Imprimir Republish


Programmed Lives

Projects seek to improve the traffic for users of collective transport

eduardo cesarProgram produces bus roster and departure times at the bus stopseduardo cesar

Improving the life of the users of collective transport and of the bus companies is the proposal of two studies carried out at universities that are ready to be applied. One of them, the fruit of a project developed by researchers from the Graduate Engineering Project Coordination (Coppe) of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) uses trackers in the buses to offer the user a differentiated service. The other, created at the Computing Institute of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), is based on a program that does everything from the timetables for the vehicles to the duty roster of the drivers and collectors, and, as a result, distributes more rationally the operation of the fleet and the work of the employees.

The project from Coppe was conceived to work in special urban bus lines, with registered customers who telephone a call center, in a scheme similar to the taxis controlled by radio, but without the same flexibility, because the service is provided simultaneously to other users. The attractions for the customer include a lower price than is charged in a taxi journey and the savings in time spent on traveling in comparison with a private car, since the bus circulates in exclusive lanes.

“It is a safer transport option, offered for vehicles that operate with a smaller capacity, like the 25 to 30 seat microbuses”, says Profes

sor Ronaldo Balassiano, from the Strategic Transport Planning Nucleus (Planet) at Coppe, the coordinator of the project, which received funding of R$ 16 thousand from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and R$ 28 thousand from the Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Faperj), The security factor is also an advantageous differential for the operating companies. As the vehicle is tracked, any abnormality or unscheduled change is detected by the control center.

Precise control
The tracking system uses a chip that emits data with the geographical coordinates of the position of the vehicles. The signals emitted are captured by antennas distributed over the cities – the same as those used for the transmission of signals for cell phones – and retransmitted to a control center. The technology makes it possible to add a series of devices coupled to the tracking system that help the operating company to get a more detailed picture of the functioning of the fleet that is on the streets. Amongst them is the monitoring of the flow of passengers coming on board and getting off, the number of passengers in specific stretches of the area served by the buses, the fuel consumption and the way how the driver is driving the vehicle.

As it is a dynamic system, instead of the buses operating empty outside peak times, they can be redirected to attend to other calls. “Microbuses can, for example, operate in areas where it is not commercially interesting to work with an ordinary commercial vehicle, such as districts where the dwellings are more spaced out, at predefined intervals”, Balassiano says. They are areas which the regular service does not serve adequately, because there is not sufficient demand the whole day long.

The target public is very broad and includes people who use cars for their daily or sporadic travel, users in their third age, with difficulties in getting about or in their eyesight, adolescents who have several activities to perform in their day-to-day and depend on somebody to transport them, as well as handicapped people. The routes can be established in two ways, with a fixed starting point or with a flexible origin. The fixed starting point, as the name itself says, is a place where the passengers gather to catch the bus at predetermined times and are transported to flexible destinations, or at different places. By the flexible origin route, the bus would pass in the neighborhood or at the house of each passenger, who would be taken to a fixed destination, a central point, favorable for everyone. As the vehicles are tracked, both the itinerary of the line can be altered in accordance with the unforeseen events en route, and it can be changed according to the wish of the passengers.

A small sample of the project is working experimentally on the campus of the Fundão, inside the University City of Rio de Janeiro, in a fleet made up of nine buses, three of which reserves, used only in the case of problems with the vehicles of the main fleet. Six buses from the “Rectorate – lodgings” line that serve, free of charge, about 10 to 15 thousand users are circulating with tracking apparatuses. The information captured is retransmitted to the computers in Coppe, from where it is possible to accompany, on a local map, the itinerary and the location of the vehicles. “Our idea is that the user from the university can, from his room, access the computer and find out exactly where the bus is”, says Balassiano. The forecast is for this information to be available to the user by the end of the year.

eduardo cesarNew products
The tracking equipment installed in the vehicles is made by Geocontrol, an instrument-making company that has turned into an effective partner in the project. In the current stage, the company is responsible for the development or adaptation of software for the new products that are being conceived at the university, following the original project. The researcher stresses that more important than having the apparatuses installed is the use that can be made of this tool in urban planning. The experiment of the campus of the Fundão will be extended to the city of Vitoria, in Espírito Santo, which will begin to test the system in its fleet of some 300 municipal buses that circulate every day. The agreement was entered into with the city hall and had the participation of Geocontrol, which provides services for the Secretariats for Public Security of Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo.

With the results of the project, Balassiano wants to offer good quality transport and, as a consequence, to take off the streets part of the private automobiles in circulation today. “Public transport has also been jeopardized by the slowness of the traffic”, he says. The average speed of bus transport is lower than 20 kilometers an hour in a large number of Brazilian municipalities. “The idea that we are proposing, to offer a transport system on demand, is now being applied in some cases experimentally and in others, definitively, in small cities in Europe”, he says.

Tables and rosters
The other project for improving collective transport, coordinated by Professor Arnaldo Moura, from Unicamp, has already been tested in Serra Verde and in Pioneira, two urban bus companies from Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais, and in Metra, of São Bernardo do Campo, in the inudtrail suburbs of São Paulo. The project began with a master’s dissertation by Tallys Yunes, supported by FAPESP, to build rosters of urban buses in the capital of Minas Gerais. “The program had to allocate the fleet and the personnel, with predefined departure times”, Moura says.

To answer these questions, they used mathematical models. In one of them, they used Linear Programming, a classic technique with models made up of decision variables and that has restrictions expressed by linear equations and inequations. In the other, Programming by Restrictions was used, a language that makes it possible to deal with more complex problems.
The study done in Belo Horizonte was continued with two scientific initiation scholarships of André Ciré and Tony Lopes, supervised by Moura. In this stage, the challenge was expanded. They had to optimize the programming of Metra, an urban bus company from São Bernardo do Campo, a more difficult task than the previous one, since the departure times were not predetermined, but they also had to be calculated. A program was developed that has as input the demand for transporting passengers in the two directions of the line (suburbs – center, and vice-versa) by time band, the bus’s journey times by time band and by direction, the quality of service (number of passengers transported by each bus) and the journey times from the bus stop to the bus garage, by time band.

The software processes this data and produces a roster of the buses that are going to make the journeys, a roster of the pairs of drivers and collectors that are going to operate the buses, and the departure times at the bus stops. “It’s a complete programming for each line of the fleet”, says Moura. To achieve the best solution for so many variables, genetic algorithms were used, which try to imitate the process of natural evolution, and a method of the tabu search kind, which keeps information on previous searches to guide the research process, using long-term memory.

Techniques similar to those that were used for urban bus rosters acted as a basis for creating two other roster software applications. One of them, in use for two years in the Hospital and Clinics at Unicamp, responds for the monthly duty roster of about 1,500 employees who work in nursing at the institution. The other, which deals with the staggering of engineering activities in the process of preparing oil wells in deep waters, took third place in the “production” category of the 2005 Petrobras Technology Award.

Developed by Rômulo Albuquerque Pereira, under the supervision of Moura and Professor Cid Carvalho de Souza, also from the Computing Institute, the software does the staggering of tasks that will be carried out for drilling and for putting an oilfield into production. “The operations have to follow a predetermined order for there not to be any waste of resources allocated to carry out these tasks, like special probe ships and drilling platform”, Moura says.