On 1 July 2019, a new data-driven bus route network will be launched in Tartu. This city in South Estonia has made it its mission to create a smart city for the citizens through harnessing the benefits of big data analytics. To make this vision a reality, the city government partnered with Positium and WSP Finland to create a brand-new bus route network that would satisfy the real needs of people living in Tartu.  

Developing an efficient public transport system is a priority for Tartu, the second biggest city in Estonia. 2019 will see many changes in this regard. On 8 June, the city government launched the first bike sharing system in Estonia which covers the whole city, featuring both electric and regular bikes. Tartu’s nearly 100,000 citizens took to it like bees to a honeypot – the bicycles were so popular that just within the first two days, they travelled over 80,000 km. By now, the bicycles have travelled a distance equivalent to a trip to the moon. From July, the bike sharing system will be complemented by a data-driven bus route network.

Advantages of new bus route network of Tartu

A simpler and more efficient route network

Efficient public transportation modelling starts from the strategic level – the route network. The new network is based on real demand to offer a high-quality service, aiming to increase the use of public transportation on the most important everyday routes. As mentioned, the bus route network is integrated with the bicycle sharing plan, thus reducing the need for cars in the city centre, as well as diminishing traffic jams during peak hours and solving parking problems. Overall, the existing public transportation system can be considered good, as bus stops and buses are modern and information on the network is easily accessible in different forms. However, there are some challenges. The old bus route network dates from the early 1990s and consisted of 27 lines. The routes were mostly circular, connecting many places with each line. The downside was that such lines had a low connection speed, resulting in reduced service frequency and often low usage. Since the creation of the old bus route network, there have been great changes in where people live, work and move. It was time to adapt to these changes.

Bus routes in Tartu from 1 July 2019

Some public transport planners say – frequency is everything. Higher frequency is only possible with an optimised route network. Therefore, the main design principles of the new bus route network include having better linked bus lines, increasing the frequency of arrivals to bus stops and decreasing the number of different routes. One of the major changes is reducing the number of circular routes and replacing them with linear pendulum lines, which creates a simpler route network. The new transportation network is designed so that it would be possible to arrive to as many destinations as possible with changing the bus only once at most. Pendulum routes also enable to offer smaller intervals, which means that buses will arrive to bus stops more often. Furthermore, buses that are driving on similar routes will not arrive at bus stops at the same time, which was previously a problem. Positium, who partnered with WSP Finland for this project, used innovative data sources and combinations to tackle these problems.

Layers upon layers of data

Positium was responsible for collecting and preparing mobile positioning and other data to for creating an efficient bus route network. People’s mobility is complex, which is why we used over 20 layers of data to create this new network, including data on mobility, planning, bus routes, and land use. Such an approach was chosen to get a thorough overview of where people live, where they go, and how they get from A to B. For example, validation data from electronic bus cards was used to evaluate the actual usage of bus lines, while mobile location data was used to analyse, where people live and work in and around Tartu. Several other data sets were combined with the above-mentioned data, such as information about work and home locations from the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, different data layers from the Land Board, home addresses of school- and kindergarten children, locations of service facilities, and strategic documents concerning transportation and land use planning.

Data used for creating the new bus network of Tartu

Our partner, WSP Finland, was in charge of analysing the data and creating the new route network. They determined its principles, shape/trajectory, and schedules based on the data gathered. WSP Finland has wide experience and know-how in creating such intricate networks. Using data from previous design process steps, three alternatives were considered:

  • Modelling and analysing the existing bus line network (Alternative 1) based on current usage data;
  • Modelling of two alternative bus line networks  (Alternatives 2 & 3)
  • Comparison of the 3 network alternatives based on a selection of parameters: operation costs, number of buses needed, speed, travel times, accessibility, emissions.

Inclusive smart city

One of the project’s goals was to use qualitative data in the form of citizen feedback to complement the quantitative analysis that was based on mobile phone data. When designing complex systems for society it is necessary to understand the users’ point of view as well. The feedback cast light on several socially important aspects that complemented the previous data-driven analysis. For example, early morning buses to Lõunakeskus (a big shopping centre in the outskirts of Tartu) and Tartu prison (also in the outskirts) are important for the people working there, in order to get to work on time. The importance of good, safe connections to schools was emphasised in the planning stages as well. Therefore, for every school, a separate analysis was conducted about where the students live and what the best way for them to get to school would be. A smart city makes sure that services are designed to all of its people, young or old.

From 1 July 2019, 64 new gas buses will begin travelling along Tartu’s urban lines. Photo: Joonas Sisask

In total, 1,313 units of feedback were gathered. The gathered data was analysed and considered in the network design. Many enhancements were made to the original plan, while the general principles of the route network remained the same. Two new routes were added, so there are 13 routes in total. In addition to that, it was decided to keep two existing night lines that are important for those needing to get to work in the early morning. From the feedback, it also became clear that people were worried about connections to key locations. This concern was solved by creating a special circular bus line. Although most of the new routes are designed to minimise travel time, the added Route No. 9/9a is designed so that it takes passengers as close to key destinations as possible.

We have found a partner who can handle big data and make it comprehensible for their clients. We were very happy with the thorough and systemic data analysis. The result of our cooperation will be launched on 1 July 2019, and I hope it will be received well by our citizens. It’s only natural that innovation has some opposition at first, but we trust Positium’s groundwork and data-driven approach.” - The Deputy Mayor of Tartu, Mr Raimond Tamm on working with Positium.

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