How China’s research is fuelling the future of sustainable transportation

New collection features the latest transportation research from China

100,000 new electric buses hit the roads in China over the last 12 months, giving the country 99 percent of the world’s electric buses. According to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, it’s the equivalent of the London bus fleet added to China’s roads every five weeks. At that rate, China might rely entirely on electric buses by 2025.

And China’s innovation in transport doesn’t stop with buses; its bus rapid transit (BRT) systems transport more than 4.3 million people a day, and vehicle sharing schemes – including 16 of the world’s 20 biggest bike sharing programs – are changing the way people commute in China’s cities.

The shift to innovative, sustainable transport is driven by the government; China’s five-year plan sets out targets to have 5 million electric or hybrid cars in circulation by 2020, and the government wants 18% of commuters to go to work on two wheels by 2020.

This drive is supported by a strong transportation research output. From the technology that runs electric, autonomous and connected vehicles to the control, operations and management of railway systems and the development of more efficient shipping logistics, China is producing some of the world’s best transportation research.

In this collection, we highlight some of the latest research published in two of Elsevier’s top journals – Transportation Research Part B and Transportation Research Part C.

Addressing the challenges of sustainable transport

China might be setting the example when it comes to sustainable transport, but there are still challenges to tackle. One of these is the inhibition of more widespread adoption of electric vehicles, partly down to the lack of sufficient charging stations.

Electric vehicles have a limited driving range between charges, so there need to be available charging stations at reasonable intervals to ensure they don’t run out of power nowhere near a source. In their paper in Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies, researchers at Beihang University in Beijing came up with a model to determine the best locations for charging stations. They modelled the problem on two levels – the limited driving range of electric vehicles and the drivers’ route choice – and brought the two together into a linear mathematical algorithm.

The model has so far proven effective, but the team continues to make improvements: “Firstly, the maximum flows using the charging stations en-route are unstable if the path flows are not unique. Secondly, if letting the energy consumption of EVs be dependent upon traffic congestion, the optimal location of charging stations and the resultant flow pattern will be different somewhat. Thirdly, the computational efficiency of solving the single-level problem needs to be further improved.”

Another challenge is not having enough accurate data about the true environmental impact of our traffic systems. In their review in Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, researchers at the University of Hong Kong explore recent dynamic traffic assignment (DTA) models, which are designed to provide this information, in particular looking at the impact of traffic signal control on emissions and emission pricing and how these predictions are integrated into DTA models.

The authors look at potential areas for future research, pointing out that “at present the research about DTA models in conjunction with noise predictive models is relatively deficient.”

Future directions in transport research

One approach to making transport more sustainable is to reduce the use of cars, and there has been a lot of research on rail travel as a result. China’s total operating mileage of high speed-railway networks is more than 25,000 km, accounting for two-thirds of the world's total. Transportation Research Part B: Methodological has published a large number of papers on railway planning, operations and scheduling in recent years, many from Beijing Jiaotong University.

Another approach to reducing the use of cars is through smart mobility, including ride sharing, can help do that. Prof. Hai Yang, Chair Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Editor-in-Chief of Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, focuses on smart mobility in his research, covering ride sharing, ride sourcing and the taxi industry; he believes smart mobility will continue to be a hot topic in the future for transportation research in China.

There has been a rapid growth in ride sharing globally, through companies like Uber, DiDi and Lyft, and understanding the patterns of our use of these internet services will help maximize its sustainable impact.

In their paper in Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies, researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing compared trip records of taxis and internet-based ride sharing company DiDi, revealing some new findings. For example, they found that ride sharing is essentially an approach for commuting, regulating taxi supply-demand imbalance at rush hour. They discovered two main kinds of DiDi drivers: those driving and ride sharing during their commute and those driving throughout the working day. They also found that it’s “not just traditional hitchhiking worked through mobile internet” – people are traveling long distances too.

The authors conclude: “All these findings are helpful for policy makers at all levels to make informed decisions about deployment of internet based ride-sharing service. This paper also verifies that big data analytics is particularly useful and powerful in the analysis of ride-sharing and taxi service patterns.”

Another hot topic Prof. Yang expects to continue is shipping logistics and maritime transportation. China has a “Belt and Road” strategy, which refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. In this strategy, maritime logistics is critical – indeed, it is globally, with 80% of the world's volume of merchandise trade carried on ships, according to UNCTAD. With the continuing increase in shipping, it is important to ensure the network is resilient.

Researchers at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou investigated the “strategic investment of players in a port–hinterland container transportation network to enhance network resilience to man-made unconventional emergency events by reducing vulnerability.” In their paper in Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, they use network game theory to explore the complex issues – maritime logistics involve many different players and business relationships.

Their results suggest that investment in reducing vulnerability is a good idea, and they explore different aspects of management. They conclude that further research is needed – a “combination of resilience enhancement with traditional (capacity) competition problem by adopting the network game theory will be meaningful and crucial for individual players to achieve long-lasting development or sustainability.”

Read the collection

This collection features some of the latest hot-topic research from China to be published in two of Elsevier’s leading transport journals: Transportation Research Part B and Transportation Research Part C.

Transportation Research Part B is an ideal journal for the kind of hot-topic research that will continue to emerge from China, according to Prof. Yang: “TR Part B is widely recognized to be a top journal in the field of transportation, particularly in the Chinese researcher community. It often receives top ranking in various research excellence assessments. Indeed, publication in TR Part B is considered to be a direct and prestigious reflection of the quality of one's research work and help the author's academic career prospects.”

Dr. Yafeng Yin, Editor-in-Chief of Transportation Research Part C and a professor at the University of Michigan, has a similar view: “TR Part Cfocuses on publishing high-quality papers that investigate the implications of emerging technologies such as connected and automated vehicle technologies on the planning, design, operations and management of transportation systems. In recent years, it has become a top venue for disseminating latest research findings towards shared, electrified, connected and automated mobility. A large portion of our publications is from Chinese researchers. With the continuing investment in these research areas, we expect to receive more and more submissions from our colleagues in China.”

Transportation Research Part B: Methodological

Dynamic traffic assignment: A review of the methodological advances for environmentally sustainable road transportation applications (May 2018)

A survey of dial-a-ride problems: Literature review and recent developments (May 2018)

Strategic investment in enhancing port–hinterland container transportation network resilience: A network game theory approach (May 2018)

Designing logistics systems for home delivery in densely populated urban areas (September 2018)

The generalized rollon-rolloff vehicle routing problem and savings-based algorithm (July 2018)

Coordinating assignment and routing decisions in transit vehicle schedules: A variable-splitting Lagrangian decomposition approach for solution symmetry breaking (January 2018)

Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies

Nonlinear pricing in linear cities with elastic demands (October 2018)

Pricing and penalty/compensation strategies of a taxi-hailing platform(January 2018)

An optimal charging station location model with the consideration of electric vehicle’s driving range (January 2018)

A cumulative prospect theory approach to commuters’ day-to-day route-choice modeling with friends’ travel information (January 2018)

An aircraft boarding model with the group behavior and the quantity of luggage (August 2018)

An empirical study on travel patterns of internet based ride-sharing(January 2018)