Real-time data analytics and optimization of shared-vehicles networks

Abstract

Bike-sharing systems have been growing rapidly over the past decade: more than 850 cities benefit today from a bike-share scheme. Recently, car-sharing systems have also appeared, working along the same principles. Such systems can help solve the last-mile problem, and induce a greater use of public transportation. But to be widely adopted, these systems need to be both convenient and reliable, and the ensuing costs need to be contained. This requires a well-designed network of stations, with enough docks and bikes (or cars) for it to run smoothly even during rush hours. Big Data techniques provide a unique insight on mobility patterns, which allows for the optimization of shared-vehicles networks. More precisely, at least three issues can be tackled this way: the fact that stations are too often either full or empty; the failure to detect broken bikes and docks soon enough; the complexity of designing an efficient system.

Introduction

Bike-sharing systems have been growing rapidly over the past decade, and are now a familiar sight in many countries. In January 2015, more than 850 cities benefited from a bike-share scheme (up from 700 in June 2014), and that figure is still growing rapidly, especially in Asia and the Americas. For instance new systems are planned in Chennai, Lima, Lisbon, or Los Angeles, to name a few. But on a global level, the number of bikes has been growing even more quickly than the number of schemes—by more than 50% each year—, as already existing schemes continue to be expanded. See Chicago, Madrid, or New York, where Citibike is expected to double in size by 2017.

While specifics vary, bike-share schemes often work according to the same principles: bikes can be hired at docking stations spread across the city, and the first 30 minutes are free—at least for members, but membership can be purchased annually, often for a small fee.

Recently, the concept has been transposed to car-sharing systems. Car-sharing solutions have existed for some time now, with companies such as City Car Club, Flexcar, or Zipcar being founded in the early 2000s. However, in the 2010s a new car-share system was introduced in Paris, Autolib, which borrows the same model as a bike-share system, with predefined parking stations across the city working as the docking stations of a bike-share system (as its name suggests, Autolib sprung from Paris’s bike-share system, Vélib). The cost depends on the hire duration, without any free period, but there is a discount for subscribers.