Tuesday, July 17, 2012

DART Should Copy UPS

In The Washington Post's most excellent "Wonkblog," Brad Plumer explains "why most Americans can't take mass transit to work." In short, it's because that, "Even though millions of people live near transit stops, and even though millions of jobs are near transit stops, those systems don't line up."

Eric Nicholson gives his take on this news as it pertains to Dallas, in Unfair Park.

My own take is this: it's time for DART to re-invent mass transit. After the jump, the brilliant idea that came to me while waiting for the bus.

DART's bus routes are somewhat like USPS mail delivery routes in that they are designed to cover the greatest territory in the least number of miles. That has worked well for the USPS for a century or more because, for the most part, those mail carriers need to visit each mailbox on the route every day, if only to deliver your daily dump of junk mail.

Compare that with the UPS. Each day, the UPS delivers millions of packages. But the destinations vary widely every day, especially to residences. It makes no sense at all for a UPS delivery vehicle to travel a fixed route if there are not houses on that route for which the driver has a package to deliver. Each day's route is customized for the packages to be delivered that day.

DART needs to get more like UPS and less like USPS. UPS proves that the technology exists to compute a customized route every day for every vehicle, all based on which packages need to go where. Imagine a DART system somewhat like a taxi service or a shared ride service, where passengers submit their desired starting location and time and their desired destination. A central computer would take those thousands of requests, compute the most efficient route for the hundreds of buses in the system, and report back to the passenger when and where his bus will pick him up.

Now, DART shouldn't copy UPS exactly because passengers like consistent service. If the route changes every day, even if it's more efficient, it will interfere with personal daily schedules and alienate customers. So, imagine a system where potential passengers register with DART, giving their desired daily commute and then DART periodically updates its routes and schedules to optimize its routes for all registered passengers, emailing each of them the new locations and times for pickup. DART can recompute this as frequently as its customers find comfortable, which should lead to ever optimal routes as time goes on -- optimal from the travelers' point of view, not DART's.

If all this makes you feel like you're nothing more than an object in a package delivery service, well, ... exactly. It's high time DART started treating you as such instead of as junk mail.

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