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The Role of Information Technology in Improving Transit Systems

09/29/2009 4:00 PM 32"124
Nigel Wilson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Description: "Punch brothers! Punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!..."

This ditty about tram car ticketing made famous by Mark Twain might spring to mind during Nigel Wilson's talk. Technology unimaginable in Twain's day is spurring a global shift in urban transit, Wilson says, from manual to automatic systems. Ticket punching by conductors has given way to fare cards swiped through machines -- not to mention real"time GPS tracking of trains and buses, and network monitoring via computers. As part of MIT's Transit Research Program, Wilson and colleagues have been taking advantage of a trove of data resulting from this digital transformation, working in London, Chicago, Puerto Rico, and Boston on ways to improve urban public transport.

Wilson recounts how cosmopolitan transit systems now have the computer capacity to track their buses or trains, collect fares automatically, count passengers, trace usage over time, and communicate instantaneously between system headquarters and vehicles in motion. But they haven't typically applied the data or other new technology available to them in a methodical way to improve service and operations and customer experience. But as pressure mounts to respond meaningfully to climate change, mass transit has taken on increased relevance in many cities, and agencies are seeking ways to attract more riders and achieve greater efficiencies.

Among current projects in Wilson's group: an analysis of preferences among Chicago passengers between bus and rail, which involves plotting the typical commutes of a large group of users. It turns out that those who are equidistant from bus and train stops overwhelmingly prefer rail. In London, researchers have come up with a meaningful measure of reliability for tube trains, to determine "what occurs on bad days" and how that might affect customers' perception and use of the service.

Wilson believes fare collection data will permit a better understanding of customer behavior, in terms of trip choices and vehicle preferences, and this will consequently lead to "more robust service and operations planning built on better demand"side understanding." Also in the works: cellphone"enabled fare payment, which will generate more information about passengers' habits and needs. Wilson hopes for the deliberate integration of data for the purpose of tying together the worlds of management, operations and commuters, especially in reaction "to unexpected events on the supply side and unanticipated changes in demand."

About the Speaker(s): Nigel Wilson's research and teaching focuses on urban public transportation, including topics related to the operation, analysis, planning, and management of transit systems. Currently Wilson directs two major long"term research and education programs between MIT and major transit agencies: the Chicago Transit Authority and Transport for London.

In addition to teaching MIT graduate subjects, Wilson also directs a one"week summer course at MIT on transit operations and service planning, which has served more than 300 mid"career transit planners and managers over the past 20 years.

He received a B.Sc.(Engineering) in 1965 from Imperial College, London University, an S.M. in 1967, and Ph.D. in 1970, both from MIT.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Transportation@MIT

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated almost 3 years ago

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