transportation services use vehicles such as buses and trains that operate on regular routes at set times. By contrast, on-demand services are city- or county-provided ride-sharing that could replace underperforming fixed routes. According to the company, On-demand Planning lets users model on-demand transit operating costs, service-area demographics and service quality scenarios before implementation.

Using On-demand Planning, customers can draw polygons around an area to get data on population density, demographics and the types of establishments, such as grocery stores, schools and hospitals. Customers enter data such as budget or number of fixed-route or on-demand vehicles, and the tool automatically calculates costs.

“As you drag and drop the zone, visually on the map, the numbers will change to calculate in real time based on real data from Via services,” Chu said.

In King County, Wash., Casey Gifford is using On-demand Planning to figure out access to the area’s Link Transit light-rail stations.

“Whenever we look into scoping new services, our goal is to have as much information as we can in our service-planning process,” said Gifford, innovative mobility senior planner at King County Metro. “Using Remix enables us to see many data layers, such as our fixed-route transit network, equity priority census tracts, community demographic data, etc. Then when we’re designing flexible services, we can take this data into account.”

On-demand Planning also lets her adjust parameters, such as service hours, expected ridership, hourly costs, desired wait times, projected demand at hub locations so she can zero in on a design that meets the county’s goals while working within its constraints.

Previously, she and other county planners would use multiple tools to achieve the same ends. For instance, service planners rely heavily on geographic information systems, while Gifford said she often works with Google Maps. On-demand Planning puts everything in one place and handles calculations, which the planners had to do separately.

“It enables us to have all of these data layers and the ability to draw polygons and add – we call them hubs, I think Remix calls them points of interest – all in one platform vs. having to look at data layers in one platform and then have to develop the polygons in another platform,” said Gifford, adding that the new service she’s working on will likely launch in spring 2023.

Another advantage of the technology, she added, is the ability to bring in data layers so that planners can see priority census tracts and the fixed-route system in one place. That’s critical to providing services in equity-priority areas and places with less local bus service while still bringing people to hubs with high-capacity transportation, Gifford said.

Miami-Dade County is also using On-demand Planning to determine where to replace low-performing bus routes with flexible services, Chu said.

“What that leaves behind is a lot of gaps – transit deserts, if you will. Folks there who might have depended on that once-an-hour bus might no longer be riding it, and that’s just a very difficult call to make,” Chu said. With the tool, planners can sketch the zones and manipulate them to see how changes affect the areas in question.

Government-provided on-demand services are not new. Paratransit, for example, has been available for decades. The challenge for agencies, however, has been planning for these modes without technology to collect and visualize data, according to a Nov. 2 blog post by the company.

“The goal is really to help agencies plan both flexible transit services alongside fixed-route transit services in one place,” Chu said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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