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Stuck in peak-hour traffic? Do the maths

13 June, 2013

Mathematicians are exploring ways to solve Melbourne’s transport problem without spending tens of billions of dollars on new infrastructure.

Professor Mark Wallace from the Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology will be discussing possibilities at his upcoming public lecture 'Cheap solutions to the transport problem'.

"The term 'rush hour' is out-of-date. Morning traffic congestion in Melbourne lasts from 6.30am until 9.30am and the annual cost of congestion to Victoria is estimated to rise from $3 billion to $6 billion by 2020," Professor Wallace said.

"An estimated 20,000 trucks move through Melbourne’s inner west each day, and while the East-West Link project – an 18-kilometre inner-urban road connecting the Eastern Freeway and the Western Ring Road – would help reduce this traffic, it will cost $13 billion to complete, with $15 million already spent on writing the business case."

Professor Wallace and his team are exploring ways mathematics can keep traffic flowing on Melbourne’s existing roads and rails.

"Mathematical control of new traffic lights at the M1 freeway entrances has already increased the M1 capacity by 3000 vehicles per hour," Professor Wallace said.

Research shows a new generation of vehicle communication systems, where vehicles provide information to each other such as proximity warnings and where they were heading, would assist with eliminating collisions and enable vehicles to drive faster, and closer together with lower risk.

"A broader vision is to schedule all transport. If drivers notified the transport system each time they started a journey, it could then schedule your road use to balance out traffic across the road system and minimise congestion," Professor Wallace said.

"Simulations show that even with a small percentage of drivers using the system, users could reach their destination in half the time."

The researchers are also proposing the introduction of transfer points for small vans, which account for the majority of freight in Melbourne.

"The transfer points would ensure the vans are used more efficiently and simulations indicate an immediate 25 per cent reduction in the number of vans on the road," Professor Wallace said.

The mathematicians are also developing adaptable bus schemes.

"Public transport take-up in Melbourne is limited because buses are too few and far between," Professor Wallace said.

"However, the development of an adaptable bus scheme that uses communication devices and scheduling algorithms would make sure there’s a bus where and when you need it.

"Mathematics will make it possible to solve Melbourne’s transport problem without the huge costs of new infrastructure. Instead, the costs will be closer to just writing the business case for infrastructure investment."

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Bruce | Thursday, June 13, 2013, 10:28 PM
This sounds like a really good idea to speed up the rapid transit system... I drive hard on the heels of the guy in front, while the guy behind drives right on my bumper! We should be able to generate some phenomenal speeds like that! Good, now if I just knew where I wanted to go and how to get there...?!?
Peter Cohen | Monday, June 17, 2013, 10:27 AM
Stop the cynicism. A lot of these ideas could be incorporated. Some will be difficult as most people do not understand the mathematics. That is an educational problem. But at least changes in traffic lights and sensors showing where the traffic is would make a difference To me our use of traffic lights is primitive.
John Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 11:45 AM
Well you are finally getting to the right direction but still a bit to go yet but why would anyone ask a truck driver for suggestions on simple changes to fix congestion we are out there seeing things first hand not just making it work theoretically