Alumni / Research

Donor funds aid vital research into public transport solution

L-R: Russell Thompson, John Haasz and Stephan Winter

A project developing demand-responsive transportation that could help relieve the traffic woes of our cities has been made possible thanks to a generous donor contribution.

University of Melbourne alumnus, John Haasz, donated nearly $80,000 to support research into the viability of a demand-responsive transport system, which would allow users in various locations to request, via phone or mobile application, a flexible shared door-to-door transportation service.

Mr Haasz said his interest in public transport solutions stemmed from his experiences as a frustrated public transport user.

“The principal aim is to make the service attractive enough to divert customers from driving their cars.

“This would deliver people to their destinations comfortably, safely, in a timely manner, with reasonable cost, be good for the environment, and reduce road congestion,” Mr Haasz said.

The first stage of the project was a feasibility study that used a computer simulation to test software, which would determine demand and optimal routes for the proposed transport system. The support allowed PhD student Kanchana (Eve) Sakulchariyalert to work on the project for one year, originally under the supervision of Dr Russell Thompson.

The program examined outcomes such as acceptable waiting times for customers, balanced with the most cost-effective routes and passenger loads for the operator.
As the results of the early research became available, researchers in the Department of Infrastructure Engineering were keen to explore ways to continue developing the research potential in this area, in line with its focus on sustainable cities.

“The idea behind it was providing a transport service in built up urban areas so that people can call when they require transport and share the service with other users trying to get to a destination,’’ said Associate Professor Stephan Winter, who is now leading this research in the Department of Infrastructure Engineering.

“Basically it is an intelligent version of a shared taxi.”

Assoc. Prof. Winter said the service could have a variety of applications in cities, from providing transport for the elderly and people disadvantaged by mobility, to offering solutions to those in the inner city needing to travel short distances not covered by other forms of public transport.

Assoc. Prof. Winter said the support and involvement of Mr Haasz had been very important to the early development of the research.

“This gift to the University was given with no constraint, and was motivated not by commercial interest, but instead by an interest to do something good to help our cities; to help in the reduction of cars on our roads.”

Mr Haasz became involved with the University after a career in information technology, when he returned to study in order to complete an honours degree in physics. In addition to his generous support of research in engineering, he also established the Haasz Family Trust in 2008 to support research and educational activities of students and academics in the School of Physics.

Following the success of the initial research into demand-responsive public transport, the Department of Infrastructure plans to expand the research into a larger-scale Australian Research Council Linkage Project and is looking for further government or commercial linkage partners to participate in the expanded study.

“The Demand-Responsive Transport project is a wonderful example of the School pursuing research focused on addressing contemporary societal issues,” Professor Iven Mareels, Dean of Engineering said.

“The support of John Haasz was critical in enabling the School of Engineering to pursue this pilot project. I’m genuinely delighted to see how John’s support has been the catalyst for an emerging area of research that will be translated into an ARC Linkage Grant application. The linkage grant will enable large scale research into this area for the benefit of public transport users.”

To find out more about the project, contact Assoc. Prof. Winter at the Melbourne School of Engineering.

If you are interested in discussing philanthropic support of The Melbourne School of Engineering, please contact Chris Charman from our Advancement Office.

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