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A Framework for Dynamic Car and Taxi Pools with the Use of Positioning Systems

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Carpooling is the concept of people sharing a vehicle for a ride when their departure and destination locations are similar. Dynamic car pool [1] is the dynamic coordination of ride offerings and ride requests based on the, in real time created,
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  A Framework for dynamic car and taxi pools with the use of Positioning Systems Petros Lalos, Andreas Korres¹, Christos K. Datsikas, George S. Tombras Department of Electronics, Computers, Telecommunications, and Control Faculty of Physics, University of Athens Athens, Greece  plalos, cdatsikas, gtombras@phys.uoa.gr, ¹aperathu@otenet.gr Kostas Peppas Laboratory of Wireless Communications, Institute of Informatics and Telecommunications  National Centre for Scientific Research, Demokritos Athens, Greece  peppas@telecom.ntua.gr  Abstract   —Carpooling is the concept of people sharing a vehicle for a ride when their departure and destination locations are similar. Dynamic car pool [1] is the dynamic coordination of ride offerings and ride requests based on the, in real time created, transportation and offering needs. Taxi pool [2] is a mode of transport that falls between private transport and conventional bus transport. The routes are fixed or semi-fixed, but with the added convenience of stopping anywhere to pick or drop passengers and not having fixed time schedules. Positioning Systems are systems for finding the location of a mobile device using several different positioning technologies. This paper describes how Positioning Systems can be utilized in order to support a dynamic network of car and taxi pool services that will maximize the exploitation of empty seats traveling with tenable advantages.  Keywords-Positioning systems, dynamic car pool, dynamic taxi pool, XPS, GPS I.   I  NTRODUCTION  Car pool is a mode of transport where people are sharing a vehicle for a ride when their departure and destination locations are similar. Car pool participants arrange for a sequential shared use of their vehicles by pre-scheduling the rides. The purpose is to exploit available transportation resources with the goal to save up on fuel while simultaneously relieving the traffic. Taxi pool is a mode of transport that falls between  private transport and conventional bus transport. Most of the times a taxi pool is a taxi transport that follows a fixed or semi-fixed route, but in contrast to conventional transport resources, is able to stop anywhere to pick or drop  passengers without having fixed time schedules. Share taxis are considered as the “backbone” of public transport in developing countries and are also practiced as an economic mean for Transportation in Europe and in the United States. Dynamic car and taxi pools are the new generation of ride sharing. They describe the “on the fly” coordination of ride offerings and ride requests based on the, in real time created, needs. The concept is to utilize all empty seats of travelling vehicles as potential means for public transportation. In order to achieve this, a mechanism is needed to dynamically coordinate ride offers with ride requests based primarily on pool participants’ positions. This work is an advance version of a previously  published Framework [3] and introduces the use of web-enabled Hand Held Devices (HHD) like Smart Phones, Cellular Phones and PDA’s in order to revolutionize dynamic car and taxi pooling. It suggests the utilization of Positioning Systems like XPS and GPS (or Galileo in the future) combined with Internet technologies like GPRS, 2G-3G, Wi-Fi and WiMAX embedded inside a sophisticated regulation system, where all ride requests and offerings are automatically handled and served in real time. The concept is the following: each car or taxi pool  participant connects through his web enabled Hand Held Device (HHD) to the application’s Web Portal. The  participant’s coordinates are being fed into the system and are recorded and monitored constantly. His ride offer-request is processed and coordinated through the system automatically. The process is based on his relative to other  participants, position. This dynamic mechanism keeps a record of offers and requests that are being exchanged and “credits” the driver with a token ☺  (virtual coin) for each kilometer offered to each passenger while simultaneously “bills” the passenger with an opposite token   (virtual coin) for the each kilometer of served transport. A five-seat car driver can gain up to 4 token ☺  for each kilometer in case he transports four car poolers simultaneously. By keeping track of all the ride exchanges, a fair and just tradeoff occurs in real-time, without the intervention of  personal negotiation. In case a ride offer is not available for a specific pool, a taxi pool can be organized using the same mechanism and the cost of the fare can be divided among  participants in proportion to the distance of their personal route. II.   B ACKGROUND R  EVIEW  Car and taxi pooling has been used in the past and is still used widely today, although in a more sophisticated and technology enabled manner. Past and modern attempts vary from informal and adventitious private understandings to formal and organized aggregate ride share endeavors. The overall goal is to  prearrange a common ride for participants with similar 2009 Computation World: Future Computing, Service Computation, Cognitive, Adaptive, Content, Patterns 978-0-7695-3862-4/09 $26.00 © 2009 IEEEDOI 10.1109/ComputationWorld.2009.55385  departure and destination locations and times. Most of the attempts are targeting employees or students with a repetitive transport pattern like e.g. going each day to work or school. The method although, on how to combine all the participants transport needs and offers, differs from simple verbal agreements to sophisticated organized transport mechanisms that utilize state of the art communication technology. It is in the scope of this work to review only modern, state of the art car and taxi pool endeavors that attempt to combine ride offers and requests in real time (dynamic car pool), utilizing all available ICT infrastructure in order to amplify a contrast with the introduced solution. There have been many dynamic car and taxi pool attempts in recent years. The common denominator of these endeavors has been the utilization of communication technology like cellular phones and the Internet in order to allow participants to communicate with a coordinating call center (via voice or SMS) or a portal and arrange for car or taxi pools.  NuRide [4] is United States ride share online community where members are rewarded for using alternative forms of transportation such as carpooling and vanpooling. NuRide is free to join and free to use and is supported by sponsors who reward NuRide members for reducing global warming, traffic congestion and energy consumption. NuRide is unique because it is the only online community where members earn ongoing rewards from sponsors, which increases loyalty and helps build critical mass. Here's how  Nuride works: a user joins the network for free, and then starts planning trips: to work, to school, to the grocery store, concert, game, etc. He can then use the network to find other  people going his way and share a ride. After a set number of miles, he starts earning rewards, like gift cards and discounts to retailers across the country. Though NuRide takes several steps to verify who joins their network, riding around with strangers might not be everyone's thing. To take some of the chance out of it, the user always has the choice about who rides with whom, whether driving or riding. Crane Dragon is a UK based company that has developed a system for sharing taxi's hailed by text messages called. The system, called Texxi [5], collates requests for point-to- point travel from a dispersed set of travelers via SMS. Passengers are text-messaging their destination or postcode using their cell-phone into the system. The system then aggregates other passengers wanting to go to the same area and confirms details of the taxi driver's name and badge number to the passengers. Passengers can then share the vehicle at a discounted fare. Passengers are instructed to go to pre-determined pickup points to meet the driver who will have received a text confirming each passenger's booking reference. Other remarkable attempts of similar nature are GoLoco [6], Ridegrid [7], EcoShare [8], Hitchsters [9] and Rideamigos [10]. More advanced approaches have suggested going a step  beyond and automate a major part of the procedure with the use of state of the art location detection technologies. The US – FTA [11] has issued a study where a passenger’s quest to reach his destination is comprised out of a series of flops through a variety of transport resources like private vehicles and public trains, buses and airplanes with the use of GPS enabled hand held devices (HHD) as a medium for communication and location detection.  Nokia [12] is describing a fully automated system where a call center regulates the procedure of joining ride offerings and ride requests by utilizing location detection technologies  based on a cellular phone’s position along with communication technologies like SMS. An even more progressive undertaking is the Taipei City Dynamic Taxi-Sharing Service [13]. It is a practical and applicable taxi sharing system based on the use of Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technologies. The Idea behind this service is that taxi pooling can attract more public transportation users. The Service applies advanced technologies to taxi operations, including dynamic taxi fleet management, taxi-pooling strategies, and safety monitoring systems utilizing advanced information technologies such as the Global Positioning System in correlation with an efficient taxi dispatching algorithm. This work introduces a Framework that tries to benefit from all the above innovative approaches, by exploiting their strong points while simultaneously focusing on affronting irresoluble problems that these systems failed to address. Problems of this nature are: real time combination of ride offers and requests, sophisticated infrastructure requirements, safety of participants, fair exchange of ride offers and requests, simplicity. In order to achieve this, it “embraces” state of the art ICT solutions combined with  pioneer location detection technology. III.   P ROBLEM AND C HALLENGES A  NALYSIS  Car and taxi pooling has been used in the past and is still used today. Although none of the attempts made has ever failed completely, it has had never the effect and the massive impact it should, based on its true potential. The reasons for the –partial- failure of Car pooling are simple [14]: •   A carpool of –ideally- five participants cannot serve the alternating needs of all participants. Maybe e.g. two of them are delayed in the morning departure or one of them is delayed in the evening leave. This inadaptability of coordination based on the real-time needs of participants has been the “Achille's heel” of car pooling. •   There is no fair regulation system that keeps track of the actual ride-offerings and ride-requests of  participants. Some of them with redundant vehicle offering sometimes feel wronged by their  participation in a car pool. Others sharing a taxi pool feel that the taxi fare quota they are called to pay does not always illustrate their actual use (no travelled distance compound) of taxi in contrast to that of other participants. •   There is no security system for participants. There is no “safeguard system” that monitors a car or taxi  pool’s route. A participant can endanger himself, if one of the other participants or the driver in case it isn’t a taxi pool has bad intentions. 386  •   Participants most of the time are from different cultural, educational and financial background and vary in ages. Many times, personal issues like disliking or feeling uncomfortable with other  participants (e.g. Religion, Age, smoker/non-smoker, male-female) is a strong discarding reason. So in order to make car and taxi pooling successful, there is a need to overcome all the above conflicts by: •   Replacing the static confrontation of participants alternating needs with a dynamic, real time coordination. •   Keeping track of all the offers and request a  participant put’s into the program and compensate him accordingly. Charge a partial taxi fare based on the actual distance travelled by each pool participant. •   Securing the car or taxi pool by validating the  personal data of participants and provide for a safety mechanism for each participant in case there is a  problem. •   Providing for means that allow a preview of generic data about participants like culture, age-range, skin color, culture, language e.t.c. and also opinions of other participants known to the enquiring participant, about potential co-poolers. The challenge is obvious. If there is a way for drivers and  passengers to corporate and dynamically exchange the use of their vehicles in a fair and safely manner on a daily basis, what would be the result? Ideally, five drivers would share only one car alternating the use of each driver’s car daily and exchanging roles form driver to passenger based on the use of the participant’s car. If this could be achieved, the following benefits would ideally arise: •   One vehicle on the streets instead of five with obvious advantages regarding the traffic load and the quality of life •   80% fuel and usage wear economy for each car owner and macroscopically for the Country’s Energy resources •   80% reduced green house effect gases like CO 2   •   80% car park savings •   In case of a City circle constrain based on the last number of the license plate (e.g. Athens, Greece), an continuous availability of vehicles would be achieved •   In case of non availability of a transport mean that would support a car pool; a taxi pool can be initiated in order for participants to share the costs of the fare while simultaneously filling up empty taxi seats. IV.   F RAMEWORK     A.   The Idea The Idea this work introduces is to provide the infrastructure that will allow passengers that have similar departure and arrival destinations to communicate and exchange data in real time so that they can participate in a car or a taxi pool, saving on money and Gas. It is vital that the technology in order to achieve the above is as practical, effortless and widely used as possible. The reason is that: in order to create a generally accepted application that will mobilize a critical mass of users, the requirements must be as limited as possible. By utilizing infrastructure that is already staple as well as technology that is well known and that has a limited learning curve for users that are already familiarized with, one is more likely to achieve the above.  Nowadays, cellular and smart phones that are also web enabled utilizing GPRS, Wi-Fi, WiMAX or 2G-3G technologies, are widely used and accepted as daily communication means [15]. These kind of portable systems are the perfect devices to be utilized as location detection mechanisms in a controlled web based environment that also combines ride matching mechanisms. Location detection can be provided by the Global Positioning System (GPS) or even Hybrid Positioning Systems (XPS) that can detect location coordinates effectively in urban environments, in case the devices used are not GPS enabled or GPS signal is unavailable (indoors). This allows the participation of a wider mass of users without the extra cost of enabling via e.g. a Bluetooth accessorial device, GPS inside the HHD’s environment. Hybrid Positioning Systems (XPS) are used as a substitute where GPS infrastructure is not available. They are configured to integrate and synthesize the location output of Wi-Fi Positioning Systems (WPS), GPS and cellular towers (Cell ID). They then use advanced hybrid positioning algorithms to combine each of these location sources to arrive at a single position with a high degree of confidence (Fig.1). They are increasingly being explored for civilian and commercial location-based services and location-based media, which need to work well in urban areas in order to be commercially and practically viable. These systems are designed in order to overcome the limitations of the GPS, which delivers exact coordinates in any open area, but works  poorly indoors, between tall buildings (the urban canyon effect) or even just in cloudy weather. Figure 1. The above graph illustrates the performance of XPS relative to assisted GPS (A-GPS) and WPS (Wi-Fi location). A combined use of hybrid positioning systems provides location detection services for the purposes of this 387  framework, based on their operational suitability: Navizon [16] (Fig.2), SkyHook Wireless [17] & LOKI [18] (Fig.3), Google Maps for Mobile [19] (Fig.4). This work currently exploits SkyHook – LOKI as it is already operational in the Area of where the application is being developed (Greece). Figure 2. Navizon’s location detection mechanism for hand held devices   Figure 3. Google Maps for Mobile: Location sharing starts only when both parties agree Figure 4. Skyhook Wireless: XPS is configured to integrate and synthesize the location output of Skyhook's Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS), GPS and cellular towers (Cell ID). It then uses advanced hybrid positioning algorithms to combine each of these location sources to arrive at a single position with a high degree of confidence. The accuracy, the appropriateness and the operational maturity of these approaches is still under investigation during the alpha phase of the Framework’s application testing.  B.   The Architecture Designing location and context-aware mobile information systems for supporting community based services requires a solid understanding of the users’ context, situated interactions, and the interplay between the two. The suggested framework is a framework that introduces a methodology of how Positioning Systems could be utilized in order for two or more potential passengers to share a car or a taxi without having a pre-fixed route or time schedule. The only requirement to achieve such a functional service is for potential passengers to use a web-enabled cellular or another web enabled HHD like a SmartPhone a PDA or an iPhone. The Design of the Framework that will support this interplay is based on client-server logic like the majority of Web-based services (Fig.5) Figure 5. Client – Server Architecture with a client that uses a Location Aware Mobile Web Browser Device The environment is based on 3-tier Architecture. The application which runs on the client (Presentation Tier) uses XPS or GPS in order to collect and transmit exact coordinates regarding the client's location (Fig.6). The application is based on a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) technology combination. All scripting along with the decision making algorithm is written in PHP. This has been a conscious decision for the academic scope of this Framework (open source application) with the intent to grow under the support of an active developer community. Figure 6. 3-tier Architecture Design The Application layer invokes GIS data that is stored on the Data Layer in order to utilize all the transmitted data (ride matching algorithm). A potential passenger and a car or taxi driver can use the presentation tier in order to input his 388  destination location (i.e. address, postal code, telephone nr). The destination location is converted inside the Application Layer into latitude coordinates and then recorded and  processed by the matching algorithm. Because the client uses a small display with limited hardware and bandwidth resources, this architecture allows him to receive data formatted in a way that will fit into his screen dimensions and his technology and bandwith limitations. For this an “intelligent” technology based on image slicing and layering is utilized (JOUNBO) [20] that allows the optimization of bandwidth resources and screen dimensions. This technology allows the delivery of displayed information based on the actual needs of the hand held user, limiting the data transfer to the absolute requisite information and focusing on displaying the absolute essential data [20] C.   The Roles The Framework describes three Roles: the Administrator, the Driver (Taxi or Car) and the Passenger. The characteristics of each role are the following: The Administrator:  Is in charge of all the participating systems, intervenes whenever there is a dispute or a security issue and solves problems of technical nature. The driver:  Provides for the transportation mean. He has a web enabled cellular phone that allows location detection through the use of Hybrid Positioning Systems and transmits his location data through a web connection into the location tracking system of the web application. He receives location coordinates of pick up places regarding matched passengers routes, through the web site interface. Each passenger driven to his destination will attribute a credit icon ☺  to the driver for each kilometer covered. This will be done automatically after the passenger’s HHD is inside a prearranged perimeter of his final destination. In case of a Taxi driver, his participation in the Framework is optional. His contribution is not free of charge. Whenever a car pool is not available, he can interfere and offer the ride with the advantage of distributing the cost of the fare among taxi pool participants. The Passenger:  He uses his web enabled cellular in order to automatically transmit his location coordinates that are  provided by the Hybrid Positioning System. He utilizes the web connection in order to connect with the application’s web site. He inserts his destination details (i.e. address,  phone number or postal code). The matching algorithm of the site’s application takes over and matches his location coordinates with car pools that are approximate to his “neighborhood” at that specific moment and who also request a similar destination route. All the passengers matching a car share route receive meeting  point details and fellow passenger characteristics. If the  passengers request to have a taxi driver also participating through the system for security reasons or in case a car pool is not available matching his ride characteristics, the  participating taxi driver, chosen based on his relatively nearby location coordinates, also receives details regarding the location of the meeting point. At the same time, all the  participating passengers receive details about the car or taxi like the license plate and the approximate arriving time  D.   The Application The application functions as follows. The driver starts his day by entering his vehicle, turns on his HHD and connects to the Server hosting the Web-Portal application of the Framework. After he is logged in, his location coordinates are automatically fed into the system. This way, his exact  position along with his profile are recorded and activated inside the system and mapped in correlation with all neighboring pool participants. He then enters his destination location address, postal code or telephone using the application’s interface. In case of a taxi driver joining the application, he flags his taxi as available for taxi pools into the system. The driver can then view potential passengers as nearby spots on his Smartphone’s screen (Fig. 7). Using his touch screen he clicks on the spots to view a brief description of each Passenger’s characteristics like name, destination, smoking habits, feedbacks of previous driver’s opinions regarding his behavior as a passenger. Figure 7. Driver’s perspective If he agrees on taking along the passenger by clicking on the green button on his Smartphone’s screen, the passenger immediately will receive a ride offer posting in order to choose if he accepts the offer or not. The second he decides to take up the offer his virtual spot will turn inactive for all other drivers monitoring the same virtual map. The passenger has a different view. The moment a driver decides to offer him a ride by clicking on his virtual avatar on the virtual map of the Smartphone; the passenger views an electronic card about the potential driver, containing details like vehicle data, previous passengers’ opinions or even how much time it will take him to pick the passenger up (Fig. 8). Figure 8. Passenger’s perspective 389
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