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Transportation Engineering group: Providing solutions to real-world mobility problems

Travel has been an integral part of human societies since the dawn of human civilization. Over the centuries, it has reached heights of dizzying complexity with technological advancement. Today, all human settlements rely on some form of transport, whether motorized or not, for sustenance. Transportation networks form the lifeline of a country. In a developing country like India, the heterogeneous nature of transport on the roads, ranging from cars, buses, two-wheelers and three-wheelers to pedestrians, presents a unique transportation planning and management puzzle. It is this challenge that motivated Dr. Ashish Verma to set up the Transportation Engineering lab to approach these issues from a scientific standpoint, particularly using modelling, optimization, and experimentation.

“We work on both long-term and immediate aspects of passenger transportation planning, ranging from infrastructure design and implementation, to policy changes and their impact”, explained Verma. The lab has developed robust models to analyse factors influencing travel behaviour and decision-making. A poor traveller might choose the cheapest transportation mode available, whereas a wealthier person will give more preference to the one with the shortest travel time. Areas teeming with offices and activity centres like shopping malls will usually have greater traffic attraction as compared to a purely residential locality. Shorter distances maybe covered by walking or non-motorized transport.

Many such factors are weighed in the mind before a passenger decides on a travel route and mode. Added to that are the conflicting goals of transport-plying agencies and the commuters availing those services. A major domain of work in the Transportation Lab involves optimizing such varied parameters to best plan traffic routes and predict travel patterns of people. The data for such optimization models come from real counts in case study areas, surveys and from civic bodies controlling the transport system, including Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and BBMP (Greater Bengaluru Municipal Corporation), Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) etc. Their research has led to the development of a trip planner aptly named as ‘Maargamitra’, presently under upgradation. This software provides the information to commute between two points in Bengaluru via the public transport system and the algorithm is designed to choose an optimized route having the least amount of generalized cost or travel time.

Consumer theory analysis is used by the lab to analyse and predict travel choices and patterns. At the policy level, these analyses help to predict possible outcomes of a change in transport policy, for example, an alteration of the parking policy in a congestion zone or an increase in the fares in government buses, or introduction of congestion charging in the congested central area. ‘These models essentially aim to understand the choice behaviour of commuters which can lead to better policy and infrastructure planning’, says Verma.

Other than transport and commuter activity analysis, the lab has worked on improving pedestrian thoroughfares by investigating design principles that best accommodate street vendors along with walkers on sidewalks and footpaths, leading to more space and better pedestrian safety. An interesting project in the lab involved analysis of the physiological and psychological profiles of drivers to map out visual system functioning, risk-seeking behaviour, and accident history. Stringency in driver licensing is paramount for road safety and the study recommended various measures to improve driver behaviour and selection, so as to reduce the number of road accidents occurring in the country.

The lab has also been involved in a number of large scale international collaborative projects. Currently, an Indo-Norway project, focusing on assessing the impact of climate change on the urban transport sector in India, is underway. It aims to develop climate change adaptation strategies for the sector, in concurrence with stakeholders like the Central and State Pollution Control Board, transport related civic agencies. Another recently initiated Indo-Dutch project will look into managing large scale human mobility issues for Indian cities. A further project, under the same collaboration, will be studying the crowd dynamics at Kumbh Mela, the largest human gathering in the world.

Further, one of the doctoral research work in the lab. is also focused on regional/inter-city connectivity issues with respect to High Speed Rail (HSR), where principles of Game Theory are used to understand the impact of introducing HSR on competition among different transport modes, for scientific decision support to policy level decisions.

At the micro-level issues of traffic, the lab focuses on developing models of traffic flow that takes care of heterogeneous traffic and driving behaviour in Indian cities and also gap filling tendency observed in Indian traffic.

“Ultimately, our vision is to help improve the country’s passenger transport system, by giving scientific guidance and input”, remarks Verma. He sums up the process saying, ‘The implementation remains a convoluted path depending on the functioning of many civic bodies, but on our part, we not only leverage the power of scientific analysis with the aim of solving India-specific transport problems, but also regularly communicate the results so that they are made available for future use.’

One hopes that the scientific efforts of the Transportation Engineering lab at IISc will be put to good use by agencies in the transport sector and therein will emerge a better-connected India.

ABOUT THE LAB

Dr. Ashish Verma is an assistant professor at the Department of Civil Engineering and CiSTUP

Lab webpage: http://www.civil.iisc.ernet.in/~ashishv/trp/index.html

Contact: ashishv@civil.iisc.ernet.in, +91-80-2293 2329/ 2360 9223/ 2293 2939