AI improving public transportation accessibility in Tennessee, research shows

June 25, 2024

Artificial intelligence (AI) is helping improve the efficiency of a system that allows people with disabilities to access public transportation in Chattanooga, Tennessee, researchers at Vanderbilt University said.

The researchers have partnered with the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) since 2020 to create AI-powered tools to manage online bookings, next-day scheduling and real-time requests for CARTA’s paratransit services in the city. They are now testing a version of the system for public use.

Paratransit services help aid people with disabilities and others who have trouble accessing traditional, fixed bus routes.

The SmartTransit system was shown to lower public transportation detours, increase passengers per pickup and generate route manifests significantly quicker than humans, the researchers said. For example, sequences of pickups and dropoffs were created in a minute rather than weeks.

“To the best of our knowledge, this work presents one of the first examples of using open-source algorithmic approaches for paratransit optimization,” said Vanderbilt associate professor Abhishek Dubey, who is leading the research team. Their findings will be presented in a research paper at an International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) conference in August.

Testing for the system will continue, with the end goal of developing a ready-to-use software system that enables an agency to efficiently design and run a micro-transit service — adjusted routes and schedules based on real-time passenger demand. The research team will continue to work with CARTA, officials said.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the research with a grant of over $2 million. NSF chose the project because of its potential for a broader impact, possibly aiding other cities in the U.S. at the research’s conclusion.

Photo courtesy of CARTA

Gracie Warhurst

Gracie Warhurst has joined Strategic Partnerships, Inc. as a writer and digital content creator for the new Government Market News portal. With a rich background in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, Warhurst has experience as editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, assistant web editor, and project manager for an AI journalism project. She also contributed as a reporter during the development of SPI's news portal. Warhurst graduated summa cum laude in December 2023 with a Bachelor's in Journalism and a certificate in creative writing, making her a valuable asset to the SPI team.

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