Searching for the Perfect 'Rebalancing' Algorithm

Dozens of papers have been published to create the perfect commuting algorithm. But how do you account for factors like the weather? Or even local politics?

What's wrong with the picture above? 


The picture captures a protected bike lane on 9th Avenue in New York City. In the center of the image is an empty Citibike docking station. Citibike is the largest bike share program in the country - with nearly 100,000 annual members - and there are ambitious plans for expansion.

There is one problem in particular, however, that will need to be solved if commuters are going to continue to rely on this service. That is, the service must be reliable, meaning you can't have a situation like the one depicted in the image above. If you go to a docking station and there is no bike for you, you will be late for work. If this happens routinely, you will either lose your job or have to find another way to commute. 

Call it the rebalancing problem. When a flood of commuters arrives at Grand Central Station or Penn Station, the available bikes will vanish in a New York minute. So box trucks and bike trailers are used to move bikes from station to station, "rebalancing" the supply based on demand. But how can Citibike's dispatcher, and his or her counterpart in 500 other bike share programs worldwide, anticipate where the bikes will be needed and when? How do you account for factors like the weather? Or, as we will see below, local politics?

Enter the math geniuses. Dozens of papers have been published to solve this problem by creating the perfect commuting algorithm. Henry Grabar at Salon neatly summarizes the messy issues that planners must incorporate into their rebalancing algorithms: 

Cities place and maintain docks in areas with low ridership — as a political gesture, in anticipation of future use, or to provide a transit option to an otherwise isolated place. Could a computer be made aware of these priorities, which may detract from the system’s total ridership per bicycle? If a computer program prized bicycle miles traveled over total rides taken, how would the rebalancing effort be different?

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less