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Can Service Design Save our Cities?

Traffic is getting worse in most cities. Many blame peer-to-peer ridehailing services like Uber and Lyft for the problem, as they have incentivized drivers to flood urban centers and compete for riders. The businesses have made city traffic 180 percent worse in major U.S. cities, according to one study.

Some are hoping that shared, electric, autonomous mobility services will help solve urban congestion and improve air quality with emissions-free vehicles. The problem is that the widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles seems always to be three to five years away.

But the shared services that can move more people through cities with fewer vehicles don’t have to be autonomous. Human-driven vehicles can have the same kind of impact if the services are optimized and orchestrated such that riders are efficiently pooled to and from their destinations.

The technology to achieve this kind of orchestration is available now. Bestmile put its Fleet Orchestration Platform’s Service Design capabilities to the test, using trip data from the city of Chicago’s taxi fleet as a proxy for a day’s transportation demand in the city. Then, using the same platform that is used by commercial mobility providers to optimize mobility services, created a virtual fleet and designed a shared service to meet that demand. The results, documented in a paper to be presented at the ITS World Congress in Los Angeles later this year, show that 400 shared vehicles can do the work of Chicago’s 2700 taxis with comparable ride times and wait times.

The reduction of vehicles from 2700 to 400 represents the removal of 10,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide per day — the equivalent of burning 1.2 million gallons of gasoline, according to the U.S. E.P.A. emissions calculator. The virtual fleet traveled just 46,000 miles compared to the taxi fleet’s 78,000 miles — per day. Of course, if the vehicles were powered by electricity alone, the emissions reduction would be much greater. But the reductions of vehicles, miles driven, and emissions do not depend on self-driving technology.

What it would require, though, is more careful transportation planning by cities. Simply opening the market for shared service providers to offer new options would likely, like peer-to-peer ridehailing, make traffic worse. If the services are allocated to match supply and demand and are integrated with long-haul mass transit to get people to and from bus and train stations, they could achieve the twin benefits of speeding commutes and reducing traffic (and with it pollution).

Matching ride requests with vehicles and pooling passengers to make the most of every trip is algorithmically very complex. And the complexity grows with the size of the fleet and the volatility of local conditions like traffic, weather, construction, and large public events. Bestmile has proven that this kind of matching can be done, and that efficient mobility services can be planned in advance of deployment using realistic demand data to ensure that the services perform as designed. It doesn’t matter if a computer or a human being is doing the driving.

What does matter, however, is whether a shared service is part of a cohesive mobility network. Analysts at Accenture recently released a report calling on cities to create coordinated, “orchestrated” mobility ecosystems. This means deploying services, whether directly or through private partners, that complement rather than compete with one another. The goal is to reduce the overall number of vehicles needed to meet demand. Each service within the ecosystem needs to be designed to operate as efficiently and conveniently as possible.

The technical report, “Simulation-Based Design and Analysis of On-Demand Mobility Services” is available for download here.



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