A self-organizing policy for vehicle dispatching in public transit systems with multiple lines

Rolf van Lieshout*, Paul Bouman, Marjan van den Akker, Dennis Huisman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In this paper, we propose and analyze an online, decentralized policy for dispatching vehicles in a multi-line public transit system. In the policy, vehicles arriving at a terminal station are assigned to the lines starting at the station in a round-robin fashion. Departure times are selected to minimize deviations from a certain target headway. We prove that this policy is self-organizing: given that there is a sufficient number of available vehicles, a timetable spontaneously emerges that meets the target headway of every line. Moreover, in case one of the vehicles breaks down, the remaining vehicles automatically redistribute over the network to re-establish such a timetable. We present both theoretical and numerical results on the time until a stable state is reached and on how quickly the system recovers after the breakdown of a vehicle. Experiments on three real-world transit systems show that our policy performs well, even if not all assumptions required for the theoretical analysis are met: if there are enough vehicles, the realized headways are typically close to the target headways. These promising results suggest that our self-organizing policy could be useful in situations where centralized dispatching is impractical or simply impossible due to an abundance of disruptions or the absence of information systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-64
Number of pages19
JournalTransportation Research Part B: Methodological
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by NWO, Netherlands, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research , as part of the research programme Complexity in Transport & Logistics (project number 439.16.111).


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