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Spare Interview: Spare’s Lead Data Scientist on the power of data-driven transit planning

Transit simulations are the key to better decision-making and transparent transit planning. Jerome Mayaud shares his thoughts on how our simulation tool, Spare Realize, can empower that process.

Niklas Mey

When a transit provider wants to introduce a new service or mode to their system like microtransit, there are often many unknowns. These unknowns can make or break a service.

As on-demand software providers, we want our partners to be successful. That’s why we’re releasing a do-it-yourself version of our data-driven simulation tool, Spare Realize. By giving transit agencies and other mobility providers an intuitive way to simulate a limitless number of microtransit scenarios, they are empowered to make informed, confident decisions about their network’s future.

Spare’s Lead Data Scientist, Jerome Mayaud, has led dozens of simulation projects on behalf of transit agencies big and small. He dives into why this kind of planning is important, and how it can set mobility providers up for success.

What role do transit simulations play in advanced transit planning?

It’s never possible to fully predict how a new transit option will affect people’s travel behavior, and how much it will cost a transit provider. However, it’s possible to stack the odds in your favor by engaging in data-driven planning using trustworthy principles and rigorous analysis. Simulations are low-cost and low-risk. You don’t have to deploy a driver or vehicle to test out a hypothesis. Instead, you can explore a wide variety of different scenarios virtually and then deploy resources based on the scenarios that are most likely to succeed.

How does Spare Realize enable transparent planning?

It breaks down planning into three easy steps. You can:

  1. Visualize and analyze any spatial datasets to glean insights about where it makes sense to undertake transportation interventions.
  2. Build a virtual transit system in a test environment, without deploying costsly on-the-ground resources to perform limited tests.
  3. Understand a variety of operational and financial Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that allow you to compare the costs and benefits of each transportation scenario.

In this latest release of Spare Realize, transit planners can produce their own simulations. Why is this important?

Traditional planning often happens in a silo and it isn’t always possible to integrate datasets from different sources. That means planners don’t always have a complete picture of  supply and demand, areas of unmet need, and so on. By making Spare Realize available to transit planners, we are helping them to navigate and integrate data from multiple sources, including Spare’s robust data models. In this context, a model is a mathematical representation of real-world behavior, such as how and why people choose to ride public transit.

And then there’s the fact that transit planners are the real experts for their regions. They understand local ridership dynamics as well as their organization’s goals. While we can create simulations for our transit partners, we think the best results come when they are fully in charge of their planning.

Spare Realize lets them test out their various hypotheses in a quick, efficient and highly visual way, which helps them communicate their findings to internal and external stakeholders. Ultimately, this radically speeds up the buy-in process.

For transit planners who are new to simulations, what are the top three things they should do before even logging on to Spare Realize?

There are three main questions you need to answer:

  1. What are your goals for this planning project?
  2. What kinds of data will help you answer your questions and can you get hold of that data?
  3. What are the local issues at hand and how do you need to account for them in your project?

Not everyone is a data scientist. How is this version more user-friendly for those of us who aren’t experts in the field?

Although Realize brings data to the fore to help you test your ideas, it doesn’t require you to actually manipulate or format that data. In other words, datasets are clean when they get uploaded to Spare Realize. The visualizations also help you to easily understand what’s going on behind the scenes. For instance, Realize displays the origins and destinations of trips in a simple, elegant and interactive format. What’s more, Realize does a lot of the heavy lifting for you when it comes to analyzing your simulated service: we’ve included a bunch of machine learning models that allow you to predict the future more easily and more confidently. Finally, we’ve built a lot of help into Spare Realize: if you’re ever confused about a KPI or a dataset, there are informative tooltips within the app, as well as comprehensive help documents to diagnose an issue yourself.

What are some out-of-the-box things transit planners can do with Spare Realize?

While the tool was originally designed for microtransit planning, there are some interesting things you can do that involve fixed-route transit or other modes of transportation. For example, you can design a first/last mile zone by designating certain fixed-route bus stops as ‘virtual’ stops for your on-demand riders. You can also create sophisticated service structures with multiple zones and fleets that are shared across different services. This means you can even build a ride sharing service in Realize!

How can data-driven transit planning help agencies and other mobility providers address the equity gaps in transit?

By empowering you to explore with different spatial datasets, you can begin to account for different segments of your population and how well they are served by your current transit offering. For instance, you can identify areas in your city with a high concentration of senior passengers, examine how far they live from current fixed-route stops, and design a service that improves their access to essential goods and services. In other words, Spare Realize can be fundamental to building equitable transportation for all.

To find out more about Spare Realize and the benefits of data-driven transit planning for your operation reach out to us at