Formulation and solution approach for calibrating activity-based travel demand model-system via microsimulation

Siyu Chen, A. Arun Prakash, Carlos Lima De Azevedo, Moshe Ben-Akiva

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This study addresses the problem of calibrating utility-maximizing nested logit activity-based travel demand model-systems. After estimation, it is common practice to use aggregate measurements to calibrate the estimated model-system's parameters prior to their application in transportation planning, policy making, and operations. However, calibration of activity-based model-systems has received much less attention. Existing calibration approaches are myopic heuristics in the sense that they do not consider the fundamental inter-dependencies among choice-models and do not have a systematic way to adjust model parameters. Also, other purely simulation-based approaches do not perform well in large-scale applications. In this study, we focus on utility-maximizing nested logit activity-based model-systems and calibrating aggregate statistics such as activity shares, mode shares, time-dependent & mode-specific OD flows, and time-dependent & mode-specific sensor counts. We formulate the calibration problem as a simulation-based optimization problem and propose a stochastic gradient-based solution procedure to solve it. The solution procedure relies on microsimulation to calculate expectations of the aggregate statistics of interest to the calibration problem. Additionally, we derive approximate analytical expressions for the gradient of the objective function —that are evaluated through microsimulation on mini-batches of the population. The proposed solution procedure is sensitive to the fundamental structure of the activity-based model-system and is non-myopic in considering the dependencies across its model components. The formulated optimization problem is non-convex, highly nonlinear, and potentially has multiple-minima. Finally, we show —through a real-world application— that the proposed solution procedure outperforms other state-of-the-art purely simulation-based optimization approaches in terms of computational efficiency, stability, and convergence. We also compare various gradient-based solution algorithms to determine the best algorithm to update the parameters. This work has the potential to facilitate wider and easier application of activity-based model-systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102650
JournalTransportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Calibration
  • Travel demand modeling
  • Activity-based model
  • Microsimulation
  • Simulation-based optimization
  • Stochastic gradient descent


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