Complexity in Public Transport

Passenger behavior and system optimization


This research project studies the complexity of passenger behavior in public transport, especially the passengers’ sensitivity to strategic modifications and to real-time disturbances of the public transport system. It also examines how the resulting understanding can be used to achieve a win-win result for the passengers and for the Public Transport Operators (PTOs), both in the planning stage and in disturbed real-time operations. This research project will be enabled by the availability of data from smart cards and mobile phone technologies, which provides ample opportunities to understand passenger behavior in public transport in far more precision than previously possible.

For the planning stage, this project aims to understand the sensitivity of passengers towards changes in frequencies, capacities, and tariffs of the public transport system. This understanding may be used to seduce passengers to travel outside the peak hours or along less busy routes. As a consequence, for the PTOs a more efficient allocation of rolling stock will be enabled. For disturbed real-time operations, this project aims to understand the reaction of the passengers to disturbances: do they wait until the disturbance is over, do they look for an alternative route through the public transport network, or do they look for alternative travel modes? This understanding will enable PTOs to mitigate the adverse effects of the disturbances for the passengers to some extent.

This research project is carried out in three steps:
•  First, a detailed insight into passenger behavior in public transport is obtained by
analyzing and combining real-life datasets, such as smart card data and mobile phone
•  Second, agent-based simulation models are applied to combine individual passenger
behavior into aggregated passenger flows, thereby also considering emergent
passenger behavior.
•  Third, mathematical optimization models are developed for revenue management and
disruption management, where passenger behavior is incorporated effectively.

This multi-disciplinary research project is carried out by the Rotterdam School of Management of Erasmus University (RSM/EUR) together with Netherlands Railways (NS). It builds upon previous joint research of RSM/EUR and NS on revenue management and on mathematical system optimization. Important complexity aspects of this research project are: (i.) the micro-macro view: from individual passenger behavior to aggregated passenger flows; (ii.) the understanding of public transport systems as complex networks; and (iii) the predictability of passenger behavior and passenger flows.

About ComPuTr & NWO

The Complexity in Public Transport (ComPuTr) project is one of the projects in the larger set of Netherlands Orginization for Scientific Research (NWO) Complexity projects that are focussed on the value of Complexity Theory in Practice. More information about this initiative can be found at the NWO complexity website.