Making Penn Shuttle routes more efficient

Dear Benny,
How do the drivers of Penn’s shuttle buses know the best route to take when they’re dropping off passengers in the neighborhood? It seems like there’s the potential to waste a lot of gas as drivers drop off people at their various destinations.
—Concerned about conserving

Dear Concerned,
You’re not the only one who’s focused on making Penn Shuttles more environmentally friendly. A team of students from the School of Engineering and Applied Science—Ruxin He, Yuanjiao Shen, Xiaoting Zheng, and Ting T. Zhou—developed PennRoute as part of their Senior Design Project.

With help from advisor Andrew Huemmler, a lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the team created a routing system to make Penn Shuttles more efficient, thereby reducing fuel, maintenance, driver training, and labor costs.

Typically, drivers have to sort through riders’ addresses at the end of a pick-up and determine the best drop-off route themselves. The students developed a computer program that eliminates the guesswork and calculates the most efficient way to get Penn Shuttle riders to their destinations quickly.

Once everyone is on board, Penn Shuttle drivers plug riders’ addresses into a computer tablet installed on the shuttle bus. The PennRoute program calculates the most efficient drop-off route for passengers.

The team’s cost- and energy-saving idea was supported by Penn Transit Services. The students were awarded a Green Fund grant in the fall of 2011 to pay for several tablets, and also won the Norman Gross Senior Project Award at Penn Engineering earlier this spring.

PennRoute was implemented in mid-April by Business Services’ transportation team, and is currently installed on four out of Penn’s 16 shuttles.

For more information, go to www.upenn.edu/transportation/.

Originally published on June 7, 2012