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Open source software and ‘no model’ active travel tools in the spotlight

01 June 2022
Dustin Carlino will led the open source session at Modelling World
Dustin Carlino will led the open source session at Modelling World


Changes in societal and travel trends, and the push to decarbonise transport and development – plus new techniques and tools to help us understand, manage and model such change – will be key issues at Modelling World 2022. 

Also on the agenda at this year’s event – taking place on 8-9 June – will be the pros and cons of using open source software in transport modelling and a deep dive into data-driven, ‘non model’ active travel tools.

Tom van Vuren, chair of Modelling World, regional director UK & Europe at Veitch Lister Consulting (VLC) and a visiting professor at the University of Leeds, says: “My University of Leeds colleague Robin Lovelace wrote something that struck a chord in a recent article.

“It read: ‘Many traditional transport planning tools focus on motor(ised) traffic, often at low levels of geographic resolution. Tools for 21st century transport planning need to tackle very different questions, such as: What are the barriers preventing people from switching to more sustainable modes of transport, and where are these barriers located? 

‘How are transport behaviours likely to shift in the future, in response to technological changes including autonomous vehicles and the continued rise of online working? And how can citizens be engaged in transport decisions? Tools that can help answer these questions are becoming an increasingly important part of the transport planner’s cabinet’ (Open source tools for geographic analysis in transport planning: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10109-020-00342-2)”

Tom van Vuren says: “I recommend you read it. Robin’s work points us as modellers towards a more open-minded approach to data and models: to observe and understand before trying to simplify into mathematics and to allow modelling to be more than the application of commercial packages.”

Robin Lovelace’s point was echoed by van Vuren’s VLC colleague Ali Inayathusein. He explains: “The benefit of open source is that you can build upon the work of others, saving time and effort versus developing from scratch. You can customise to your needs, often without restriction and give back to the wider community allowing bright minds across organisations and geographic boundaries to collaborate to produce creative solutions.” 

The open source session will be led Dustin Carlino, research associate at The Alan Turing Institute and cartographer at A/B Street. Formerly a software engineer with Google, Carlino is working to make transport planning tools more widely accessible. Tom van Vuren will lead the session on data-driven tools.

The open source community makes some grand promises, with people creating software, and then releasing the source code for free, noted van Vuren. Anybody who wants to improve or modify can do so, he says, referring to open source success stories such as Linux, Wordpress, Blender and Firefox. In the  transport modelling world there have been SUMO, MATSim, A/B Street, AequilibraE, and Streetmix are a few examples, along with travel demand models like NorMITs, Soundcast and ActivitySim. 

Achieving environmentally sustainable transport systems is “an urgent and monumental task”, and one that must happen all around the world, van Vuren says. For cities without the resources to licence commercial software and invest in training their employees to use it, how can open software and data help – and what pitfalls must they be wary of, he asks.

“I have been interested in the real-world opportunity for open source software solutions for quite a while. They have become more robust over time, partly because of what Ali observes.” 

Practitioners should be able to make up their own minds whether and when data-driven tools, rather than mathematical models, are more appropriate to provide evidence, says van Vuren. It is also for them to work out if “open source solutions can lead the way in reflecting some of the modes and some of the challenges that are less well covered by our traditional approaches and tools”.

The two new sessions at Modelling World on 8 June  should provide ample opportunity to explore and learn, van Vuren says.


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