Magoosh GRE

Critique on Constraint-Based Approaches for Balancing Bike-Sharing Systems

| August 22, 2016

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The article, “Constraint-Based Approaches for Balancing Bike-Sharing Systems” by Gaspero, Rendl, & Urli (2013) focuses upon a new business activity taking place in busy cities, known as the bike-sharing system. While cities are crowded and it is often difficult for pedestrians to walk long distances, the bike-sharing system enables people to rent bikes from bike stations positioned in various places across the city, ride to their destination, and then return the bike to another bike station in close proximity. However, there is often a management problem in the bike-sharing system which leads to customer dissatisfaction as customers located in hilly or suburban areas take bikes from stations in close proximity of these areas but then take the bikes to the busy city centres and park at a station there. Thus, this leaves the bike stations in these areas empty as hardly any customers return their bikes to these stations. Accordingly, customers in these areas face inconvenience and the demand for bikes in these areas is not met appropriately. Moreover, customers in the busy city centre areas face problems of parking their bikes as the bike stations in city centres are full and customers often have to go in search of an available spot to park their bikes.

Thus, this problem develops a need for the development of a solution to optimize the meeting of demand and to ensure that customers are provided with maximum convenience. Accordingly, this situation results in a need for balancing the bike-sharing system so that all of the bike stations are equally equipped with bikes for customers and no station is left overloaded or empty. The solution found for this was through an overnight bus route by management of the bike-sharing service which picks up bicycles from certain stations and places them elsewhere in order to balance out the bike-sharing system and ensuring that the system is able to provide customers with convenience and meet demand appropriately.

The article uses two constraint-based approaches focusing upon popular routes and demand for bicycles in order to determine the most optimal tours and operating instructions in order to relocate bikes appropriately and efficiently. The article first makes use of constraint programming and two novel constraint models in order to find the most promising routes for the balanced bike sharing system. Then the article emphasizes upon the Large Neighbourhood Search approach and compares it with the previous Branch and Bound approach in order to determine which method is most suitable for designing an optimum tour plan for relocating bicycles. The article concludes that the combination of constraint propogation and neighbourhood search is an effective method to increase the performance of the tour. Moreover, the solution found emphasizes upon limiting the size of the neighbourhood which will enable reaching low-cost solutions very quickly.

While the authors of the study have currently used a quantitative approach for this article, they have mentioned a desire to conduct future quantitative research by exploring different variants of the Large Neighbourhood Search including employing different stopping conditions and acceptance criterions. The authors have also labelled one element of the problem as the dynamic variant of the BBSS problem which the authors wish to study in the future. This variant includes the aspect of when bikes are moved from independently from one station to another during rebalancing which results in variable target values and variable station loads over time.



The article, “Constraint-Based Approaches for Balancing Bike-Sharing Systems” is focused upon a unique topic for which there is not an immense amount of previous literature available. The authors have explored an aspect of business activity that exists in the contemporary business environment but is relatively new to customers and users and has not previously been discussed to a large extent in business research. Thus, the article provides a beneficial explanation of an existing problem and offers a thorough explanation of the problem. However, the article focuses upon a very narrow topic and is only specifically centred around the problem of bike-sharing systems. Thus, the findings of the study cannot be generalized in other areas and may not be highly useful in the contemporary business environment as they are only catering to a niche activity (Delamont & Atkinson, 2010).

The language used in the article is simple and self-explanatory which enhances the understanding of readers and enables them to comprehend what the authors are aiming to deliver and the problem that they are aiming to solve. However, while the authors make the explanation of the problem vividly clear, the solution they offer is of a highly complicated quantitative nature. Thus, as soon as the article launches into its computations, the reader is likely to get confused and may also lose interest in the article (Alston & Bowles, 2012). Moreover, the article does not clearly illustrate its results and does not offer a thorough and simple explanation of what the authors have found and what their findings mean. Thus, it may be difficult for the reader to comprehend the authors’ findings and what benefit the article has given to readers related to the topic in question.

Accordingly, there are various other approaches that the authors could have used in order to enhance the level of comprehension of the article and increase its usefulness for ordinary readers. The first alternative suggested approach for the authors of this article was to adopt a qualitative methodology consisting of interviews with the customers of the bike-sharing systems and gain in-depth knowledge of the prevailing problem and suggested solutions. However, there may be some limitations to using this methodology which include confirming the validity of the results and analyzing or measuring data. The quantitative approach allows the authors to appropriately measure and analyze data and confirm that the results obtained are authentic and valid. Using qualitative data may mean that the results obtained may contain elements of interviewer or respondent bias (Flick, 2009).

Another alternative approach that the authors could have used consists of conducting a thorough literature review on the topic which could have helped increase reader understanding and retain reader attention. However, the main problem involved in adopting this approach lies in the fact that this topic may not have an expanse of literature available for analysis and it may have been difficult for the authors to gather this level of information. The authors could have still enhanced understanding of this study by including more previous literature or including related topics to the analysis (Daymon & Holloway, 2010).The authors could have also opted to simplify the quantitative analysis and use simple statistical measurements in order to enhance reader understanding and comprehension. Methods such as regression, descriptive statistics, and other statistical measures could have been used instead of complicated heuristics calculations. This would have enabled readers to understand the findings in a better manner and improve comprehension (Liamputtong & Ezzy, 2006).

However, the article was well-written and thoroughly explained which enhanced reader attention and enabled comprehension. Moreover, the calculations enhanced validity and authenticity of the results and enabled the appropriate calculation of the information needed. The methodology of the paper could have been simplified and the structure could have been improved with further sub-headings and a broader literature review (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). Thus, while the article had certain shortcomings it also had quite a few strengths in the sense of the level of expression, the level of understanding, and the quantitative analysis conducted. However, the authors of the study can improve the clarity and comprehension of the study by incorporating the recommendations mentioned and the authors should also expand upon the section on further research and include further ideas for future research.

Suggestions for Further Work:

The authors of this study can further conduct research upon other methods of transport or can replicate this study by implementing a qualitative methodology in the future. The authors can also conduct research on other new business activities and possibly choose topics which cater to a vaster market rather than only catering to a niche business activity.


  1. Liamputtong, P., & Ezzy, D. (2006).Qualitative research methods. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Daymon, C., & Holloway, I. (2010).Qualitative research methods in public relations and marketing communications. Routledge.
  3. Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2011).The SAGE handbook of qualitative research. Sage.
  4. Miller, T., Mauthner, M., Birch, M., & Jessop, J. (Eds.). (2012).Ethics in qualitative research. Sage.
  5. Flick, U. (2009).An introduction to qualitative research. Sage.
  6. Alston, M., & Bowles, W. (2012).Research for social workers: An introduction to methods. Allen & Unwin.
  7. Delamont, S., & Atkinson, P. (Eds.). (2010).SAGE Qualitative Research Methods. SAGE Publications Limited.

Method of Gathering Data:

The literature gathered for this critique was gathered from journals, books, and online sources. Particular keywords were used in order to find relevant sources for this critique and emphasis was given upon finding sources regarding qualitative and quantitative analysis. The literature used for this critique was thoroughly read, examined, and relevant points were extracted in order to form an analysis for the article in question.

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