On the design of an optimal flexible bus dispatching system with modular bus units: Using the three-dimensional macroscopic fundamental diagram

This research was led by Monica Menendez, Global Network professor of civil and urban engineering, and Joseph Chow, deputy director of the C2SMART University Transportation Center at NYU Tandon. 

This project proposes a flexible bus dispatching system using automated modular vehicle technology, and considers multimodal interactions and congestion propagation dynamics. 

This study proposes a novel flexible bus dispatching system in which a fleet of fully automated modular bus units, together with conventional buses, serves the passenger demand. These modular bus units can either operate individually or combined (forming larger modular buses with a higher passenger capacity). This provides enormous flexibility to manage the service frequencies and vehicle allocation, reducing thereby the operating cost and improving passenger mobility.

The investigators developed an optimization model to determine the optimal composition of modular bus units and the optimal service frequency at which the buses (both conventional and modular) should be dispatched across each bus line. They explicitly accounted for the dynamics of traffic congestion and complex interactions between the modes at the network level, based on a recently proposed three-dimensional macroscopic fundamental diagram (3D-MFD). To the best of Chow and Menendez' knowledge, this is the first application of the 3D-MFD and modular bus units for the frequency setting problem in the domain of bus operations.

Using this system of analysis, the researchers were able to show improved costs across the system by adjusting the number of combined modular bus units and their dispatching frequencies to changes in car and bus passenger demand. A comparison with the commonly used approach that considers only the bus system (neglecting the complex multimodal interactions and congestion propagation) reveals the value of the proposed modeling framework.