Increasing Mobility in Benton Harbor

Benton Harbor, Michigan, USA

Transportation is an essential service to connect Benton Harbor residents to employment, education, healthcare and more. Professor Neda Masoud and her team are studying current mobility patterns and are working with transportation stakeholders to help facilitate an on-demand, seamless, and efficient mobility service for the Benton Harbor community, especially among low-mobility families.

Mobility Theme

Funding Source

Urban Collaboratory

About the Project

The Twin Cities Area Transportation Authority (TCATA) is a small urban transit system serving the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph-Fairplain Urbanized Area in southwest Michigan.

The TCATA service area encompasses most of the shopping opportunities in the Northern part of the Berrien county and the jobs associated therewith.  The key medical facilities and related services as well as a significant number of light manufacturing operations and several major employers are located within this area. TCATA provides two types of services, namely a fixed-route-and-schedule transit service and a dial-a-ride service. A significant portion of Benton Harbor residents do not have access to personal vehicles and use TCATA as their main mobility provider, relying on TCATA for their commuting, shopping, schooling, and healthcare trips.

 

Despite running two fixed transit lines, TCATA is largely a demand-responsive system that provides door-to-door services.  Upon arrival of a ride request, the dispatch decisions for the dial-a-ride system are made based on the personal judgement of the dispatch operators. Consequently, lack of an optimization-driven platform prevents the system from running efficiently, leading to waste of resources. In addition to lack of efficiency in use of its fleet, customers find the current dial-a-ride service unreliable with long pick-up waiting times, long ride times, and late arrivals. The unreliability of the dial-a-ride system proves to be specially consequential for commuter trips, leading to loss of one’s job due to consistent late arrivals at the work place, or missing shifts altogether. Given the high ridership figures, improvements over the efficiency of the dial-a-ride system can have significant implications in the quality of transportation services offered by TCATA.

 

To increase the efficiency of operations and enhance the quality of service of public transportation in Benton Harbor, the UM researchers are developing data-driven optimization techniques that allow for efficient allocation of vans between the fixed transit lines and the dial-a-ride service, as well as optimizing the operation of each service. To this end, they adopt a data-driven approach to allow the travel patterns of the community to guide the design process. Based on current travel patterns, and a forecast of the induced travel demand, new short, high-frequency transit lines will be designed to provide reliable and high-quality mobility for the residents. Additionally, optimization-based algorithms will be developed for real-time operation of the dial-a-ride system.

 

Transportation stands as one of the most critical contributors to upward social mobility in any community. By providing efficient and reliable transportation options, this project helps enhance access to job opportunities, education, and healthcare for low-mobility families in the Benton Harbor community, resulting in higher quality of life and increased social engagement for these families.