Harnessing data to improve public transport: TransitData 2020

TD 2020 logo

The recordings and presentations from the Symposium are available at a cost of CAD$ 50 here.

The evolution of transit data

The first international TransitData symposium, held in 2014, focused primarily on using smart card data to develop origin-destination tables. Subsequent symposia broadened the focus by exploring the use of Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) and Automated Passenger Count (APC) data.

Transit data has continued to grow rapidly over the past decade in terms of both magnitude and diversity, and at the same time a growing number of researchers and practitioners around the world have made many efforts to harness this data in creative ways for improving the attractiveness and efficiency – and now the safety – of public transit systems. – Professor Amer Shalaby, TransitData 2020 co-Chair

Six years later, the field of transit data has grown exponentially. The recent TransitData 2020 symposium showcased a panorama of research topics that include the use of cell phone and social media data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), etc., and addressed issues of data quality, data management, privacy concerns, collaboration with researchers, to name just a few areas.

The process of harnessing data from these diverse sources to derive insights and inform decision making requires advanced analytics, not only for the storage, processing and visualization of data, but also for analysis, prediction and optimization. – Professor Amer Shalaby

Theory meets practice

In contrast to early symposia which attracted mostly academics, an emphasis in 2020 on linking data to better transit system performance and better customer experience attracted more practitioners than ever before.

“We’re trying to look at not only the cool things you can do [with data], but why you want to do those cool things: How do they serve to improve [transit’s] efficiency, effectiveness, [and] the safety of our passengers?” – Dr. Brendon Hemily, TransitData 2020 co-Chair

High profile first event for Transit Analytics Lab (TAL)

The 6th International Symposium on the Use of Public Transit Automated Data for Planning and Operations, or TransitData 2020, was hosted online by the Transit Analytics Lab at the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, August 11 to 13, 2020.

Transit Analytics Lab logo
The symposium is the first event organized by the Transit Analytics Lab (TAL), established in May with funding from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering through its Dean’s Strategic Fund. TAL is headed by UTTRI associated faculty Professor Amer Shalaby, an expert in urban public transit and co-Chair of TransitData 2020. Dr. Brendon Hemily, also co-Chair of TransitData 2020, is a Senior Advisor at TAL.

Registration for TransitData 2020 opened in early March but was put on hold almost immediately due to COVID-19. A decision to move the event online was made in late May at the recommendation of the TransitData Scientific Committee.

Eight research presentations were made by UTTRI and TAL associates at TransitData 2020 (presenter names are in bold):

  • A Social Equity Lens on Bus Bridging and Ride Hailing Responses to Unplanned Subway Disruptions, Rick Liu, Matthew Palm, Amer Shalaby and Steven Farber, University of Toronto
  • Data-Driven Advocacy: Encouraging and Supporting Open Data Analysis to Enhance Public Input in Transit Projects, Willem Klumpenhouwer, University of Toronto
  • Two-Way Adaptive Transit Signal Priority for High Frequency Bus Lines using Deep Reinforcement Learning, Wen Xun Hu and Amer Shalaby, University of Toronto
  • The City Data Model Collaboratory: Towards an ontology-based standard for transit data (and more), Megan Katsumi, Mark S. Fox, University of Toronto
  • Driverless Shuttle User’s Perception and Experience: Global Assessment Using Twitter Data, Mahmood Nesheli, Jiaxing Li, Amer Shalaby and Tamer El-Diraby, University of Toronto
  • Stochastic Transfer Synchronization in Transit Networks: Comparison of Alternative Formulations, Zahra Ansarilari, Merve Bodur and Amer Shalaby, University of Toronto
  • Real-Time Bus Travel Time Prediction within a Reliability Space Framework, Ryan Williams, Amer Shalaby and Siva Srikukenthiran, University of Toronto
  • Leveraging Twitter Data to Support Transit Planning and Operations, Omar Kabbani, Tamer El-Diraby and Amer Shalaby, University of Toronto

UTTRI Executive Director Dr. Judy Farvolden and UTTRI associated faculty Professor Steven Farber also contributed to TransitData 2020 by moderating sessions.

Symposium overview – by the numbers

head shot of Kari Watkins

Dr. Kari E. Watkins, Georgia Institute of Technology

The symposium opened August 11 with welcome remarks from symposium co-Chair Professor Amer Shalaby, UTTRI Director Professor Eric Miller, U of T Engineering Dean Professor Christopher Yip and symposium co-Chair Dr. Brendon Hemily.

The three-day event featured nine plenaries, a lunch keynote from Dr. Kari E. Watkins (Georgia Institute of Technology), five parallel lightning sessions comprising 71 presentations, and as a bonus, four pre-show / lunch videos prepared by graduate student volunteers.

In all, over 100 presenters and speakers from 19 countries took part.

TransitData 2020 online attracted over 250 registrants, a record number more than doubling the average attendance of this annual symposium.

Sixty-six percent of registrants were practitioners, while 34% were university-based researchers.

A team effort

head shots of Amer Shalaby, Brendon Hemily, Willem Klumpenhouwer, Pat Doherty, Siva Skrikutheniran

TransitData 2020 Organizing Committee (L-R) Professor Amer Shalaby, co-Chair; Dr. Brendon Hemily, co-Chair; Dr. Willem Klumpenhouwer; Pat Doherty; Dr. Siva Srikukenthiran.

Professor Amer Shalaby and independent consultant Dr. Brendon Hemily were co-Chairs of the TransitData 2020 Symposium. Dr. Siva Srikukenthiran (CivE PhD 2015), Director of Data Science at RATIO.CITY, created a symposium logo and website, and enabled abstract submissions and presentation uploads. UTTRI Events and Communications Coordinator Pat Doherty provided  communications and administrative assistance. Dr. William Klumpenhouwer, postdoctoral fellow at the Transit Analytics Lab, volunteered in multiple capacities, multitasking as presenter, moderator, Zoom host and overall Zoom administrator.

Additionally, the support of Sam Xu, Website Developer and Analyst at University of Toronto Advancement, made it possible for TransitData 2020 to receive funds electronically.

Cima+, CSched and GIRO Inc. sponsored the symposium.

Pre-show and lunch videos add value

head shots of Feras Elsaid, Alaa Itani, Lisa Li, Chandler White

TransitData 2020 volunteers created informative videos and also acted as Zoom hosts for the symposium. (L-R) Feras Elsaid, Alaa Itani, Lisa Li and Chandler White are graduate students with the Transit Analytics Lab (TAL).

Since attendees could not travel to Toronto, guests were introduced to the city in a virtual way. Videos created by graduate student volunteers and streamed during the symposium include “Recent Transit Projects in Canada – A Technical Tour,” “Tour of Toronto and the University of Toronto,” “Tour of Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast,” and “History of Public Transit in Toronto.”

Meeting a fundamental need

In his closing remarks, symposium co-Chair Dr. Brendon Hemily shared his perspective on the dedication and passion of transit data professionals:

Transit is unique, and serving a fundamental need, and the COVID pandemic has brought this to the fore: how critical transit is in helping the disadvantaged, helping the essential workers who have to get to their jobs, to help everybody else. It’s really put an emphasis on the use of data to support service design and operations… – Dr. Brendon Hemily

Hemily concluded by sharing his vision of an exciting future featuring data fusion beyond public transport:

In the future, we’re moving to a world that is going to explode with data: fixed route versus demand responsive, public transit versus micro transit private firms where data is an enabler, multi-modal  connected vehicle data, smart cities, … all creating worlds of data…. – Dr. Brendon Hemily

And that about says it all.


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