Providing Critical Transportation In a World affected by the Coronavirus

Menno van der Zee
Mar 18, 2020 · 4 min read

As we are all now keenly aware, our world has changed dramatically in the past weeks. We have woken up to a world in which we are confined to our homes and have to avoid contact with other people. We are now living in a world with constant anxiety related to the virus. This deeply impacts everyone.

Here at Routable AI, we provide a routing engine capable of computing highly efficient on-demand routes and vehicle schedules for large fleets of shared, high-capacity vehicles. We feel the responsibility to make our team and technology helpful to navigate this crisis. I would like to share our thinking with you in an effort to make this happen.

Transitioning to work from home

Some of us have the luxury that the nature of our jobs allow us to work from home relatively effectively. At Routable AI for example, most of our communication with customers was already by video calls. Our product is software, and our engineers can just as well write code from home.

Unfortunately this is not the case for all organizations. Not all jobs can be performed from home, and some of those jobs are essential to keep our society running during this crisis. I feel deeply for those that put themselves on the front line every single day to ensure that our society keeps functioning at a basic level. There are the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff on the front line. In the background are the grocery store, gas station, government, public works employees and so many more making sure we have food on our table and electricity for our lights and devices. We are extremely thankful to all these people.

The Impact on Shared Transportation

The shared transportation market has changed for now and potentially for some time to come (for additional context, see: We’re not going back to normal). We are in the business of optimizing rides by sharing vehicles among multiple passengers, and this is exactly something that people in the current climate are keen to avoid. Uber and Lyft for example have already suspended their shared rides (Uber and Lyft suspend shared ride options to limit coronavirus spread) and their solo rides are down by up to 50%.

Despite this potential impact, we feel the responsibility to investigate how we can make our team and technology helpful to get through this crisis as quickly as possible. We have called the team together, and have come up with some interesting applications of our technology. I would like to share these with you, and also call for your input. Perhaps together we can come up with something that can make a difference during these difficult times. Please reach out to us if you’d like to work on something to help out in your city.

Rethinking and Specifically Limiting Public Transit Bus Capacity

Our initial ideas are to provide safer transportation for those that have no choice. Sharing a bus with 60 other people is not a wise thing to do right now, and transit operators globally are reducing bus services significantly. Unfortunately, some people might not have a choice. One solution might be to limit the occupancy of the buses, so that passengers can keep a safe distance to each other. Our solution allows the pre-booking of bus rides, and will allow the operators to constrain the number of passengers on board at any time. We’d love to work with any transit operators around the world to achieve this.

A bus in Boston, one of the many cities where bus services have been significantly reduced (from: No Bus Service. Crowded Trains. Transit Systems Struggle With the Virus.)

We should also rethink how we are using our public transit bus capacity. We are able to re-optimize the bus routes (on-demand or from day to day) so that our bus capacity is used as effectively as possible to ensure that everyone who needs to can get to their work. Demand for transportation in cities has changed dramatically. Perhaps now we need more bus lines bringing people to grocery stores and hospital staff to hospitals, and we can reduce those routes to, for example, business centers and amusement parks. We would like to call out to transit operators to think about this together.

Providing transportation to those on the front lines of fighting the virus

Finally, we still need transportation for those that are fighting the virus on the front lines. Think of a shuttle or bus fleet that provides a completely on-demand mode of transportation to those that need it most. We will limit occupancy and provide door-to-door transportation. We could even go as far as taking into account whether certain passengers have the virus in the matching. In this way we can allocate specific vehicles that are shared among passengers that have tested positive or have already built up immunity.

Conclusion

These few ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. We want to help. Please reach out to us if you have any ideas, or know someone for which our technology might be helpful during this time.

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