Author: Harminder Sangha

Team Spotlight – Tom Birkin, Product Owner

In this month’s team spotlight we sit down with Product Owner, Tom Birkin, who has worked for EPM for 5 years, working with clients to optimise the use of technology to solve their operational issues.

Tom Birkin Product Owner

How would you describe a typical day in the life of a Product Owner?

There isn’t really a typical day as I have the opportunity to work on a lot of different projects! I get the pleasure of speaking with our customers to discuss their day to day problems and work with them to utilise new technologies to provide solutions that will resolve those issues! It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to see a product develop from an idea to a finish product. If I had to sum it up I’d say there is a lot of talking, thinking and most importantly, listening!

How does your role contribute to the company’s overall success?

It’s an important role to listen and understand the needs of our customers and to be a step ahead of the competition to provide market leading software solutions that provide insight and solutions to the issues that they are experiencing.

What do you most enjoy about working at EPM/Omni?

My favourite things about working at EPM/Omni are the people I work with and the opportunity to leverage my experiences in my previous roles to drive the technology for our customers, whilst also continuing the develop new skills.

What is the biggest achievement of your EPM/Omni career?

Becoming Product Owner – cliché, I know!

As we continue to expand the team, what advice do you have for someone joining the team?

Most importantly, be yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help/questions! I’d also encourage you to venture out of your comfort zone.

How do you anticipate the industry may change over the coming years?

There is a lot of government investment going into the industry and I think that, paired with the innovation in technology is driving a big changes. The introduction of multi-Operator Tap-On-Tap-Off ticketing will change the way that we travel and make travel a lot more convenient. There is already a emphasis on EV fleet at the moment and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon but what I’m most excited about is automated vehicles – just not any from SkyNet!

Outside of work, how do you spend your spare time?

Before / during lockdown you’d usually find me at home on my PC but nowadays I try to be a lot more active and outside!

Who is the person who inspires you most?

I’d have to say my parents which feels like a really cheesy answer! If I have to choose one then my Dad. Sorry Mom!

Tell us a random fact about you – the silliest, most daring or spontaneous thing you have ever done you’ve ever done is?

I’m a triplet and I once accidentally ran through a glass door.

Interested in a role in transport management?

Local Transport Authorities: Streamline data sharing processes and get network insight to meet Bus Recovery Grant and Local Transport Fund requirements

The deadline for Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) to complete Network Reviews for the Bus Recovery Grant and Local Transport Fund is fast approaching.

By 1st July 2022, LTAs will need to have submitted Network Reviews to the Department for Transport to demonstrate that they’re working with operators to plan for a sustainable network.

This will set expectations of service levels at the end of the recovery period, offering a plan of commercial and tendered networks once pandemic-related funding in England ceases on 4th October 2022.

Optimise data sharing processes

Grant funding will only be distributed if both LTAs and operators can prove that they have undertaken this work in partnership, which means data sharing processes should be implemented.

Historically LTAs have not had access to vast amounts of operator data but with the National Bus Strategy and BSIPs encouraging a more collaborative relationship, it’s clear that data sharing will be a key requirement from the government going forward.

Software can be used to streamline this sharing of data between operators and LTAs. In many cases, current processes are not synchronised and require time-consuming and error-prone manual data submissions. Data automation significantly reduces administration time and ensures a level of accuracy, which means users can spend more time understanding and analysing the figures.

Source baseline data for KPIs

In order to set and monitor KPIs, LTAs need access to baseline data. Due to the Covid pandemic, data from the past couple of years cannot be used as an accurate reference point, which means LTAs will need to look further back at historic data in order to draw comparisons. Established software solutions will have historic data embedded within the system and users can easily access the data from weeks, months, or years prior in order to build an accurate picture of progress.

LTAs are likely to focus on specific areas of the network to improve and being able to access systems that can compare recent results with historic data is key to analysing if the changes have made the desired impact.

Get clear insight into network performance

The Network Review guidance states that LTAs should use the data, scenarios and knowledge around risks and mitigations, and work with operators to forecast revenue on services, on a route-by-route basis, using the patronage recovery assumptions developed.

Software solutions can be implemented to identify how viable a route is, the types of tickets purchased, mileage per route and passenger numbers. There is also functionality for scenario modelling, to test for ‘what if’ scenarios and find the best way to service each route.

Analysis tools can also be used to give a complete picture of the network by collecting all the data into one system and offering breakdowns of individual areas. Users can view information such as patronage trends that are formulated into graphs and charts. This drill down capability allows intuitive interrogation of the data, investigating root causes of any issues identified, and enables users to set and monitor KPIs.

How EPM Group can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has a comprehensive knowledge of the bus industry and works with four of the seven PTEs in the UK as well as a range of local authorities to streamline their organisational processes.

Our broad, fully integrated software range covers a multitude of functions from operations through to commercial and engineering. To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 01527 556940.

Ready to take your bus network to the next level?

Get in touch to build a tailored solution today

Improving staff morale to retain drivers

Driver shortages continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the bus industry today.

Operators are trying to address the problem by bringing new blood into the profession, but it is also critical to retain drivers. After all, prevention is better than the cure.

Mix of duty types

To do this positively, operators should not lose sight of providing a mix of duty types that appeal to different groups of drivers. To keep drivers on board, duties should be kept to two or three pieces of work and split shifts should be avoided at weekends.

Software can help with improving efficiencies and enable network planners to create schedules that do not detrimentally affect another part of the bus operation’s efficiency chain. With tight schedules that are workable, operators are more likely to create driver-friendly duties straight out of the box, rather than having to be manually adjusted.

Improve driver engagement

Improving engagement is also important to retain drivers. Are drivers spoken to only when things go wrong? How easy is it for a driver to raise a concern?

Regular performance reviews are a great way to keep staff informed of their progress and provide a continuous feedback loop where managers are not left wondering if they will have another bout of resignations this week. By using operational data to facilitate these conversations operators can put interventions and strategies in place sooner and more effectively manage their drivers.

Connecting multiple data sources

For any review to be successful, operators will want to see a complete picture of a driver’s performance, including their training records, customer feedback, their telematics Red-Amber-Green (RAG) score for driving behaviour, total time spent driving, lost mileage incidents and punctuality information.

But for many bus operators this data resides in multiple systems. These datasets should be connected into one unified platform to remove the need for data consolidation. The reporting screen should be interactive so operators can drill down into the metrics to interrogate the data and in doing so remove the need for separate analysis to understand the root cause of any issues.

As operators work in time-pressured environments – and with some having 1,000-plus drivers, the output needs to be simple and visual so that it can be easily understood by both reviewing managers and drivers. And for fairness and consistency, this report should be standardised, and the same metrics tracked and managed across all drivers.

By having key metrics on one dashboard operators gain a single source of truth which assures data integrity and provides information in the most efficient way.

Opening communication channels

Another point to consider is how effectively operators communicate with staff to help them manage their home life around varying shift patterns. Operators need to find smarter ways to keep drivers informed. By leveraging technology such as a driver app, they can share useful information quickly which, in turn, connects drivers to the business and helps them feel part of the organisation.

By adjusting duties that may be putting drivers off and proactively using data to improve engagement, operators can better manage their staff which, in turn, will help increase morale and lower labour turnover.

How we can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has comprehensive knowledge of the passenger transport industry and well-established software that can integrate multiple data sources into one unified platform to deliver a 360-degree view of your operation.

The EPM Insights solution empowers you with actionable management information on your network performance, supporting you to react to both the changing nature of demand and to help shape your future network.

The OmniDAS solution is a cloud-native depot allocation system for real-time driver and vehicle management. Used worldwide for managing day-to-day resources and handling unexpected changes, it is configured to your unique working practices and ensures services are delivered safe, legally and cost-effectively.

To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 01527 556 940.

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

Local Transport Authorities: Utilise resources to meet BSIP requirements

Last month it was announced that thirty-one counties, city regions and unitary authorities have been selected to level up local bus services through government funding. Recipients of the grant will now be working towards implementing the proposed changes that were submitted in last year’s Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs).

Now more than ever there is an expectation that buses should run as efficiently as possible. Data will be required to demonstrate how services have improved and justify the government grants.

Upskill your team with industry-recognised courses

With all the newly required changes it can be difficult for LTAs to know where to begin. Upskilling the team with industry-recognised practical courses can provide a solid foundation for those who are unfamiliar with key aspects of the bus operation.

Learning to manually schedule buses and drivers with industry-trained schedulers helps in understanding what is actually involved in getting bus services out onto the road.

Covering a range of subjects, from the theory behind bus timetabling, including the creation of efficient vehicle workings and the relationship between these two disciplines; to creating cost-effective driver duties and understanding the impact they can have on vehicle workings and timetables, a working knowledge of bus timetables and their operational effectiveness is vital in ensuring the success of the network.

Increase operational efficiency with consultancy services

Many LTAs will have seen a reduction in staff levels in their public transport teams over recent years and will have faced budget cuts or budget freezes. Coupled with very tight timescales, they may struggle to meet their obligations at a critical time.

Outsourcing these services can alleviate the problem completely and deliver highly efficient results quickly and easily. Onboarding skilled and experienced consultants can fill resource gaps on an interim basis and help manage demand peaks.

Conduct network analysis for BSIP reporting

In order to identify the effectiveness of network changes, software can be implemented to monitor journey times and service levels at different times of the day.

Analysis tools can also be used to give a complete picture of the network by collecting all the data into one system and offering breakdowns of individual areas. Users can view information such as patronage trends that are formulated into graphs and charts. This drill down capability allows intuitive interrogation of the data, investigating root causes of any issues identified, and enables users to set and monitor KPIs for BSIPs.

How EPM Group can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has a comprehensive knowledge of the bus industry and works with four of the seven PTEs in the UK as well as a range of local authorities to streamline their organisational processes. We offer a two-day Manual Scheduling course for Local Bus Services and a range of consultancy services to assist with timetabling and scheduling.

In addition, our broad, fully integrated software range covers a multitude of functions from operations through to commercial and engineering. To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 01527 556940.

Ready to take your bus network to the next level?

Get in touch to build a tailored solution today

Maximising control room efficiency

EPM Group aims to empower bus operators’ control room teams with integrated technology.

As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, the bus sector is working harder than ever to get people back on the bus.

Software solutions specialist EPM Bus Solutions aims to assist that process with the creation of new products and techniques that can help operators achieve that goal while making them ready for the post-Covid world.

“We work closely with our clients and from those conversations, we know they are really focussed on rebuilding revenue and patronage,” says Nick Brookes, software director at EPM Group. “That’s a given, obviously, but they are also seeking to enhance their operational effectiveness as well in order to reduce costs and drive profits.”

Article featured in The ALBUM Report 2022 by Passenger Transport

Tools to enhance business processes

It means Nick and his team at EPM have been looking very closely at developing new tools that aim to improve business efficiency. That process has been broken down into three component parts:

  • ‘Before the day’ network planning;
  • ‘On the day’ control room processes; and
  • ‘After the day’ processes where commercial and operational performance are scrutinised.

“Our solutions play a key role at each of those three stages,” says Nick, adding that EPM Group has been closely looking at those ‘on the day’ control room elements in order to create new ways of improving efficiency and business productivity.

Part of that process is assisted by the breadth of solutions and products EPM already offers to clients. As Nick notes, they cover the complex chain of processes that run throughout bus businesses and they not only help to drive efficiencies but also lead to a better service for customers. “That really helps operators to deliver an excellent customer experience,” he adds. “That’s absolutely critical at the moment.”

Control room processes

Bus operator control rooms are the hub of the business and the key to ensuring fantastic on the ground service delivery. They cover a myriad of processes such as driver absences, lost mileage or on-the-road issues that can affect punctuality and reliability like traffic congestion or specific issues that require liaison with other departments, like in the case of an accident or vehicle breakdown.

Nick Brookes“They are tasked with providing a high-quality service to the customer,” explains Nick. “Those core tasks – making sure the staff are in, the vehicles are on the road and the service is running reliably – are key to that goal.”

But to gain greater insight into how those processes actually work, Nick and his colleagues have spent time in bus operator control rooms to observe them in action. He says it was an enlightening experience.

“One of the things that really stood out was that operators have invested in lots of different solutions in recent years,” he reveals. “There are lots of different systems in there, but we noticed it was all rather disparate – control room staff have to go to lots of different places to gather that information. When they find it, it’s not always in an easy-to-use format either.”

Nick says this means that some of the decisions made as a result of not having a centralised source of information can sometimes have significant cost implications and even detrimental impacts on service delivery. “Without a central hub, control room staff have to move from one system to another and then to another rather than it being presented in a way that facilitates good decision-making,” he adds.

A good example of that is a driver who may have been delayed on the first half of their duty, perhaps as a result of traffic congestion. Nick highlights that control room staff may have to extend their break before they can go back on the road for their second half. It’s a problem that has to be solved immediately, so having visibility of issues in a central hub enables operators to make decisions efficiently and cost effectively.

Solving the problem

“There are lots of different impacts in terms of how that situation can be managed,” says Nick. “If we have all of that information displayed and available, and particularly the key information you really need to know to make effective decisions, that’s not only going to help improve the efficiency and operation of the control room but also the wider business too.”

He says this could be the engineering department or customers services, but the key advantage is that rather than control room staff resorting to time-consuming written reports, ad-hoc emails or phone calls – all parts of the organisation are automatically informed immediately, triggering further automated processes further down that line.

“So you have this single operations platform, that brings together not only information from EPM systems, but third-party platforms too. That has the potential to not only create efficiencies but really improve communication across the business while avoiding the potential for errors to creep into the data,” Nick adds. “People don’t have to resort to frantic phone calls or wade through files or emails in order to find the information they need.”

Making the right decision

Of course, bringing together all these data sources also presents the opportunity to do new things with them. In that late running bus example, the driver’s duty may be in one system and the vehicle real time information may be in another, but by bringing those two sources together control room staff can be alerted in advance that there is an emerging issue that needs solving.

“We can facilitate proactive decision-making,” says Nick. “It’s perhaps inevitable that if you have information tucked away in various different systems, sometimes you just can’t see the wood for the trees. By bringing those pieces of information together we can help people to focus on making the right decision while managing the operation as efficiently as possible.”

Integrated solutions

The first phase of EPM Group’s development is to integrate between their new cloud-based Depot Allocation System, OmniDAS, and the EPM Traffic system to ensure that any staff-related incidents are automatically created. This streamlines the process and improves data integrity.

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

David Brown joins the Board of EPM Transport Solutions

20 April 2022 – EPM Transport Solutions announces David Brown has joined the Board as a Non-Executive Director.

With 40 years of his career spent working in the passenger transport sector, David brings a vast amount of knowledge and experience to EPM Transport Solutions. Most recently David was CEO at The Go-Ahead Group retiring in the Autumn of 2021 after 10 years leading the business.

As Non-Executive Director, David will be supporting the strategic development of the Group. He will be working with the Executive Team to identify opportunities for new solutions to address emerging challenges across the Transport Sector.

Ian Churchill, Chief Executive at EPM Transport Solutions, said: “I am excited that David has agreed to join the team. With his wealth of experience of the passenger transport sector, he will be invaluable in developing our portfolio of businesses to achieve our growth plans. His passion for innovation and transport is a natural fit with our organisation and I look forward to working together.”

David Brown commented: “I am delighted to have joined EPM Transport Solutions at this exciting point in the development of the business. The Group has developed an extensive portfolio of solutions which underpin the delivery of transport services on a daily basis. I am looking forward to working with Ian and the team in the development of solutions to further assist the industry in the delivery of high quality services.”

– END-

Note to Editors:

EPM Transport Solutions, formed in 1986, provides software to help passenger transport operators and transport authorities reduce operational costs, improve financial performance and better serve their customers. In addition, EPM is the UK’s leading BSOG auditor and concessionary reimbursement consultancy.

EPM Transport Solutions trades as EPM Bus Solutions, Omnibus Solutions and 3Squared.

Omnibus Solutions: omnibus.solutions
3 Squared: 3squared.com

Press contact:

Harminder Sangha
Harminder.sangha@epm-bus.com
07538 935 568

We are exhibiting at the ALBUM Conference 2022

Join us, EPM and Omnibus, on 26th & 27th April 2022 at Village Hotel Blackpool for ALBUM Conference 2022.

Focusing on the collective challenge to modernise, decarbonise and digitalise to grow faster in the bus sector, ALBUM Conference features an exciting line-up of key speakers and offers a chance to network with industry colleagues.

Visit us on stand 31 in the main conference room and speak to Software Director, Nick Brookes; BSOG Director, Mat Hanlon; Account Manager, Penny Johnson; and Omnibus’ Founder, Peter Crichton and Product Owner, Aiden Proctor on the latest passenger transport software to increase commercial, financial, and operational performance; from scheduling, to staff rostering, depot allocation and timetabling.

RSVP: Book your tickets

Visit the website: ALBUM Conference

Address:

Village Hotel Blackpool
E Park Dr
Blackpool
FY3 8LL

ALBUM Conference 2022

26th & 27th April

Village Hotel Blackpool

Employee Spotlight – Lindsay Brown, Senior Auditor

In this month’s employee spotlight we sit down with Senior Auditor, Lindsay Brown who has worked for EPM for over 21 years and has a vast knowledge of the BSOG scheme and business process improvement.

How would your family or friends describe you in three words?

I asked my friends and didn’t get a sensible answer. I think that says a lot.

What is your favourite thing about working at EPM?

The people – both my colleagues and clients. Everyone is so friendly and helpful, which makes such a positive difference to my working life.

What would you do career-wise if you were not working as a Senior Auditor?

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those lucky people who always knew what they wanted to do – I was very fortunate to get the job at EPM, but it wasn’t my dream to be an auditor. I’ve only ever thought about two jobs I’d like to do – owning a B&B or working on the checkout at a supermarket. The latter is my aim for retirement!

What is something most people don’t know about you?

Most people know everything there is to know.

Do you have a favourite book?

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach. It’s quite a short story about a seagull who is outcast by his family and friends as he sees there is more to life than constantly searching for food and shelter – he enjoys flying and soaring the cliffs for fun. It’s a beautiful book and a good reminder that there’s more to life than the mundane.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

Britpop and cheesy pop take me back to good times at school and Uni and make up the majority of my playlist. But I’ll listen to pretty much anything.

What was the first pet you ever had?

I’ve never had any pets as my older brother is very allergic to anything not human. The closest I’ve come is my ex-housemate’s gerbils and my partner’s marine fish. I always wanted a tortoise though (I blame Blue Peter!).

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?

I haven’t travelled extensively, but the two places I could see myself living are Barcelona and Reykjavik – I would love to go back.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Probably renovating my house with my partner. What started out as a 6-month re-wire and re-decorate turned into completely gutting it and 4 years of very hard work.

What’s the best and worst things you’ve eaten?

The worst is definitely cucumber. I can’t stand the stuff! As for the best; my mum’s cheese-on-toast. I don’t know what she does, but I can’t replicate it. It’s amazing!

What’s your favourite thing to do on the weekends?

Seeing family and friends or going somewhere in the caravan with my partner.

How do you think the industry will change in 10 years?

I think advancements in technology will massively change the industry, ranging from zero-emission or autonomous buses to the availability of more detailed analytical data.

Read the previous Employee Spotlight with Service Desk Manager, Olly Gough. 

Experts in Transport Management

Local Transport Authorities: Managing a multi-operator ticketing scheme

According to the National Bus Strategy, 75% of regions currently have multi-operator ticketing schemes, however the take up of these products by the public has often been low.

A key theme of the National Bus Strategy is for LTAs to encourage multi-operator ticketing, whether that’s through the introduction of new schemes, or improving existing ones. The potential benefits are clear: increased passenger satisfaction, greater usage of bus services and scope to reduce costs and carbon emissions.

Scheme administrators will be tasked with setting up the scheme, collating operators’ data on a periodic basis and allocating revenue to operators. They will need to ensure that the sales revenue data from all sources (on-bus, ticket vending machines, travel shops, etc.) as well as passenger numbers are correct so that operators receive accurate amounts of reimbursement.

Streamline processes to increase efficiency

Most multi-operator ticketing schemes are conducted manually, which are extremely time intensive and prone to errors. Scheme administrators are reliant on operators providing manual returns, which are then processed centrally. In addition to this, the calculations that underpin operator reimbursement are usually performed through a series of spreadsheets compiled by the scheme administrator.

Due to the size and complexity of these spreadsheets, they can often become difficult to maintain, particularly with the addition of new products or operators.

Software is needed to streamline this sharing of data between operators and LTAs. Automation tools can enable the transfer of ETM data to a central database. This approach avoids the use of large complex spreadsheets and enables the administrator to analyse the data and produce reports to facilitate the distribution of revenue to operators.

Ensure operators’ payments are accurate

As well as being time-consuming, manual inputting of data can lead to inaccurate figures. There are cases of operators understating their sales returns by hundreds of thousands of pounds and as a result, they retained substantially more revenue. This had a significant impact on the other operators in the scheme, as it meant they received less than their entitlement.

Data automation prevents this from happening and ensures a greater level of accuracy, which means users can spend more time understanding and analysing the figures, instead of manually inputting data.

Software tools can obtain transactional data for all multi-operator ticket sales and usages, which in most cases removes the requirement for survey data – improving accuracy and reducing costs. For those schemes that require average fare data, software can be configured to calculate this for onward submission to the administrator.

Software can also be set up to only send the multi-operator product transactions to the administrator, providing comfort to the operator that their commercial data is not shared.

Conduct commercial analysis for BSIP reporting

Software solutions offer a complete dataset of transactions, which can be utilised to better understand patronage trends and multi-operator product development. As part of the Bus Service Improvement Plans, LTAs will need access to this data to conduct commercial analysis and demonstrate that the enhancements to multi-operator ticketing have been effective.

Undertake an independent audit to offer assurance

With all the complexities of running a multi-operator scheme, stakeholders need to be assured that participants are receiving correct payments. Independent auditors can provide this assurance by undertaking a year end audit of the scheme. This involves analysing ETM data utilising various auditing techniques to ensure that all revenue and passenger numbers can be reconciled to the operator declarations. Further audit tests are also performed on other data sources that form part of the scheme, such as travel shops and online ticket sales. Once confirmed, the internal processes and calculations are reviewed to ensure that the scheme rules have been followed and that operators have been reimbursed appropriately.

How EPM Group can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has a comprehensive knowledge of multi-operator ticketing schemes – from streamlining operational processes, to auditing data, and acting as the scheme’s independent referee. We’ll help to ensure that all participants in the scheme get what they are due and implement processes to provide greater day-to-day assurance. To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form, or call 01527 556940.

Ready to take your bus network to the next level?

Get in touch to build a tailored solution today

Making the bus operation chain more efficient

EPM Group aiming to empower bus operators to deliver efficiency improvements with the very latest software

Since March 2020 we have all experienced big changes in the way we live, work, shop and play. And public transport is not immune to those wider societal changes, many of which were already established trends before the pandemic. But Covid has only greatly accelerated that process.

Meanwhile, the launch of England’s National Bus Strategy, plus changes to funding mechanisms and industry structure across the wider UK mean bus operators will need to embrace change now more than ever.

Article featured in special edition UK Bus and Coach January 2022 by Passenger Transport

The bus sector is working harder than ever to get people back on the bus while adapting to the so-called ‘new normal’. Behind the scenes, operators are striving to address the challenges of supply and demand and tailoring their networks accordingly, but those structural changes and financial challenges mean operators must also adapt and embrace new ways of working and tailor processes to ensure their businesses are as efficient as possible.

Just under 12 months ago two big names in the world of passenger transport software came together with the purchase by EPM Bus Solutions of leading supplier Omnibus. Bringing these two businesses together offers many natural synergies, but now they are hoping to spark a revolution for bus operators that will help them streamline their operations and business processes and help make them ready for the post-Covid era.

Natural partners

Aiden Proctor, Omnibus’s scheduling suite product owner, takes up the story.

Aiden Proctor“A bus operator is a very complex machine,” he says. “There are a lot of moving parts and there’s a lot of activity taking place to ensure the service is delivered to the passenger. We like to think of those processes that got the bus to the bus stop as a chain, a chain that runs right through the organisation and one that brings together a variety of processes.”

That chain commences when the operator begins planning the shape of their network, perhaps that process may commence with some market research activity or probing historical bus patronage data. It enables the commercial team to configure a network that provides the very best service possible to the passenger.

Aiden continues: “Once that’s in place you can move onto the timetables, then the schedules, driver duties and rotas. By that stage, you’re getting to the point where you need to put drivers onto vehicles and so you’re at the forward allocation process. Then you’re finally at the day of operation and you’re opening the doors of the depot and putting the service out on the road.”

And it is here that many of the solutions that have been developed by EPM take over with platforms that allow control room staff to log day-to-day incidents like accidents, unexpected traffic congestion or bad weather. That process continues beyond the end of the day when the service has been delivered. EPM’s solutions allow operators to determine ‘how well did we do?’ with reporting on patronage, profitability, fuel consumption, customer feedback and reliability. That continues with BSOG calculations and contractual reporting to Local Transport Authorities (LTAs). Aiden says it means there’s quite a complex chain of events going on and each and every link in that chain needs to be managed effectively.

“Obviously with the current climate off the back of Covid, there’s a lot of pressure on operating costs and revenue,” he says. “It’s more important than ever that operators have the most efficient service they possibly can.”

Enhancing service quality and efficiency

He says there are two parts to that process. Firstly, ensuring the service delivered is one that is of very high quality and that it encourages passengers to use it and, ultimately, grow patronage. Secondly, this must be undertaken in the most efficient way possible.

“Those two things are pretty intertwined,” says Aiden. “It gives a good idea of how effective the bus operation is. Quite often that process starts with a high-level dashboard of KPIs containing the obvious things like patronage and revenue through to profitability, engineering quality and customer feedback. This got us thinking – how can we help operators really understand how effective and, in particular, efficient their organisation is?”

EPM began to look at the range of KPIs that the typical bus operator wishes to understand from that chain of events. It helps that that entire chain is for the most part covered by processes that require input from the two companies’ software suite. From the Omnibus products that cover scheduling, rostering, crew duties and depot allocation to the EPM processes that gather the operational data and help operators to understand the revenue, profitability and customer service aspects of networks.

“So, we have most of the data to hand, which we can supplement with some third party data,” adds Aiden. “We began thinking about each individual link and how we can make it as efficient as it can possibly be.”

That process has been split into three broad areas: before the day – covering duties, scheduling and forward allocation; on the day – covering running the service and control room processes; and after the day – where the performance of the service is reviewed.

Assisting control room staff

From these broad areas, the processes are subdivided further by examining what can be measured, exploring the data that is required to improve efficiency further and the KPIs needed to make that process a reality. Meanwhile, the team began exploring how the solutions offered by both EPM and Omnibus can be embedded even further to ensure even more efficiency.

Nick Brookes, EPM’s software director, highlights one area where these moves to improve efficiency could bear fruit.

Nick Brookes“We’ve been looking closely at control room processes,” he reveals. “Traditionally the Omnibus schedules would be imported into the EPM system to give the control room the information about what is planned to operate that day. The EPM system is then used to record the incidents that will inevitably occur throughout the day, so, for example, breakdowns, traffic congestion or accidents that will inevitably have an impact on the service that is actually delivered.”

Nick says there are opportunities to bring together the two systems in a way that give control room staff the very best opportunity to make improvements in real-time. For example, there may be a driver who is delayed by traffic congestion in the first half of their duty, so the control room staff may need to extend their break period before they go back onto the road for their planned second half in order to ensure they meet legal or local requirements.

He continues: “That leads to a problem you have to solve immediately. Traditionally control room staff would have had to switch between different systems in order to determine what spare drivers are available to cover the work. You may also need to see what was planned for the driver to do for the rest of the day so you can devise a plan to solve the problem. What we want to do is to pull all of that data, bring it together in one place and give control room staff the tools to efficiently solve the problem.

“Ultimately, it’s a puzzle and at the moment they are having to use lots of different systems in different places to gather up the information they need to solve the problems that are in front of them. That’s not a particularly efficient way of working.”

Nick adds that once the problem is solved, there are a variety of people located downstream that need to be informed about the changes the control room staff have made in order to ensure as robust a service as possible is delivered on the ground. This could be the engineering department, customer services and certainly both the drivers and passengers are going to need to be informed.

“It’s about sharing and passing information throughout the organisation rather than people having to resort to phone calls and emails,” he says. “These are quite time-critical decisions that need to be made and people in that sort of environment don’t have the time to spend ringing up lots of people to tell them what’s happening; they just need to put the information into one place and from there, everyone is informed about what’s happening.”

Customer-informed process

And EPM is working closely with customers during this process. Nick reveals he has recently spent time in bus operator control rooms in a bid to understand the processes that could be improved. As he notes, it is far better to see these processes in action rather than as a theoretical exercise.

“I’ve been to three or four sites so far and I’m keen to get out to a couple more, just so I can discover where the pressure points are where we can make some serious productivity and efficiency gains by bringing systems together,” he says.