Optimizing bus-size and headway in transit networks

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus, ridership - demand, economics - operating costs, operations - capacity, place - europe


Bi-level optimization model, Bus size, Headway, Vehicle capacity


Optimization models for calculating the best size for passenger carrying vehicles in urban areas were popular during the 1980s. These studies were abandoned in the ‘90s concluding that it was more efficient to use smaller buses at higher frequencies. This article returns to this controversial question, starting from the point of view that any calculation of bus size can only be made after considering the demand for each of the routes on the system. Therefore, an optimization model for sizing the buses and setting frequencies on each route in the system is proposed in accordance with the premises detailed below. The proposed model is a bi-level optimization model with constraints on bus capacity. The model allows buses of different sizes to be assigned to public transport routes optimizing the headways on each route in accordance with observed levels of demand. At the upper level the model considers the optimization of the system’s social and operating costs, these are understood to be the sum of the user’s and operator’s costs. At the lower level there is an assignment model for public transport with constraints on vehicle capacity which balances the flows for bus sizes and headways at each iteration. By graphically representing the results of the model applied to a real case, a series of useful conclusions are reached for the management and planning of a fleet of public transport vehicles.


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