Large-scale modelling of transport and energy choices using emerging big data sources (EPSRC DTP)


Contact Dr Charisma Choudhury ( to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

Transport choice models have historically relied on manually collected survey data which are expensive to obtain and generally have limited sample sizes and lower update frequencies. They are also prone to biases and reporting errors. This has led to a growing reliance on data from surveys presenting people with hypothetical choices, which are themselves subject to different biases. On the other hand, over the last decade, passively collected big data sources have emerged as a very promising source of mobility and energy usage data for researchers and practitioners.

These include GPS traces, mobile phone records, bank and loyalty card transactions and geo-coded social-media data. They have been used successfully for human travel pattern visualization, route choice modelling, traffic model calibration and traffic flow estimation.

Despite the obvious opportunity to reduce survey costs and improve information availability in a large scale travel behavior context (e.g. mode, route, destination and departure time choice), methodological limitations and practical issues have reduced the applicability (and acceptability) of these passively collected data in practice.

In our recent research, we have developed methodologies to enhance mode choice models with large-scale GPS data (Calastri et al. 2017) where we proved how the panel nature of the data can be utilized to capture additional behavioural complexity. Further, we have developed methodologies to successfully use mobile phone data in modelling trip generation (Bwambale et al. 2017) and route choice behavior (Bwambale 2018).

This research proposes to build on these novel methodologies and combine mobile phone and GPS data with data from traditional sources (household surveys, census, roadside interviews and sensor counts) to further enhance this research direction which is not only academically novel and challenging but also capable of producing results that have real world benefits. In particular, measures to account for the sampling bias, coarse resolution, discontinuities and lack of user info in the data will be investigated and solutions will be formulated. Further, the potential to apply these types of big data in jointly modelling activity durations and patterns beyond transport will be investigated which can play a crucial role in developing next generation energy consumption models.

The effective use of emerging data will enable us to develop better and more comprehensive models, which can be updated more regularly and without new expensive data collection, allowing analysts to produce up to date results for the better evaluation of new transport and energy policies. Furthermore, the new methodologies will be immensely useful for smaller authorities or poorer countries were data and resource limitations are major barriers for developing transport and energy models.

References: Calastri C; Hess S; Choudhury C; Daly A; Gabrielli L (2017) Mode choice with latent availability and consideration: Theory and a case study, Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, doi: 10.1016/j.trb.2017.06.016 Bwambale A; Choudhury CF; Hess S (2017) Modelling trip generation using mobile phone data: A latent demographics approach, Journal of Transport Geography, doi: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2017.08.020 Bwambale A; Choudhury CF; Hess S (2018) Modelling long-distance route choice using mobile phone data: A case study of Senegal, Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington DC (forthcoming)

Entry requirements

You must have achieved a bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) or equivalent, or a good performance in a Masters level course preferably in a quantitative discipline. 

Desired skills:

  • Strong numerical aptitude
  • Some experience in computer programming
  • Interest in choice and behavior modelling using Big Data

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University’s minimum English Language requirements.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website.

If you require any further information, please contact the Graduate School Office e:, or t: +44 (0)113 343 35326.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.