Microtransit with major impact

Two federal grants, $2.1 million from the NSF and $1.8 million from the DOE, are enabling engineers to reimagine how regional transit systems operate, making them more accessible and efficient.

Both projects, headed by Abhishek Dubey, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, are with the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority.

As agencies attempt to serve people migrating from the city to suburban areas, public transportation options often shrink for people in low-income and minority urban neighborhoods. Lack of access impacts educational attainment, job prospects and community service use.

The NSF project will focus on developing the technology to establish and integrate microtransit systems with CARTA’s fixed-route service. Microtransit uses dynamically generated routes that enable passengers to get to and from common drop-off or pick-up locations. Community engagement to understand key challenges and share ideas is another component.

Dubey and collaborators spread across the U.S. will deliver a deployment-ready software system any transit agency can use to design and operate a microtransit service focused on technological efficiency and equitable access to transit.

The DOE project intends to seamlessly integrate fixed-route transit and low efficiency, high cost paratransit—individualized transit for people with disabilities—to develop solutions that retain operations with more energy efficient outcomes. A harmonious integration of these transit modes requires the simultaneous and time-sensitive accommodation of dynamic stops, fixed-route schedules and constantly shifting road conditions.

The ability to design and configure complex artificial intelligence algorithms that improve over time and learn with new scenarios and situations is central to both projects.

“Our goal with these synergistic projects is to rethink entirely both the on-demand and fixed-line transit operations to make them more efficient and user friendly for passengers over the next four years,” said Dubey, who also is senior research scientist at the Vanderbilt Institute for Software Integrated Systems.