Shen, Shaheen Earn COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fast-Track Research Awards

May 27, 2020

Congratulations to Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Department Chair and Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Max Shen and CEE Professor and Transportation Sustainability Research Center Co-Director Susan Shaheen for earning University of California Institute of Transportation Studies COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fast-Track Research awards.

Shen will work with Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD student Yiduo Huang to look at what the recovery of the public transportation system in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 will look like, especially with social distancing.

Recovery of the public transportation system is critical for both social re-engagement and economic rebooting after the shutdown during COVID-19. In this study, Shen an Huang will focus on the public transportation recovery process and propose an iterative network reopening and scheduling model for public transit with the social distancing measures.

At the beginning of each period, they will need to make decisions about (1) Network reopening plan: determining the subsets of existing lines that could satisfy the given demand at a certain service level. (2) Timetabling and scheduling: the frequency of a specific line, as well as the vehicle schedule, would change accordingly when the harsh constraint on capacity is imposed.

Although literature on public transit design is vast, most of the research only focuses on a specific part of the entire process or doing the optimization sequentially. However, sequential planning usually leads to a suboptimal solution since the objective function may not be consistent. They will provide an integrated Mixed Integer Programming model that can optimize all the components simultaneously. 

The expected contribution of their work can be summarized as follows: (1) Providing references to transportation managers. We will answer several important questions: How could the public transportation system look ahead to meet the challenge of demand variation? Would it be more efficient to reopen fewer lines with high frequency than more lines with low frequency? What could be a critical condition for enlarging the public transportation system? (2) Novel formulation and algorithm for academic research. The integrated optimization with uncertainty is still challenging and may not have an obvious efficient algorithm. Our work can provide new ideas to the transit design problem. In general, our model depicts the public transportation design process with new capacity constraints and can be generalized into more system degradation situations.

Shaheen will work with CEE doctoral candidate and TSRC researcher Stephen Wong and TSRC survey researcher Adam Cohen to address the challenge of responding to and recovering from simultaneous and compounding disasters and crises that will likely impact California.

COVID-19 has led to widespread shelter in place (SIP) orders, social distancing measures, and new sanitation policies to control the spread of the virus. Yet, natural disasters in California (particularly wildfires, mudslides, and flooding) require large populations to evacuate to protect lives. To effectively evacuate people and ensure social equity, governments need a wide range of strategies including leveraging high capacity public transit, facilitating resource sharing among neighbors, housing people in public shelters, encouraging friends and family to shelter evacuees, and working in close proximities and directly with the public to manage response and recovery. Evacuations and these strategies directly conflict with COVID-19 response and recovery. The resulting conflict will have severe consequences, leading to rapid increases in COVID-19 infections and deaths and/or increasing rescues, injuries, and deaths from the natural hazard. Along with these simultaneous disasters, utility providers have begun to employ public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events to reduce fire risk. California is likely to face COVID-19, a PSPS event, and a wildfire at the same time, exacerbating the negative impacts of each crisis and causing a cascading failure of resources, response mechanisms, and governmental action.

To address the critical challenge of simultaneous and compounding crises, this study would provide critical tools and strategies for governments, first responders, community-based organizations, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate safe and effective transportation responses in evacuations. Our team will tackle this challenge through a multi-method approach by: 1) assessing case studies of recent disasters during the COVID-19 crisis; 2) interviewing up to 25 experts in public health, healthcare, and emergency management; and 3) employing already-collected survey data on California PSPS travel behavior (n=210). If a large-scale evacuation from a wildfire occurs in California over the next eight months and additional funding is available, the study will also deploy an additional survey (up to 2,000 respondents) to capture evacuation behavior. 

Researchers will produce a practical transportation playbook and guide for governments, first responders, community-based organizations, and non-governmental organizations to respond to and recover from simultaneous and compounding crises. This product will focus on providing recommendations, guidelines, and policies specifically for local and regional governments and other stakeholders (including public transit agencies) who will have to respond immediately to disasters. The playbook will be accompanied with a two-page brief that highlights the key transportation considerations that must be made by officials. For both products, researchers will also consider other strategies employed for disasters that often require SIP orders (e.g., tornadoes, chemical and toxic spills, terrorism events).

The impacts of these products will be highly beneficial for current COVID-19 response and recovery and future simultaneous and compounding crises. Governments continue to face unprecedented challenges in their COVID-19 response, which would be exacerbated by a natural disaster. The economic, health, and human toll of such a situation would be devastating for California. This playbook and two-page brief will provide much needed technical assistance for governments across California, especially those without necessary resources, capacity, or expertise. These products and future journal publications could also have widespread benefits and positive impacts for governments across the United States and the world, while also contributing to an understudied research field.