As it has been observed that many cities are forced to go back to lockdown again with the rise of the number of cases of coronavirus. Due to the emerging lockdowns, public transport will be facing new challenges in the days ahead. They have to avoid overcrowding buses and trains to prevent the virus from spreading ensuring to maintain the overall number of passengers to sustain the system. Meanwhile, the commuters are temporarily returning to public transport but it can be used widely if they see it as a safe way to reach their destinations.
According to the safety measure rules to protect against Covid-19 are to maintain social distancing. Overcrowding poses the risk to the major transmission of coronavirus and other diseases. Therefore, there is a need to flatten the typical morning and evening peak hours of passenger numbers. With the lack of passengers, this means the public transport companies have to put relatively frequent trains and buses all day long rather than back-to-back transport rush.
An all-day service provides special benefits and reduces passenger density resulting in social distancing. This also benefits drivers as they are less likely to change their shifts and passengers can rely on fairly frequent buses all day long. However, with the surge in the cases of Covid-19 infection, it can anytime affect the ridership demand. This can happen so quickly that transport companies won’t have that much time to prepare and adjust. Therefore, there is a need to maintain the flexibility to reach within days or even hours and implements the changes that usually take months of preparation. Here is when digital technologies like Artificial Intelligence comes in the view.
Artificial Intelligence can help in maintaining a large amount of data – the level of passengers demand, number of drivers on duty, availability of buses and trains, maximum hours driver can work between breaks, as well as the length of each break- and many more which are needed to be taken care of.
With the help of some algorithms, scenarios can be created. They can change the routes and travel times, the update on the schedules will be updated automatically. They can compare the revenue and costs based on different scenarios. It will help to take steps quickly as the circumstances changes, be it lockdown or staggered shifts, like quickly putting extra trains and buses if needed.
AI can also help to solve the unmanageable transport problems. For example, if any transport company wants to add 5% more trips to get passenger numbers over their journey. But they have 14% fewer drivers at hand. It seems impossible to handle. However, AI-driven software can found a way to add more trips with fewer drivers – by optimizing the schedule and extending the average shifts by 45 minutes, and providing a necessary break time.
The Artificial Intelligence system that is added to buses is mainly to operate as quickly as possible by providing extra buses when needed to maintain social distancing. Though it sounds simple, it is not. It requires planning in the form of complex algorithms. These algorithms will generate alternative scenarios to figure out which part of the transportation network is needed to be modified to ensure extra vehicles and drivers to be available.
However, transport providers have to make sure that people reach their destination on time even if the schedule changes in a short period. The increase in time duration can lead to unhappy customers. This does not sound any good for business.
There is no saying what transit demand will be there in the upcoming months but cooperating with local government and private institutes to flatten peak hours, using AI for different scenarios management, and monitoring the impact whenever the service changes, will somehow help transportation providers to move ahead. This will actually help the general public to commute safely during the lockdown. Implementing such measures will give public transportation a move towards digitalization.