May 16, 2024

Schulich master’s student takes a ride with CTrain analytics and learns how to improve the experience

Suryakant Buchunde's research shows how platform design influences passenger behaviour
Suryakant Buchunde
Suryakant Buchunde aspires to help grow cities in a sustainable way through safe, accessible and affordable transit systems.

A Schulich School of Engineering master’s student is hoping small adjustments will make a major difference in Calgary Transit users’ experiences.

Suryakant Buchunde says transit platform design has a major impact on “dwell time” — the period that a transit bus or train stays stationary at a station while passengers flow on and off vehicles.

Through a collaboration with Calgary Transit where he was able to access automated passenger counter and automatic vehicle locating systems, Buchunde has been able to look at every facet of the city’s CTrain network.

“This analysis helps to ensure an effective resource allocation and minimize passenger congestion,” he says. “Another aim was to help Calgary Transit make informed decisions about station design to reduce dwell time and estimate the dwell time for timetable management.”

His study, "Impact of Station Design and Passengers Flow on Urban Rail Dwell Time: A Systemwide Analysis Using APC and AVL Data," was presented at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, and has now been published in Transportation Research Record.

From point A to point B

Growing up in a small village in India, Buchunde saw first-hand how difficult it was for underprivileged families to travel to work or school. In hopes of making a difference for those families, he found his passion in civil engineering.

“It fuelled my desire to find ways to make travel safer, more reliable, affordable and sustainable,” Buchunde says. “I believe public transport is important for a sustainable society because it promotes a culture of inclusivity and accessibility.”

After acquiring his Bachelor of Engineering degree from the Bapurao Deshmukh College of Engineering, he arrived at the University of Calgary in 2021 to pursue his Master of Science in Transportation Engineering.

Location, location, location

As he began the work on the study, Buchunde says he wanted to challenge the assumption that boarding and alighting times are constant across all station designs and passenger flows.

Alongside PhD student and Alberta Innovates scholar Shervin Ataeian and under the supervision of Dr. Saeid Saidi, MSC’11, PhD’16, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Buchunde looked at a variety of variables and came to several conclusions.

“One significant finding was that, despite consistent passenger and train characteristics across the transit system, average boarding and alighting times per passenger were significantly influenced by station-specific geometric features and passenger flows,” he says. 

“This insight can aid Calgary Transit in modifying existing stations and planning new ones as they expand their LRT lines.”

He also found that narrower platforms led to longer dwell times, and believes the ideal width is at least nine metres.

It’s not just the size of the platforms that Buchunde found had an impact on dwell time. He says having multiple entrances to a platform allows for a more even distribution of passengers in one area.

Buchunde adds building the entrance in the middle of a platform results in a better distribution of passengers, compared with having a main entrance at one end.

A better system for everyone

While platform construction has a significant impact on dwell time for transit vehicles, Buchunde says passengers can also change the way they approach their daily commute.

He says an inherent characteristic of passengers is to cluster in groups and wait near the entrance, which leads to the overutilization of a few vehicle doors and increased travel time.

“We suggest transit users consider walking further along and spreading out more evenly along the platform,” Buchunde says. “This small adjustment in behaviour can contribute to a smoother boarding process and enhance the efficiency of the transit system for everyone.”

The research and findings are applicable to any rail transit system, and Buchunde says he looks forward to developing microsimulation models to test alternative strategies aimed at minimizing dwell time.

He successfully defended his thesis in late April as part of his career aspiration of helping to grow cities in a sustainable way through safe, accessible and affordable transit systems.

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