The MUNI Innovation Award, which is awarded by the Technology Transfer Office for the successful linking of research and practice, went to Vilém Pařil, Martin Šauer and Daniel Seidenglanz (in memoriam) from the Faculty of Economics and Administration. Using data on SIM card movements, they were able to find out how many people regularly travel between Prague, Brno, and Ostrava. Their research can be used, for example, by the Ministry of Transport or Czech Railways.
Your research looked at transport behaviour or how people travel. What new things did you learn?
MŠ: First of all, I would like to clarify that in our research, although we worked with signalling data on SIM card movements from mobile operators, we also carried out a number of quantitative and qualitative surveys. The data collected from mobile operators only complemented them, as they mainly provide us with information about the size of traffic flows, but we cannot read the nature of the traffic flows and what is behind them. What can be read is the spatial distribution, times, repetition of journeys and in some cases whether a person travelled by road or train, to work or on holiday.
VP: One of the most interesting findings was the ability to unpack the structure of demand for long-distance transport and to identify the part of it that is important for passenger transport planning. For example, a journey between Prague and Brno that was made on the D1 motorway with slight detours into the surrounding area and took seven hours is very likely to be either a service technician, a sales representative, or a delivery service. By linking the time data to a reasonably accurate journey trajectory, we were able to determine which journeys could be made by public transport. In addition, we were surprised by the irregularity of the trips, i.e., that in the vast majority of cases they were not regular commutes. Furthermore, the temporal distribution of traffic flows is very important, for example, that passengers from Ostrava to Prague leave in the early morning hours, while the opposite direction tends to be more common in the evening.
How specifically can your findings affect the way we travel?
MŠ: Our analysis was part of the research into the circumstances for building high-speed rail in the Czech Republic. We were able to estimate the size of potential demand for long-distance transport and determine whether it was sufficient for such an ambitious project. Our research can therefore help in setting priorities and direction for the development of high-speed rail transport.
VP: Thanks to data from mobile operators, we have been able to continuously monitor peak times, congestion, and so-called traffic saddles – times when people are more likely not to travel. Our findings can help, for instance, in the design of demand schedules that could replace the existing timetables. For example, more public transport services could run on Sunday evenings or weekday mornings, when the largest number of passengers leave Brno for Prague. The services would therefore not run only once an hour, but their frequency would increase at peak times. In addition, the research could streamline the planning of maintenance work on roads and railways so that it does not disrupt the flow of traffic. In the slightly more distant future, it may also be possible to consider very reactive regulation of car traffic – for example, restricting car movements at nursery and primary schools at certain times, and so on.
Which partners did you work with on the research?
VP: We worked with a number of partners at various stages of the project. Examples include the Ministry of Transport, the Railway Administration, the Road and Motorway Directorate, Czech Railways, Slovak Railways, Oltis, CE Traffic, T-mobile, Czech Tourism and Augur.
What role did cooperation with the partners play in the research?
MŠ: Personally, it broadened my horizons concerning the issue of rail transport, which was a bit distant to me before. Thanks to close cooperation, we had access to internal materials. The meetings and discussions we had with each other were also very useful, for example in the field of transport planning, the impact of investment in transport infrastructure and improving the quality of service on the use of train services, and international transport issues.
VP: Collaboration with partners from practice is particularly beneficial at the beginning and end of the research process. At the beginning, they bring very important insights, help define the background of the problem and allow us to identify the various nuances that we need to take into account when setting up methods and formulating conclusions. At the same time, they have valuable internal data on, for example, ticket sales. Their role is therefore also to validate the input data with a precision that is not normally publicly available. At the end of the process, they then choose forms of output that are useful to them in practice – for example, in planning activities on the railway.
What did the cooperation bring to the partners?
VP: For infrastructure planning partners such as the Ministry of Transport, the Railways Authority and the Roads and Motorways Directorate, the passenger volume data, including the capture of the origin and destination of the journey, is particularly valuable. For Czech Railways, which is more involved in traffic planning, information not only on the volume but also on the time distribution of selected traffic flows is important. They can then compare it with their own internal data on the number of tickets sold. In general, the findings of our research can help with capacity planning on different lines, the purchase of trainsets and the choice of the appropriate number of staff at a particular workplace. More accurate information on the number and type of passengers enables optimisation of operational activities and thus saving money.
MS: We have also found that large cities, namely Prague, Brno and Ostrava, act as junctions, where people commute from neighbouring cities and then continue elsewhere. In other words, they generate demand from their hinterland. We have also understood the volume and nature of demand generated by domestic and international tourists, including the factors that influence mode choice and transport behaviour. We have observed a change in preferences, with people expressing interest in travelling on highspeed rails. This may be useful for potential planning for its construction and operation.
Will you follow up on the award-winning project?
MS: Yes, absolutely. The New Mobility project has a mandatory sustainability component, so we are committed to further cooperation. But we will also continue because we have been able to build strong personal links between the members of the research team. Not only are we finishing the final papers, but we are also planning joint workshops, internships, and new projects.
VP: There is of course a certain continuity in our research activities, so we are still working on further outputs of the New Mobility project and actively collaborating with partners. We are planning to follow up on the project with another research project, which should focus on the university’s cooperation with companies and other partners.
This article was written as part of the project "New Mobility - High-Speed Transport Systems and Transport-Related Human Behaviour", Reg. No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_026/0008430, which is co-financed by the "Operational Programme Research, Development and Education"