Interview: Amos Haggiag of Optibus discusses efficient planning in public transportation

Interview: Amos Haggiag of Optibus

Topic: Efficient planning in public transportation

Mobility is one of the most important human needs. A person’s access to any given place − be it school, work, or health care − plays a fundamental role in almost all areas of their life and decision making. However, the threat of climate change also means that we have to make our existing transportation systems and modes of mobility more environmentally friendly and modern.

Environmentally Friendly Transport Systems: Crucial for Public Transport

According to the German government, the transport sector is currently the third largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany, responsible for around 20% of the country’s CO2 emissions. The vast majority (96%) of those emissions come from road traffic. To achieve its official climate targets, the federal government plans to reduce the transport sector’s CO2 emissions by 65 million tons by 2030 − an ambitious goal in which the expansion of local public transport will play a decisive role, given that by the end of the decade, public transportation will need to double its passenger numbers to meet legal benchmarks.

Given the decline in ridership, mass transit’s lack of appeal to some riders, and outdated planning technologies, this presents a major challenge for public transport. An industry that has been planning with pen, paper, and Excel for decades must now be completely modernized within a very short timeframe. One of the companies that provides the technology for this task is Optibus. We spoke to Amos Haggiag, CEO and co-founder of Optibus, about the importance of planning in public transport, and its challenges and opportunities.

Optibus offers a solution for planning public transport intelligently, efficiently and attractively. How exactly does it work?

Optibus is a cloud-based, online platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to plan and control the entire flow of public transport. With Optibus, you can plan routes, change existing routes, define the operating frequency flexibly and according to the time of day, and optimize timetables. Everything that relates to network planning can be controlled via Optibus.

Then there is resource planning. How many drivers are needed and how many vehicles? Should it be an electric, diesel, hybrid or gas vehicle? What budget do you need in order to run services?

The third part is day-to-day operations, involving all considerations relating to shift planning, traffic and congestion management, and so on. We offer the complete end-to-end platform for public transportation, from development to operations.

Where do you think we will see the biggest changes to public transport planning in future, compared to how it looks today?

To a large extent, planning is still a manual process in which simple programs and systems are often used to perform complex tasks. There are no cloud-based systems that can evaluate data and suggest intelligent solutions that significantly improve efficiency and service for passengers. This is where Optibus comes in. Our algorithms can optimize all aspects of public transport planning and its operation in real time. This is artificial intelligence for public transportation.

So basically your system can schedule every type of traffic service?

Almost any type of public transport service. We are not concerned with private cars and taxis, but rather with every form of public transport, including on-demand services. The on-demand sector is particularly progressive and modern, but these companies focus on first- and last-mile solutions. We believe that the route in between − the main part of the transportation network that carries millions of people each day in a given city − is rather neglected. A much bigger attempt could be made to improve buses, trains, subways, or trams − the large and critical infrastructure at the heart of our cities. Optibus is the only start-up currently doing this.

Optibus uses data to improve public transport planning. Where do you get your data and how exactly do you use it?

Most of the data is provided by transportation agencies and operators themselves. There is statistical data, such as the route, the position of the stops, and the timetables. This is also public data that you can access through services such as Google Maps, for example. In addition, we also work with historical data, when available. How punctual are and were certain routes, for example? We can also use real-time information such as vehicle location or the number of passengers using a specific service.

With all this data, Optibus can calculate various scenarios for customers. In one scenario, for example, the focus could be on improving the quality of driver shifts. Another scenario would focus on improving services by increasing service frequency. And all these scenarios can be run with respect to a wide variety of budgets.

But an even bigger challenge than data is taking into account all the individual restrictions, regulations, and preferences of our customers across various markets. For example, in some markets, drivers have to take a break every four or six hours. Planning for such regulations can take some time.

In addition to more efficient public transport planning, where else do you see an acute need for modernization?

Major investments in infrastructure are necessary. One area of attention is electric buses. China leads the way here, with 99% of all electric buses worldwide being used in China. Germany is also quite advanced in this area and continues to invest.

A second area is autonomous vehicles. At the moment, self-driving vehicles are only active in pilot projects because the technology is simply not ready to officially be used for public transport. I assume that this will change in about 10 years. Then, we will have completely different options in terms of efficiency − more routes, higher frequencies, or more dynamic networks, for example.

We have one final question for you that we ask all of our experts: What mode of transport will you use to travel to work in 2035?

I live in Israel and currently travel to work using a Onewheel. It looks a bit like a skateboard, but with only one wheel. It's small, electric, and I can take it anywhere. In 2035, I will probably drive to work in a very similar way, but I hope there will be lighter alternatives by then because my Onewheel weighs 12 kilograms. It would be great to have a light, personal vehicle that can take you to the train and bus flexibly and that can even be carried on your back.

Amos Haggiag Optibus

Amos Haggiag

Amos Haggiag is the CEO and co-founder of Optibus, a cutting-edge software platform for public transportation that powers complex transit operations in over 500 cities around the world.

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