Researchers put math to work for BC Ferries
Today’s multi-million-dollar announcement by BC Ferries to build three new intermediate class vessels is welcome news to a pair of Simon Fraser University mathematicians whose research helped validate the decision.
Using mathematical operations research techniques, SFU professor Abraham Punnen and post-doctoral fellow Daniel Karapetyan evaluated alternate vessel configurations to determine whether there was a more efficient way to serve the Southern Gulf Islands and Northern Sunshine Coast—data that would in turn help to support BC Ferries’ decisions related to vessel replacement.
The pair focused on assessing various network configurations, traffic modeling and schedule optimization issues on the Comox and Powell River route, as well as for those for the Southern Gulf Islands. Their research demonstrated “clear strategic advantages” with Intermediate Class Ferry (ICF) configurations compared to “like-for-like” replacement of current vessels, which directly benefits the vessel replacement program.
“We examined how each configuration can be scheduled in terms of optimizing ranges of operational cost and passenger satisfaction, with consideration of current traffic demand and potential future increase in demand,” explains Punnen, who undertook the research through SFU’s Centre for Operations Research and Decision Sciences (CORDS) at SFU’s Surrey campus.
“From the evaluation of the potential cost and customer service combinations that could be achieved with different vessel configurations, the Intermediate Class Ferries were shown to be the best selection.
“Ferry scheduling is a complex problem, even with a fleet of seven ports and four ferries,” adds Punnen, who, using mathematical programming formulas, discovered more than 200,000 variables and constraints.
“Even such formulations may not capture all the aspects of this problem,” Punnen says. To that end, the researchers also devised specialized algorithms to help reduce the complexity and result in optimal solutions for streamlining the Southern Gulf Islands schedule.
According to BC Ferries, CORDS provided independent modeling and evaluation of various vessel configurations and scenarios, demonstrating that the ICF was a superior option for BC Ferries’ vessel replacement program.
“Abraham Punnen and Daniel Karapetyan understood the complications of the project very well,” said Deborah Marshall, Executive Director, Public Affairs at BC Ferries. “Their technical skills and computational power helped BC Ferries in making important strategic decisions that can benefit the company and our passengers for years to come. It was a pleasure working with this research group.”
Punnen and Karapetyan recently won second place in the Canadian Operational Research Society Practice Prize Award for their work with BC Ferries.
Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries.
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