Category: Control Hub

CILT webinar: Building an efficient bus operation and retaining drivers

The bus industry is navigating its way through a challenging operating environment with changes in travel routines and driver shortages making the demand for bus services increasingly complex. To overcome these challenges, bus operators need to become more operationally efficient.

The live webinar which was delivered on the 17th January in conjunction with the CILT UK, Nick Brookes, our Software Director, and Aiden Proctor, Omnibus Product Owner, discussed how bus operators can make their transport business more efficient whilst retaining and engaging their workforce.

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Optimising control room and engineering communication to improve operational efficiency

Optimising control room efficiency image

Bus operators have invested in multiple control room software systems from depot allocation to incident management in order to run a smooth operation. To maintain operational efficiency, they need to work in harmony as often an action or data point in one system has an impact on another.

But without integration, this can lead to double entry of data, which is an inefficient use of time and can lead to inaccurate data. Also, the team can make poor service decisions if all the relevant information is not easily accessible to them.

Optimising control room efficiency image

Improve communication

Control room teams and engineers rely on each other for information. The engineer needs to know when a vehicle has broken down, what to expect when attending or dealing with a breakdown and if a driver has reported a vehicle fault. In most instances, the engineer only discovers a vehicle problem when they receive a message from the operations team, and this does not always include all the key information they require to efficiently deal with the problem.

The depot controller needs support from the engineering team to keep the service running by providing the required vehicles. They need to know when a vehicle is available after being worked on by the engineering team. The receipt of this information can be slow, and this results in a delayed resolution to a time-critical problem.

Communication between controllers and engineers can be poor or slow due to several reasons. The control room and engineers are often based in different parts of the site and can be completely remote from each other. But more importantly, both functions use different software tools, so email and phone calls are the current means of communicating and sharing data.

What is the solution?

An operator’s engineering teams use a range of software solutions and providers to manage vehicle maintenance, inventory and costs. Integrating these third-party solutions with your vehicle allocation and incident management systems can improve operational efficiency by automating data flows.

For the engineer, this means that when the depot controller records a vehicle defect, the data is automatically populated in the system with the relevant incident categorisation against the correct vehicle. Time is saved as there is no need to enter the data manually; the system is updated automatically as soon as the driver reports the incident to the operations team.

For the depot controller this means that when a vehicle is taken off the road for maintenance it is automatically marked as not available for allocation. Similarly, when it is released by the engineering team using their software system, the vehicle immediately appears as available in the depot allocation system. The controller does not waste time chasing the engineer on the vehicle’s status.

The controller can also supply details of vehicle incidents, with details of the bus and any defects, straight to the engineering team. This saves valuable time as there is no need to rewrite the information in an email or relay it over the phone. Furthermore, the controller does not need to then mark a vehicle as unavailable in the allocation system because that is updated automatically as soon as the engineer takes it off the road. A double timesaving for the operator!

How EPM Group 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 solutions.

We offer an end-to-end solution. For engineers and depot controllers, we can integrate with engineering software solutions to improve your operational efficiency by automating communication and data transfer. As soon as an incident occurs, it can be logged through the Bus Incident Reporting Screen (BIRS) in the EPM Traffic system and reported to engineering. Engineering can quickly process the issue and make the vehicle unavailable, and this is then automatically updated in OmniDAS (the complete depot allocation system offered through our sister company, Omnibus Solutions).

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.

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.

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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.