July 10, 2020

There's no room on future buses for long waits and uncertainty

NSERC Discovery Grants for UCalgary researchers include engineering a modern, digitally connected transit system
Saeid Saidi
Saeid Saidi

Timely, trustworthy and instantly traced, using a smartphone app.

That’s the modern public transit system envisioned by a researcher at the Schulich School of Engineering, who is working to bring the world of bus stops and train stations into a digital era of accurate information and easily summoned rides.

“Public transportation systems protect equity, accessibility, and environmental sustainability values in our society” says Dr. Saeid Saidi, PhD, an assistant professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Calgary.

“They have to compete with all of emerging transportation modes and convenient services, including modern ride-hailing systems like Uber that can tell you exactly where the vehicle is and when it will arrive.”

One of 90 UCalgary researchers to receive NSERC Discovery grant

Saidi is one of 90 UCalgary researchers and graduate students to receive funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), through its Discovery research program.

Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and industry, announced more than $492 million in funding on June 17, supporting some 2,400 Canadian researchers in a wide variety of natural sciences and engineering disciplines, through the NSERC Discovery Grant program. Research will take place in biology, mathematics and statistics, computer science and artificial intelligence, chemistry, and chemical engineering.

University of Calgary researchers received 90 Discovery Grants, 5 Accelerator Supplements, and 18 Launch Supplements, which provide either long-term operating funds or additional support to accelerate or establish a research program. See the lists of grant recipients.

“The Discovery Grants program supports scholars pursuing high-risk, high-reward research, many of them in the early stages of their careers,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary. “We are grateful to NSERC for championing research that addresses society’s greatest challenges.”

NSERC invests in research, scholarships and training

NSERC invests more than $1.2 billion each year in natural sciences and engineering research in Canada, while providing scholarships and hands-on training experience for more than 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I’d like to thank the country’s researchers for the hard work they continue to do at such a challenging time,” said Bains. “With this support, we are investing in, and celebrating, the creativity and innovation that are at the heart of all research.”

The Discovery Grants program supports ongoing research with long-term goals, while also allowing researchers to pursue promising high-risk, high-reward topics and ideas.

Modern commuters demand cutting-edge transit

Saidi’s NSERC Discovery Grant, for “Urban Transit System Diagnosis, Monitoring, and Management Using Mobility Sensing Data” will help fund research that will make transit systems desirable to the modern commuter.

“If transit fails to evolve, you’re going to see even more congestion in the future as people turn to more convenient individual modes, rather than mass transportation,” says Saidi.

“Despite all threats to transit, this areas is now one of the most data-rich areas in transportation planning and management. We must ask how to improve overall transit experience by utilizing mobility sensing data. We can better understand passengers behavior, make better predictions, and improve performance of the transit system.”

Passenger trust is the key


That successful future, according to Saidi, is based on passenger trust and access to instant, accurate data online.

That means knowing exactly when a bus or train will arrive, whether there are breakdowns in the system, and even the ability to tell if the next train or bus is crowded compared to the one behind it.

And eventually, says Saidi, it could even mean on-demand shuttle buses in low density areas, able to be summoned at the touch of a smartphone screen.

“It’s all about taking a proactive approach – passengers should believe, ‘I can rely on transit.’”