Monday, 16 February 2009

Can the solution be implemented?

A story from the press today tells how the Paris Metro (underground rail network) has been forced to change its tickets. For over a hundred years, the Metro has used small tickets, 2inches long by 1inch wide, or probably 50 by 25 mm. Latterly these have had a magnetic stripe which is used in the automatic barriers. But the authorities have noticed that more and more often, the tickets become demagnetised while being carried by members of the public, and tickets carried by women are more likely to suffer than thse carried by men. The problem is the increasing use of magnets as clasps on handbags, magnets which are strong enough to keep the bag closed, and therefore strong enough to demagnetise a ticket. So, sometime soon, the Metro is joining other mass transport systems and using cards with RFID and chips.

There are links between this story and O.R.. First, the general one -- that the solution to an O.R. problem may have been appropriate once, but should be monitored to make sure that the setting remains the same. Hence the title of this blog: can the solution be implemented? Or are there some good reasons why the behaviour of some of the people involved has changed? Second, I hope that the O.R. team who work for the Metro have done some analysis of the time it takes to check a new-style card in order to be sure that the barriers can cope with the passengers using the system at peak times. Turnstiles are servers in a complex queue, and changes in service times affect the characteristics of the queue.

The story is here

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