What Is Route Optimization?


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

To most people, route optimization is simple: What’s the best route between points A and B? The answer is also simple: It lies just an app or a website away.

In the business world, though, it is a much more complex proposition. Consider the case of a pizza restaurant in a large city during the Super Bowl. Delivery operations must address multiple, efficient routes with multiple stops along each one.

Route optimization in the public transit and transportation sectors is even more complex. From long-term urban planning to daily operations, the challenges can seem unmanageable. Fortunately, service providers can now meet these challenges by using modern route planning software.

Planning for Community Transit

For state, local, and city governments, communities are the primary customers of public transit. But there are additional stakeholders. They each have different, often conflicting requirements. Here are some examples of additional stakeholders:

  • Elected public officials
  • Civic, rights, and advocacy groups
  • Architecture, engineering, and construction contractors

‌With so many different groups to consider, route optimization takes on a very broad meaning for transit agencies, transportation departments, and metropolitan planning organizations. Their job is to find the best balance among competing interests to serve the most people in the best way possible.

Without route planning and route optimization software, that job would be impossible. A clear way to see this is the seemingly simple example of a new bus route. Whichever route is established, many stakeholders will be impacted.

An elected representative might want the new route to include their district to fulfill a campaign promise. An advocacy group might prefer a competing route because it would cater better to an underserved part of the community. An environmental nonprofit organization might consider either of these routes to lead to unacceptable pollution.

Route planners need tools that can capture this big picture and more. Route planning and optimization software does exactly that. This technology forms a complete, integrated environment that presents a common, visual language. It makes for better stakeholder communication, trust, and consensus.

On-Demand Microtransit

The bus route scenario is an example of fixed-route optimization. But commuters around the world are increasingly using a dynamic-route mode of transit known as microtransit. Sometimes also called paratransit, this includes multimodal transit options like ride-hailing services, shared bicycles, and rented scooters.

Route optimization is both more difficult and more critical for microtransit. Customers request transport on demand, and they expect a more customized experience. Service providers must adopt a Just in Time (JIT) operational model.

A typical case is someone leaving their home to catch a flight. These customers need guaranteed, accurate ETAs. Microtransit is often a form of shared mobility (multiple passengers per vehicle), so the operator must keep many balls in the air at once.

Local weather, traffic conditions, road closures, and new bookings are all subject to real-time changes. Under these circumstances, customer satisfaction is achieved only if the operator can respond immediately to these rapidly changing variables.

Microtransit complements traditional public transit. A good route planning and optimization platform is one that addresses both. One of the newest trends is the ability to design safe, healthy, multimodal transit down to the street level.

The Role of Data

Modern route optimization systems begin with a rich geographic information system. Most datasets represent historical data such as high-resolution satellite imagery and existing street and rail networks.

Demographic datasets showing information like population densities and income levels are layered on top of that. Additional data identifies important trip origins and destinations such as shopping malls and workplace locations. Finally, existing ridership patterns and timetables help to complete the picture.

With this kind of data at their fingertips, route planners can analyze the pros and cons of any solution in just minutes. Once a transit plan is implemented, daily operation and administration begin. Here, real-time datasets take on greater importance.

Real-time data must be monitored to make the best minute-by-minute decisions. Examples of this data include the latest weather forecast, the number of stops remaining in a journey, and the current location of fleet vehicles.

This data comes from a combination of public and private sources. Data standards are still evolving, but data privacy and security are always paramount. A good platform is one that ensures data integrity and stays up to date with the latest developments.

The Benefits of Route Optimization

Whatever the exact scenario might be, well-planned route optimization has huge benefits for urban mobility. Some of these can be measured directly, such as lower traffic congestion, reduced fuel costs, and improved fleet maintenance. Others are less tangible, like overall improvements to communities and the environment.

Urban planners measure the benefits in terms of reduced project completion times and budget savings. No complex system can be fully designed at the first attempt. Rapid prototyping has long been the preferred approach.

Route optimization systems support rapid, iterative prototyping. This allows immediate evaluation of trade-offs and impacts, which leads to better-informed decisions.

Collaboration is the key to building trust and consensus among stakeholders. Route optimization systems allow open, engaged dialog among all parties.

The Route Planning and Optimization Market

Three important global trends are driving increased demand for route planning and optimization software:

  • Continued population growth
  • Increased urban migration
  • Accelerated government infrastructure spending

‌Founded in 2014, Remix is a leading route planning and optimization solutions vendor. Recently acquired by public transit technology pioneer Via, Remix is now well poised to penetrate further into a rapidly growing marketplace. Remix partners with over 350 cities around the world, and our success stories can be seen from London to Chicago, Iceland, and New Zealand.

Our simple mission is to build more livable cities. Our software as a service, cloud-based platform supports open, industry-standard data formats. Our algorithms are the glue that puts that data to work for you.

User experience designers communicate via journeys through software taken by virtual personas. Our integrated platform allows users to see actual journeys through their transit network by a more realistic person — a rider or pedestrian whom we affectionately call Jane. Jane tells the story of your design for you.

Are you inspired to create or manage equitable, safe, and accessible transit solutions? Are you ready to help build a more livable city? Learn how our customers are using our platform, and schedule a live demo with our team of industry experts to find out how Remix can help you.