New Project: Designing An Autonomous Service to Cover Transit Last Mile in Low-Density Areas

Public transportation provides a safe, convenient, affordable, and eco‐friendly mobility service. However, due to its fixed routes and limited network coverage, it is sometimes difficult or impossible for passengers to walk from a transit stop to their destination. This inaccessibility problem is also known as the “transit last mile connectivity problem”.

Such a lack of connectivity forces travelers to drive and hence increase the vehicle ownership and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) on roads. The autonomous mobility‐on‐demand (AMoD) service with characteristics such as quick fleet repositioning and demand responsiveness, has the potential to provide coverage in low‐density areas where the fixed route transit can only provide limited coverage.

In a new project, researchers will explore two different alternative for providing last-mile service:

  • Traditional fixed-route circulator
  • Online demand-responsive autonomous service

“As we strive to improve transit service and utilize technological advances to help us with that, my hope is that this research project will continue to help us gain a better understanding of how this autonomous technology can possibly improve the quality of the transit service in an area that is difficult to serve well today,” said James Gittemeier, transportation planner, City of Duluth.

The project will include three parts:

  1. Data Collection and GIS Mapping: Collect passenger mobility data in the Duluth area and conduct a passenger survey.
  2. Demand Modeling and Design of Last Mile Service: Apply choice modeling to project the likely extra demand for the new last mile service, using factors related to safety, comfort, willingness to pay, income, and familiarity with automated driving technology.
  3. Design and Evaluation of Last Mile Service Alternatives: Select the location of transit hubs and design the last mile service.

“The area this study is focused upon is a suburban commercial area that is increasingly becoming one with housing and services, particularly health care facilities, and is primarily designed for automobiles and is not a walkable or transit-friendly area,” said Gittemeier. “This development pattern is common around the state, in rural, suburban and urban areas, and the findings from this research can hopefully be applied around the state as we search for a better way to serve with transit these low density commercial areas which increasingly have critical services.”

Project Details

  • Estimated Start Date: 06/18/2021
  • Estimated Completion Date: 06/30/2023
  • Funding: Local Road Research Board
  • Principal Investigator: Alireza Khani
  • Technical Liaison: Ron Chicka

Details of the research study work plan and timeline are subject to change.

To receive email updates about this project, visit MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation to subscribe.

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