Issue: Jan 2018


Cutting through transportation complexity at lightning speed



by Mark Fireman


A screen shot of the Optibus transport planning system.

The introduction of electric and autonomous vehicles, as well as on-demand mobility and ride-sharing, will soon dramatically change the face of transportation in our cities.

Foundations for managing these interconnected systems are being laid by intelligent software and systems that track and dynamically schedule the routing and assignments of buses and drivers. The effectiveness of the systems is demonstrated by the fact that the software is helping bus companies today to reduce their operating expense by up to 15%, according to Israeli-based Optibus.

The company recently raised US$12 million to further develop its cloud-based operating system which is designed to power the smart cities of the future and to accelerate worldwide growth. “Smart mass transportation is the key to future mobility, remaining the only efficient way to move masses of people every day,” says Amos Haggiag, co-founder and CEO of Optibus. “With the disruption of the automotive landscape, classic forms of transport such as busses, trains and trams are at risk of being left behind. By leveraging the power of machine-learning, Optibus simplifies the complex planning and control process behind modern transportation services, by offering a platform for municipalities and transit operators that allows them to move from a static schedule that rarely changes to one that is based on dynamic real-time operation.”

The Optibus Software as a Service (SaaS) model allows operators to immediately start using the system without any initial investment, long-term commitment or local IT expertise, according to the company. The platform performs deep analysis of mass transportation, allowing transit operators to manage and operate the most efficient and cost-effective schedules across cities. Some of the largest fleet operators and municipalities in the world use the Optibus platform to plan, control and optimize operations in more than 200 cities, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Washington D.C.

The Optibus system is based on a new level of artificial intelligence for public transportation scheduling and operations, which is called Optibize™ – a super-fast optimization technology based on patent-pending algorithms. Optibize™ transforms legacy offline planning and problem handling into an interactive real-time process, thus elevating public transportation companies to operate much more efficiently, reduce cost, and deliver better passenger service, according to the company.

Optibus OnSchedule™, a solution powered by Optibize™, plans crew and vehicle assignments using Interactive Schedule Optimization (ISO) methodology. Schedulers use this new methodology to compare and evaluate different alternatives, immediately choosing the one that is most efficient and appropriate. Optibus OnSchedule™ is a modular solution which includes multiple add-ons to address the specific needs of different transit agencies. These add-ons include a solution for optimal charging battery electric buses, an analytics add-one, a timetable planning add-on, a module to improve On-Time Performance (OTP) by using big data analytics, and a tender bidding service to improve agencies’ chances of winning tenders.

Further development of the Optibus platform will establish an integrated city-wide operating system for optimal planning, using multiple sources of data, so that service to passengers will be accurate, affordable, and predictable.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Haggiag how Optimus sees the future of public vs private transport.

Haggiag: Statistics show that over the next 20 years two billion people will move to urban locations, opting away from rural undeveloped areas. This will lead to a much greater use of private vehicles within cities. At the same time this presents a huge opportunity for city-wide public transportation, as people will become more open to using other methods of transit to combat congested roads. Due to these changes, cities around the world have a vested interest in developing better public transportation, and the key to making this possible is the implementation of technology and better use of data.

AI: How is public transport changing?

Haggiag: The most significant shift has been that public transportation is starting to adapt towards passenger demands. People expect convenient, affordable, flexible routes and service. This rise in expectations has led governments to make heavy investments in public transportation infrastructure, electric vehicles, and more. In general, we are seeing more mobile applications being developed in relation to mass transit, and better vehicles (electric vehicles, connected, and trials with autonomous vehicles) entering the market. A general openness to using public transit has also been a noteworthy change.

AI: What are the biggest challenges in today’s public transportation?

Haggiag: In the past things were much simpler. Routes were planned and schedules were fixed. Today there are endless constraints, including union and regulation demands, the need for more roads, higher population density, delays due to construction, and more. These factors mean that it is now much more complex to plan a city’s transportation system and keep it working for both operators and passengers. Despite this, many cities haven’t changed their planning methods in the past 20 years. Today’s technology enables the upgrade to make transportation more available and accessible for customers and operators alike.

AI: What role does machine learning have?

Haggiag: The silos of data from decades of public transportation are hardly in use. But leveraging data collected about the fleets, vehicles, passengers, and other factors can vastly improve the way public transportation is performing today. With advanced optimization technology and machine learning we are able to help operations leverage the data collected to improve bus schedules, optimizing the number of drivers and vehicles, and provide better service to passengers.

AI: How do you see the market for mass transportation solutions evolving?

Haggiag: Mass transportation has to evolve as there is no other way to accommodate population growth. Most people commute to work using personal cars and this option is not sustainable. People today expect more, and if public transportation does not evolve they will stick to their personal cars. Also, competition to public transportation in the form of Uber, Lyft, Via and others is forcing operators to change and adjust. The new mass transportation systems will offer dynamic, flexible, on-time service. This requires sophisticated optimization and AI algorithms which use multiple data sources to improve service.

AI: What are some of the challenges facing mass transportation and how can Optibus help transit operators overcome them?

Haggiag: Optibus OnSchedule provides a modular solution for bus operators. Our optimization algorithms create schedules at lightning speed, providing various scheduling scenarios for operators to choose from in minutes. In a reality, with constantly changing factors that affect routes and passengers – from weather to road closures – the ability to dynamically reassign drivers and vehicles offers the ability to run smoothly without any negative impact on passengers. Operating costs are substantially lower and passengers are able to receive the best service in answer their growing demand for public transportation.

AI: How do you see the future of mass transportation?

Haggiag: Technology is enabling new ways to commute, with autonomous fleets, and electric vehicles among them. We can already see dynamic solutions entering the market. Optibus supports these developments, and will continue to do so in the future, by offering a platform that provides passengers the service they need, while maximizing operators’ profitability.



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