Authorities & Operators: Working Together for the Greater Good
Dissolving the myth of transport authorities and operators as antagonistic forces.Read More
By David P December 16, 2018 Reading time:
Dissolving the myth of transport authorities and operators as antagonistic forces.
A common justification for the purchase of an Automatic Vehicle Location and Control (AVLC) system is to provide contract performance reports based on services operated and the performance of the delivered service compared to the published schedule.
(Given that this data is often used to determine performance payments, operators might be justified in seeing the additional workload of supporting a system instituted to penalise them as just another cost to their operations.)
In my experience, the benefit that an AVLC system can bring to operators is not top of mind for governments when they are initially considering a purchase.
Operators are typically viewed through a contractual lens. The government writes the contract and the winning bidder signs up to the conditions. It is up to the operator how they deliver to the conditions of the contract and how to make money by managing their costs.
Certainly there is some benefit in this and operators would be the first to tell governments to stay out of their business as they manage staff, schedule repairs and plan for their future.
However, best practice would suggest that a city's transport operations should not be adversarial.
It is in both the government’s and the operator’s interest to deliver frequent services, on time with minimal disruptions. Good service delivery maximises the benefit to the passenger and the government, and means that operators will get the maximum payment that their contract will allow.
Smart operators know that to do this, they need both visibility and, importantly, control of their fleet.
To provide visibility, many companies have installed their own GPS tracking system on their vehicles.
Yarra Trams knew this and 30 years ago went even further, developing their own location and vehicle monitoring system. They have been successfully upgrading and using this system ever since. Many other bus companies have also installed basic GPS tracking.
Unfortunately, these systems are usually installed for a specific purpose by individual operators who are usually running to a very tight budget. Because of this, they are limited in scope and are not related to the KPIs required by their operating contract.
Control is often via the operators’ own radio system. This is standalone, not connected to the AVLC and remains a significant cost to operators.
Generally, however, it is not the technology that is at issue. It is the willpower and expectations that shape the interactions.
Both government and transport operators need to be open about what they need and how this will benefit them as well as the other party.
In a cooperative delivery strategy, the government will do all it can to make the operator meet their contractual goals.
They want the operator to win, because this means commuters get a better experience. In this paradigm, an AVLC system is not a tool to penalise operators but to enable them to meet their KPIs.
Properly designed routes that are well-executed will give the travelling public a better service at a lower cost.
This in turn will result in increased patronage and ultimately an overall increase in social wellbeing. It’s good for the transport authority, it’s good for the operators, and most importantly it is good for the passenger.
The result? Winners all round!
By David P November 26, 2018 Reading time:
Commuters are choosing cars and congestions over public transport. Could better interconnectedness reverse this trend?
The use of public transport around the world was, until recently, increasing.
In 2015, there were 243 billion journeys made on public transport in 39 different countries (up 18% compared to 2000).
However, in what can only be described as a transport planner’s nightmare, we are now seeing patronage decreases across all modes in many cities, including Melbourne, Brisbane and major American cities like New York and Los Angeles.
Recent research presented at the Australasia Bus Conference tells us that 80% of travel in Australian cities is undertaken in private cars.
We love our cars, but with the avoidable social costs of congestion estimated to rise from $16.5 billion in FY2015 to roughly $30 billion in 2030, there is a significant price to pay and this is cause for concern.
Governments are striving to tempt passengers back into mass transit vehicles. There has been plenty of emphasis and exploration into autonomous vehicles, ridesharing, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and on-demand transport.
These are valuable tools and one day, they will all form a natural part of our public transport ecosystem. But what can our government transport teams do now to make a difference?
One possibility is to increase the level of integration in the transport network.
For public transport users, getting from A to B often involves multiple services and modes.
Often, without a customised point to point service, a single trip will not get us where we want to go. We have no option but to consider a public transport journey as one comprising multiple trips on multiple transport modes and/or routes.
For a long time, planners focused on delivering one transport mode and attempted to deliver a CBD-to-the-door experience, based on the philosophy that passengers wanted to settle in on a single vehicle and did not want to have to pay for multiple trips.
This view was not without merit and is supported by research showing waiting time between trips is perceived as a hindrance to public transport adoption.
Whilst this way of thinking is fine for smaller population centres, as cities have grown it has resulted in some unfortunate side effects. Notably:
These issues could be resolved by having suburban services deliver passengers to major bus interchanges or railway stations, where they would board larger buses or trains bound for the city centre. However:
While there are clear advantages for transport authorities in creating more transfer-dependent systems (such as lowering costs while increasing customer options), it is less clear whether passengers are going to like it.
Services are not planned ahead of time with intermodal travel in mind and the result for passengers is long waiting times between services or large walking distances between trips.
In today’s world of instant gratification, who wants to walk a long way to a bus stop, ride a bus to the train station, sit around at the station until the train comes, eventually catch that train to the CBD, wait for your connecting bus to arrive and then after another 15-minute wait, take that second bus to get to your office.
You might start off the day as hip young Generation Z but you end up a frustrated Baby Boomer! Then we get to do it again going home (groan).
What passengers want is to have a service that is within a comfortable walk, know when the service is going to be at their stop, get off that service at the train station two minutes before the train arrives and catch their train to the city where they find their second bus waiting for the train. Now that is a service I’d want to use!
Many cities have hundreds of public transport routes, thousands of vehicles and multiple private companies operating different aspects of the system.
At first glance, it might appear impossible to coordinate all of these aspects into a working service.
However, a sophisticated intelligent transport system (ITS) can simplify the process of running a multimodal transport network by providing the visibility, control and communication needed within a single platform for planning and paying for a journey.
An ITS works in a number of ways. First, it allows the network to be planned effectively.
Bus routes can be coordinated with tram lines and high capacity line haul routes can be coordinated with suburban services, so that passengers can get off one trunk service and easily transfer to a connecting service. Sufficient time is allowed for the service arrival and walking time between stops.
Next, a control centre receives information about schedules, current vehicle location and any delays that may impact travel at that particular time.
This data can be fed back to vehicle operators, drivers and passengers to allow them to adjust their journey if needed.
The centralised collection of data is of great value to public transport authorities, as well as the operators of individual services within the network.
For example, vehicle location and ticketing data can give insight into passenger numbers and trends. The improved passenger information and service interconnectedness are also a win for passengers.
They want the ability to view the entire public transport network, including trains, buses, trams, ferries, bicycle share and autonomous last mile shuttles, in one digital platform. They also expect simplicity in making multimodal connections.
ITS helps deliver this visibility by allowing transport authorities to collect information on when and where passengers are boarding services and monitoring whether scheduled services are delivered on time.
This is invaluable for day to day delivery as well as planning, where passenger boarding drives the placement of at-stop facilities and travel times allow planners to make realistic service connections.
This data could show, for example, that a particular service is regularly three minutes late at one stop on the route but otherwise running on time.
The reasons for this delay can be investigated and, if not able to be mitigated, the delay can be reflected in a small change to the timetable conveying the time that the bus will actually be at the stop given normal conditions.
While longer term planning is important, the inevitability of delays in public transport networks require the provision of real-time information and control of services.
It is here that passengers benefit most, with ITS also allowing for on-board displays and announcements on delays or even alternative routes.
Passengers can receive real-time information on their current and future services, via the web, apps and SMS, and use digital platforms to track and replan their journey as required.
The real-time communication ITS provides to drivers is just as valuable. If the plan is for passengers to get off a tram and transfer to a bus service for the final part of their journey, missing that connection by 30 seconds will have a very negative effect on passengers who may have to wait 20 - 30 minutes for the next bus.
An integrated ITS can identify that the tram is running late and send a message to the bus, advising the driver to stay at the connection point until the tram arrives. Connection is made – happy days!
With many governments keen to create smarter cities and increase liveability for their residents, the trend reversal we are seeing in public transport patronage is alarming.
To address this, transport authorities must double down to drive positive customer experiences with a fully integrated multimodal network that works for passengers.
Transport planners need to deliver better connected services with reliable wait times that meet the public’s needs and optimise use of transportation assets.
This is not easy, but it must be done and with the right tools and contracts it can be done.
You need only look at the upcoming network redesign in Canberra as validation. This redesign will use the new tram services for line haul, with connecting buses to carry people out to the suburbs. You will see multiple modes working together, connecting timetables and happy passengers.
Only by making public transport easy and convenient, will we persuade passengers to give up their private cars for mass transit vehicles.
With tighter connections and better integration using the right ITS tools, transport authorities and operators can make this happen.
By David Eason October 25, 2018 Reading time:
MaaS, on-demand transit and generational change.
The recent Australasia Bus Conference was an eye-opener in more ways than one, with lots of expert speakers on a wide variety of topics. However, the one that left a biggest impression on me was undoubtedly Claire Madden, the social researcher who literally wrote the book on Gen Z.
(If you, like me, aren’t sure what Generation Z is, this refers to the ‘post-Millennials’ – people born in 1994 or later. They’re likely to be your teenage children or the young professionals who have just entered your workforce.)
Not only did she teach us how to speak Gen Z (kudos to you if you know what all of the above terms mean), she shared some impactful statistics and insights from her research that may surprise you.
In terms of what this means for the bus industry, as employers we need to start thinking about how to manage this new generation of employees.
Ms Madden suggested that given their relative inexperience in offline communication, Gen Z employees could need a different kind of professional development – potentially, training on how to communicate effectively on the phone and in person.
Due to their natural inclination to collaborate and expectation that their opinions will be heard, it is important to create a welcoming workspace that encourages them to contribute ideas. A collaborative leadership style is more likely to get the best out of them.
Gen Z is also immensely valuable if you want to keep up with changes in trends and technology.
Ms Madden described them as “very agile” and with their finger “on the pulse”; if you are interested in societal change, Gen Z-ers are usually pretty good indicators of where we are headed because they are so plugged in.
If you think about this, you’ll see that Gen Z-ers really are a weathervane for changing passenger expectations:
This is why transport authorities are prioritising demand responsive transport and Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
If we’re serious about increasing patronage and getting people out of their cars and into buses, we need to start looking at how we can making public transport easy.
This talk set the tone for the rest of the bus conference. Other speakers also stressed the importance of customer-oriented public transport and shared insights from their own smart mobility efforts:
Susan Harris, the CEO of ITS Australia, revealed findings from their latest paper on MaaS, the future of public transport and what Australians want:
Ms Harris stressed that it was important to have a vision of where you want to be before implementing MaaS.
With numerous trials and full implementations having been rolled out overseas such as UbiGo, Whim, Didi and S’Hail, there is plenty to learn from.
Martin McMullan, NZTA’s Director Connected Journeys, gave a great update on the New Zealand perspective on MaaS:
Learnings from trials:
NZTA’s collaborative relationship with customers to solve problems and crowdsource ideas really impressed me.
Their openness and willingness to test new concepts and ideas has certainly helped them uncover useful insights into their market.
Matthew Longland, Deputy Director General of Queensland’s DTMR, discussed the on-demand transport trial in Logan and customer feedback:
However, there is still some way to go with these on-demand services because DTMR have not been able to integrate it with the wider Go Card network.
DTMR also want to improve occupancy by consolidating passengers and optimising trips.
Part of the difficulty DTMR experienced seems to be due to the use of a modified taxi solution instead of a dedicated demand responsive transport software.
Our clients in North America have had great successes in implementing on-demand transport; I’d be keen to see if we can replicate their achievements here.
Mr Longland also outlined DTMR’s objectives and challenges for the future of Queensland’s public transport:
John Karaboulis, Executive Director Service Delivery and Asset Management for TfNSW, also provided a helicopter overview of passenger transport in NSW:
Mr Karaboulis also said the new generation of public transport contracts would focus on return on investment and performance improvement:
Technological and generational change are indisputably triggering new heights of customer expectations, which leading transport authorities and operators are now acting on by researching, trialling and testing MaaS and on-demand transport.
The concept of headway-managed services is also (excuse the pun) making headway in Australia.
While traditionally we have mostly only run shuttle services (think Melbourne Airport’s Skybus) in this fashion, I anticipate ‘turn up and go’ is going to feature strongly in the bus industry’s future. Find out more about headway-managed services.
Yale Wong (Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies researcher) predicts that bus operators are likely to see a shift from delivering vehicles to delivering accessibility. The recent Region 6 tender, the first contract in Sydney to blend both mass and on-demand transit, is an example of this more mode-agnostic thinking from government.
For today’s bus operator, it is clear that passenger expectations are shaping the direction that transport authorities are taking. To stay relevant and competitive, it is more important than ever to get future-ready and be open to new ideas.
And if you have a Gen Z-er in your office, you might want to invite them to your next brainstorming meeting.
By David P October 24, 2018 Reading time:
Headway management made simple.
When the first Cobb and Co coach ran from Melbourne to Bendigo, it left the Criterion Hotel in Collins St every morning promptly at 6:00am (Sundays excepted).
They overnighted in Castlemaine and were off at 6:00am the next day for Bendigo. A timetable en-route may well have read “Cobb and Co to Castlemaine will be here at 12:30”.
If you were in Keilor, Gisborne or Woodend, you had a pretty good idea when the daily coach was coming through and you would get to the stop with time to spare.
Speed was important, so drivers would sound a bugle one mile out and groomsmen would ready the next team of horses to minimise changeover time. If you were a passenger and you happen to miss the coach, there was always tomorrow. (Unless, of course, it was Sunday.)
Having published them, we as transport professionals strive to deliver on our promise. Broken axles, muddy tracks and floods may have been replaced with rail crossings, car accidents and unrelenting peak hour delays but all these challenges must be overcome to keep services running to the timetable.
As public transport demand grows, service frequencies increase.
Eventually a service becomes so frequent a passenger no longer needs a timetable; they know they can just roll up at the stop and a bus will shortly pick them up. This then removes the need for a timetable at the stop, as a notice that a bus will be at the stop in less than 10 minutes will suffice.
This situation portrays a 10-minute headway. Running this in theory is straightforward: start a trip every 10 minutes and run all buses to time. At least, that is the plan – but unfortunately, traffic and physics failed to read the playbook, so what is delivered is often very different.
Buses get delayed for many reasons: traffic, large crowds at a stop, elderly people looking for change – the list is as long as it is entertaining. Despite our best efforts to meet a timetable, certain issues refuse to go away: for example, when a bus is caught in heavy congestion, it is really hard to move it faster than the cars!
From a customer experience perspective, passengers generally have a high-level understanding of how traffic (and other circumstances beyond an operator’s control) can cause delays. What they don’t understand is why this will result in a really, really long wait succeeded by two buses showing up at the same time.
Operators try and deal with this through planning. Two common techniques are:
However, these methods are at odds with high frequency services. Whilst increased layover helps get back to the timetable, it is not popular with passengers.
Sure, you could fire off a bus from the terminus every 10 minutes, but there is no way to control these services other than having a supervisor with a clipboard standing by the roadside with a watch, manually timing the services and talking to drivers as needed.
Even gathering performance data will be difficult, as resource restrictions mean you can only measure how each bus is progressing at a small number of points along the route. Compounding this, drivers will not be able to see the vehicle ahead of them on their current route.
The result is that real-time intervention is almost impossible and headway management generally happens after the fact.
It is designed to present the public with as close to a consistent arrival time as possible, even if there are service delays. It helps operators spread the buses out so that two buses on the same route do not arrive at the same stop together.
When combined with high frequency services, headway management even eliminates the need to publish timetables and gives passengers the confidence that a bus will be arriving very soon.
Although there is a lot of talk about headway-managed routes being the latest big thing, it is not new. Shuttle bus services are often run on a headway basis and a number of high frequency routes in many cities have long been advertised as ‘turn up and go’. However, they were manually controlled or not controlled at all.
Technology has reached a point where public transport authorities can now deliver on the promise. Some examples of agencies where this is done are:
There are many other progressive cities across the world where headway is used to measure regularity, including Barcelona, Milan, New York, Paris and Vancouver . In Australia and New Zealand, regularity is typically measured by on-time terminal departures. However, the limitations this places on delivering better customer outcomes are now becoming more widely recognised.
The possibility of technology changing this paradigm sparked a great deal of interest at the UITP ANZ Customer Experience Roundtable in August 2018, with many attendees recognising the benefits that effectively-managed headway can bring to all stakeholders.
To track service reliability, authorities have used:
Each technique has its own benefits and drawbacks , but EWT has emerged as the indicator of choice. For high frequency services, EWT is an objective measure that can be calculated across routes and is relatively easy to fold into operating contracts, with a history of producing excellent results.
Passengers are the immediate beneficiary of the right metric and good headway management because irregularity in headway discourages commuters’ use of public transport  and increases passenger discomfort . Furthermore, as passengers on high frequency routes are more likely to arrive at the stop randomly , a small improvement in EWT will deliver the best outcome to the most passengers.
By measuring EWT and encouraging operators to reduce this, transport authorities will consistently deliver better services that passengers can rely on.
Public transport companies also benefit from the use of EWT as a metric. The core technologies used to monitor and report on EWT give operators an instant view of operations for both scheduled services and headway services. Whilst both service types are scheduled in the normal manner, once they start running there is a need to clearly identify each route by type and give operators continuous EWT statistics on all routes.
Another key tool is the development of automatic alerts on Bus Bunching. This lets operators see issues whilst they can be fixed and before they become too serious.
The right technology will bring transport authorities a real-time view of the transport network, but more importantly it will monitor and measure headway.
It should deliver the right visibility and controls to operators and allow them to adjust operations in real time to meet EWT targets. This ensures that buses arrive with greater regularity and improves the level of service delivered to the public.
To encourage operators to be proactive and course-correct services in real time, transport authorities can offer substantial performance bonuses as an incentive. Transport for London, for example, pays up to 15% of the contract value in bonuses.
Just like the Cobb and Co services from Melbourne to Bendigo, the delivery of headway is dependent on a number of factors.
Freeman Cobb saw the opportunity for improved services and filled that need with high-speed services, enabled by changing stations every 15 miles and the right technology (in Cobb’s case it was imported Concord coaches, which had been designed for travel in the American West).
Transport authorities must have a similar vision to drive service change. They need to put the right headway management technology in place to drive operators to achieve a higher standard of service delivery KPIs.
Operators then need to be focussed on making this work. Management personnel in these companies must adapt and accept that they need to be even more closely partnered with their drivers than normal, as it is the driver who must make use of the information the tools provide and self-manage the gaps between buses.
Only the passenger needs to do nothing as properly delivered, headway-managed routes will give them a better service, with less waiting and higher levels of reliability.
When Henry Lawson wrote ‘The Lights of Cobb and Co’, perhaps he could sense the excitement of the public for a better transport system. That excitement is still here today – it is up to us to deliver on the promise. Headway management can help us do just that!
 Transport for London, “London’s Bus Contracting and Tendering Process, lbsl-tendering-and-contracting.pdf,” Transport for London, London, 2015.
 B. S. C. t. I. S. T. t. BCM, “Bus Services Continue to Improve Since Transition to BCM,” 04 09 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.lta.gov.sg/apps/news/page.aspx?c=2&id=752cc877-00a8-4e0c-8732-11e3d8ffa126.
 M. Trompet, X. Liu and D. J. Graham, “Development of key performance indicator to compare regularity of service between urban bus operators,” Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transprotation Research Board No. 2116, pp. 33-41, 2011.
 A. Polus, “Modeling and Measurements of Bus Service Reliability.,” Transportation Research, Vol. 12, pp. 253-256, 1978.
 M. Simeunovic, M. Lekovic, Z. Papic and P. Pavle, “Influence of vehicle headway irregularity in public transport on in-vehicle passenger comfort,” Scientific Research and Essays Vol. 7(32), pp. 2874-2881, 2012.
 D. R. a. G. C. Csikos, “Investigating Consistency in Transit Passenger Arrivals: Insights from Longitudinal Automated Fare Collection Data,” Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 2042, pp. 12-19, 2008.
By Michael Zink October 22, 2018 Reading time:
Linear assets are a unique type of rail infrastructure, and they present unique challenges for asset managers and maintenance teams. How do you tackle these issues?
Rail authorities know that asset management is a critical part of delivering a quality service, operating safely and maintaining customer satisfaction. Every day, rail network riders benefit from experiencing clean and safe stations and trains (the ‘above rail’ assets) along their journey. Equally important, however, are the myriad of ‘below rail’ assets including linear infrastructure (track), which provide the strong foundation upon which your system is built.
Linear infrastructure exists across a variety of asset-intensive industries and typically serves the purpose of moving people, water, air or power from one place to another. Examples include railways, pipelines and roads.
In the rail industry, most linear infrastructure falls into the general category of ‘fixed guideway’, and includes the following assets: track (mainline, yard and so on), tunnels, bridges and electrical/power system elements such as overhead catenary wire, third rail and cabling.
In contrast, stationary or non-linear assets are generally confined to a single location, such as rail stations, signals or switches. Railcars, locomotives, carriages and support vehicles are all examples of rolling stock (non-linear) assets.
Public rail networks are faced with the unique challenges of ensuring their assets are operating safely while contending with strict timetabling and customer service expectations.
These challenges are magnified significantly due to the complex nature of the network’s large number of linear assets, which often include nested, multilevel hierarchies of ‘child’ assets. For example, rail lines typically have mainline track with interlockings (a ‘parent’ asset) that are made up of a collection of interrelated signals and switches (‘child’ assets).
The sheer size of rail networks also makes the task of maintaining all your infrastructure data incredibly intricate.
The Trans-Asian Railway network comprises 117,500km (73,000 miles) of railway lines throughout 28 countries. In the United States alone, there is almost 224,000km (139,000 miles) of railway track and over 21 million people passing through the busiest station each year. The ongoing data management challenges for maintenance are clear.
Creating an effective linear asset management program requires that you understand what makes linear assets unique – length – and have tools designed for that purpose.
From a data perspective, linear assets can be quite complex, spanning hundreds (even thousands) of kilometres. Different segments along a rail network may face significantly different utilisation and wear and tear. As a result, each section may require different levels of monitoring and maintenance.
Furthermore, the geographically-dispersed nature of rail assets makes it challenging for end users to effectively manage the data and workflows on a daily basis. It is virtually impossible to keep track of all these variables without a rail management system that caters to the uniqueness of linear assets.
Fortunately, specialised tools exist to manage these challenges.
Effective asset management requires all assets to be defined and reported on in a systematic method. Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solutions manage all maintenance activities (preventative and corrective) and operating costs (labour and materials).
They have many benefits including tracking all rail infrastructure, their component ‘child’ assets, as well as all work and materials management workflows.
Rail managers use EAM to coordinate the resources required to handle scheduled and emergency repairs to minimise service disruption.
Other common functions include inspection scheduling so you always know when the next service is due, inventory level tracking, parts request management and procurement workflow support.
Time and again though, experience has shown that the complexity posed by the rail environment requires even more: an EAM solution that is purpose-built for the industry.
There are many Tier 2 and 3 EAM software packages on the market that perform basic maintenance functions. However, only a few have the specialised Tier 1 features required to effectively manage rail infrastructure.
For starters, look for a system designed to be your single, master repository of all wayside assets (linear and non-linear) over their entire lifecycle.
One key feature is asset configuration management functionality, to ensure that equipment can be updated to the approved engineering configuration while remaining in service.
Secondly, the system must have a Linear Reference System (LRS).
This is the underlying data structure that characterises a linear system (segments, markers and offsets), and to which all asset and event data such as work orders is referenced.
Third, due to the geographically-dispersed nature of rail networks, leading solutions offer advanced tools for field workers: mobile solutions, GPS real-time location and native GIS/mapping visualisation.
Additionally, advanced EAM systems are designed to take full advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) trend by importing track geometry, as well as rail defect/fault data from ‘smart infrastructure’ and vehicle-mounted systems like geometry cars, ultrasounds and ground penetrating radar.
Integrating this data into EAM provides real-time alerts to maintenance staff so they are more aware, proactive and efficient in identifying and solving problems.
Lastly, look for proven solutions that continue to evolve with the industry, such as the ability to track asset condition, performance and risk to comply with ISO55000 or the Transit Asset Management regulations in North America.
Rail asset managers utilising a system that puts this sort of comprehensive linear data at their fingertips are at a clear advantage.
The data helps to improve safety through inspection compliance, failure analysis and service history. Keeping assets in good condition also minimises service delays due to unexpected equipment failures, while extending their useful life. A purpose-built rail asset management system will help ensure you remain in compliance with all regulations while maximising safety, asset maintenance and customer satisfaction.
 UNESCAP, Trans-Asian railway (2017), http://www.unescap.org/our-work/transport/trans-asian-railway/about
 AARP, America’s awe-inspiring railroad terminals (2013), https://travel.aarp.org/articles-tips/articles/info-11-2013/
By David Eason August 26, 2018 Reading time:
Get your warehouse in shape: save time and money
Normalisation and acceptance of ineffective financial management is a silent killer for any business.
For bus operators, whether it’s multiple systems across the business or reliance on manual data entry processes, the lack of an integrated solution is guaranteed to cost you time and money.
Inefficient systems that fail to provide real-time inventory visibility and tracking also fail to give you an accurate picture of what is happening within your warehouse.
Missing or inaccurate data constitutes a significant blind spot, allowing unnecessary or unauthorised financial expenses to go unnoticed.
Sometimes these costs can be minor, such as purchasing too much stock or staff including parts for their personal use within bulk orders. Others can pack a greater punch to your pocket, such as inefficient warranty tracking that causes your employees to miss opportunities to make claims.
Time is a valuable commodity for any business, and just the thought of wasting it on processes that can be integrated and streamlined should be motivation enough to utilise automation wherever possible.
Are your employees wasting time going through filing cabinets when they could be using a search function in a digital database to obtain information in seconds?
What if those records are misplaced?
Do you see staff members entering the same data into multiple places because your software systems don’t talk to each other?
Think of how much more value-added work your personnel could carry out if they did not need to dedicate so much time to do things manually.
The good news is that through the use of systems that can automate processes, improvements are always possible and often significant. Having a system that enables workflow automation as well as inventory control can not only reduce unnecessary costs, but expose untapped cost efficiencies.
Having an in-depth understanding of your inventory, where parts are used and how often they are used gives you invaluable insights such as:
This further allows for enhanced efficiencies in your accounting department, as more accurately tracked inventory can be accounted for and reported.
(Think of it as power steering for your business – the same results, but in less time and with less effort.)
This can be applied to various processes across the warehouse, including communication, inventory management and maintenance. As the saying goes, “time is money” and if you can improve the time-efficiency of your warehouse processes, you will see a return on your investment.
While the transition to new systems in and of itself is sometimes perceived as too time-consuming or difficult, failing to do so is likely to hurt your business more in the long term.
Seeking assistance with system integration from a technology partner with experience and knowledge of the bus industry will make the process easier and provide you with the support you require.
1. Fain,B. (2015, January 16th). 3 reasons why you need automated inventory management and reporting [Web log message]. Retrieved from https://www.stitchlabs.com/blog/3-reasons-why-you-need-automated-inventory-reporting/
By Trapeze Group August 21, 2018 Reading time:
And how to avoid them.
We need to talk about total cost of ownership. Specifically, about total cost of ownership for enterprise asset maintenance and management (EAM) software.
Your EAM system is clunky, aged, difficult to use and does not integrate with new technology.
Industry best practice or new regulation has been introduced and you want to incorporate the change, which means your EAM solution needs updating.
You want to upgrade your EAM system to the latest version your supplier has released because it has some great new features that would make your life a lot easier.
Your company spent millions customising a generic EAM solution to its industry, internal policies and workflows. However, when your team starts using it, something breaks.
If any of these tales of technology heartbreak hit close to home, don’t worry – you’re not alone.
We all know legacy technology is bad for business. It results in some really serious problems for your organisation, namely: making maintenance activities more manual; crippling your ability to interface with the latest and greatest technological advances (or even just the latest version of your browser); and making your staff unhappy because it’s slow / user-unfriendly / medieval-looking.
Nobody goes out to procure stale technology, but you’ve taken your first step to legacy land if you choose a generic EAM software and do not account for the growth of that technology over time:
Anyone familiar with Moore’s Law or Kurzweil’s work knows that technology is progressing at an exponential pace.
If your rail organisation wants to be its most profitable, efficient, reliable self, you need an EAM system that can keep up with technological advances and improvements. That means making the right choice when you go out to market.
An EAM system is a long-term investment and you want one that is as fit for purpose in 5, 10 or even 20 years as it is today.
Here’s how you can insure against obsolescence so your RFP stands for ‘Really Foolproof Purchasing’, not ‘Risky, Failure Probable’:
AVOID by including a question about the cost of upgrades in your RFP. By this, I don’t mean just bug fixes that should be included in your maintenance agreement, but actual full version upgrades that include new features to keep your system rooted in the present.
Don’t forget about the implementation aspect either – will deploying those upgrades be an extra cost, or will it be included as part of your maintenance arrangement at no extra charge?
AVOID by asking about prospective vendors’ product development practices: do you have the opportunity to suggest enhancements or improvements that will be included as part of the core solution?
Or will you have to pay for customisations every time, because a public transport operator-specific feature is ‘too niche’ for their product roadmap?
AVOID by stating your preference for an industry-specific, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution in your tender. A COTS solution that’s tailored for rail won’t need the extensive customisation that a generic, one-size-fits-none EAM system requires, which saves you money now and into the future.
Partner with someone that knows it’s in their best interests to keep up with industry trends and needs – so you don’t have to pay them to do it.
With a rail-specific COTS EAM, system upgrades can be performed more frequently so useability stays relatively stable
AVOID by getting a feel for their longevity. When you interview tender applicants, scope out whether they’re long-termers who will evolve with you and the rail industry or fair-weather friends to whom you will just be one of many, many, many clients. (Here’s some suggested questions.)
You want a vendor who is committed to growing with you and your industry, not constantly busy with bigger fish to fry elsewhere.
If you include all of the above as questions in your procurement process, you should be able to determine the EAM solution and vendor that will be the most suitable for your rail business today as well as tomorrow. Remember, it’s not just about what goes into the expense column of this financial year’s budget – it’s also about the costs (and opportunity costs) for many years to come.
At Trapeze Group, we have a ‘software for life’ philosophy. That means your Trapeze EAM system is kept up to date and up to industry standards for free for as long as you’re part of our maintenance and customer care agreement.
As people transport is all we do, we inform our EAM product development roadmap using the upgrade requests and feedback from our client base so we remain current with industry needs. Instead of doing one-off customisations, we build any new features for new clients back into the base product and release it to the rest of our clients in the next update so that everybody benefits.
Find out more by contacting your local Trapeze rail industry manager.
By David Panter August 14, 2018 Reading time:
How to balance operating conditions, organisational priorities and deliver a great passenger experience even in the face of unforeseeable disruptions.
Customers are the foundation of any business, and this is as true in the public transport industry as it is in any other.
If services are poor, always late and in substandard conditions, customers will protest with their voices (whether face-to-face at your staff or on social media) and then with their feet as they abandon public transport for their own cars.
The qualities that passengers desire in a public transport service are seemingly endless. There are obvious basics like safe, clean and reliable transport; there are value-adds that have slowly become an expectation over time, such as passenger information and extra services during special events. Today, we can add transport on-demand, services every 5 – 10 minutes and protected transfers from one service to the next to the customer’s wish list.
The sheer amount of data that must be analysed and factors that must be calibrated to deliver all of the above is daunting. Challenges abound: the intricacies of enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs) must be considered; budgets can’t always stretch enough for so many extra services; information often resides in separate systems and is hard to access and integrate.
However, at the end of the day the public transport industry exists to serve public transport users. If we do not keep up with their needs, we risk becoming obsolete and unnecessary.
The real question for transit professionals is – how can we juggle all these variables to consistently deliver a satisfying passenger experience, no matter what is happening ‘under the hood’?
Passengers don’t care how much planning or research went into creating timetables or scheduling services. They just want trips that run when and where they need transport most. The challenge for transport authorities is staying ahead of this demand by identifying which services are most popular and allocating resources appropriately.
This is where the data collected from an Automatic Vehicle Location and Control (AVLC) system is immensely valuable. An AVLC system will reveal which services are overcrowded and which are underutilised. It will contain a wealth of information concerning on-time performance, travel times and passenger movements.
This data can be analysed to help transport authorities and operators anticipate and cater to changing conditions and fluctuating demand. For example:
A savvy operator could use arrival time data to keep up with their KPIs. For instance, they could check if the lack of school drop-offs during school holidays is causing buses to arrive at stops ahead of their scheduled times and adjust accordingly.
All of this information can then be fed into a planning and scheduling tool capable of providing solutions that satisfy all operating parameters (EBAs, vehicle numbers and the like) while achieving your goals (service frequency, passenger loading, asset utilisation and so on).
These days, you can go even further than historical and operational data in formulating timetables.
With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), Smart Cities and the Internet of Things, it is possible to harness even more information than what was traditionally available to transport agencies: weather forecasts, real-time demand, road congestion data and social media feeds are just a few examples. Leading agencies like Transport for London are already looking into this.
While operators always do their utmost to keep services running to schedule, disruptions and delays are a reality in the public transport world. After all, even the best laid transit plans will be thrown in disarray by unforeseeable disruptions like car accidents clogging up the roads.
For obvious reasons, when things are going wrong is not the best time to figure out what to do. Being reactive puts you on the back foot: in the high stakes world of public transport, a hasty decision could have serious consequences for your organisation.
A popular military adage is that proper preparation prevents poor performance. To be able to course-correct swiftly and pre-empt network chaos, you need to be proactive.
One operator that does this really well is the Swiss transport company Verkehrsbetriebe Zurich (VBZ). Their dispatchers have over 250 pre-prepared dispatch actions and roughly 800 predefined re-routings to select from in case of disruptions.
This preparedness means that despite operating on some of Europe’s most congested roads, VBZ has an excellent on-time performance record and reputation for reliability.
Ensure your organisation has a comprehensive set of pre-planned responses and actions codified into your central control centre system. This ensures that your staff know exactly what they need to do to rectify the situation and eliminates any panicked decision-making or delays while people discuss how to resolve the issue. It also ensures that no key steps are forgotten.
If you do this well enough, most of the time the passenger will never even know that their trip was in peril!
Of course, sometimes things cannot be fixed behind the scenes and services are impacted. To prevent a mildly annoyed passenger from becoming completely irate, you need to deliver information about the delay to them quickly.
The power of real-time passenger information should not be underestimated. 85% of passengers said they would find waiting more acceptable if they knew when their bus would arrive; over 70% perceive performance more positively once passenger information is made available – even if performance has not actually improved.
If you have a cancellation or delay, it is vital to update your customers instead of leaving them in the dark. This helps passengers feel like they have some control over the situation: they can choose to adjust their plans, advise those waiting for them to arrive to take alternative actions or make a conscious decision to wait.
Do your best to strive for ubiquitous passenger information: in their hands, at their stops and on-board the vehicles.
Your operations control system should be able to integrate to your mobile app, website, in-vehicle displays and physical signage at stations or stops so that real-time data can be transmitted quickly without any manual double-handling. This ensures that all passenger information comes from a single source of the truth and is displayed in a consistent manner (regardless of device or mode of transport) for easy consumption.
Don’t forget verbal announcements as well – it can be comforting for passengers to hear an update from another human being.
Advanced transport authorities will also be thinking of out-of-the-box ways to communicate. For example, Transport for London and Transport for New South Wales are trialling AI-powered chatbots on Facebook Messenger to answer customer queries. These chatbots could potentially ‘learn’ each individual user’s regular routes and pre-emptively warn them if there are any changes to those services.
The above three steps are a simple summary of what needs to happen – from the passenger’s point of view – to keep a transport network running smoothly and to provide a high quality customer experience.
For transport authorities and operators, executing this in real life requires a veritable juggling act that would be near-impossible without the right systems.
The data and real-time feedback from an ITS can help those in the control centre assess the cause of disruptions, provide options to work around or fix these issues and keep drivers and passengers updated. It should also seamlessly integrate to your communication channels so passenger information can be distributed with little to no effort by your staff.
Keeping customers satisfied is an ever-more demanding task. However, as leading transport agencies like VBZ show, you can rise to the challenge and exceed expectations with the right processes, systems and procedures in place.
By David Eason August 12, 2018 Reading time:
GOING ONCE, GOING TWICE, SOLD! The key to a profitable sale for bus companies.
Mergers and acquisitions are often complex, lengthy and require the use of valuable time.
Whether your company is looking to purchase another operator or you are on the other side of the deal, a widely-used Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that is tailor-made for buses can help get your company ‘sale ready’ and be a major asset in facilitating the process.
Selling your company can be an emotional time. While you might be ready to sell, it can be hard to view the process as a business deal rather than the handing over of a company that has been a part of your life or even your family for years.
A potential buyer will be appraising your business’s worth based on the financials, and you want to be sure that these accurately reflect your company’s value.
Other organisations tend to use their own methods to come up with company valuations that may take you by surprise.
However, by using an integrated ERP system across your business to track, store, monitor and analyse your operational data, you can equip yourself with the information you need to back up your own estimate of what your business is worth. This knowledge of the details puts the negotiating power back in your hands – knowledge that is proven and confirmed by reliable data and facts.
This element of trustworthiness, enhanced by the use of an ERP system, also increases the buying appeal of your company.
Purchasing companies are more likely to trust the information you supply if it comes from data recorded in a digital system on a consistent basis. Utilising an ERP solution to manage your operation will reduce the amount of risk your buyers perceive and as a result increase your company’s dollar value.
Having an ERP system also ensures you have all operational information at your fingertips.
This helps you identify actual or potential problems and either prevent or solve them before the sale, giving you an opportunity to increase your efficiency, profitability and sale price. Furthermore, it allows you to generate answers to questions more effectively when potential buyers request extensive operational reports, company data and financials during negotiations.
You as the owner have built the company from the ground up over many years. You have extensive knowledge of your business and know your company like the back of your hand.
However, information that is not maintained in a solution is more susceptible to negotiation. It is important that you protect this information in a format that is easily accessible and transferable. Technology will enable you to communicate operational details in a format that is very difficult to argue, ensuring you can realise the most value when selling your business.
If you are looking to expand and acquire additional bus operations as part of your portfolio, having an ERP solution that you are familiar with can be of benefit as well. Part of what has made you successful thus far is the operational measures you put in place and how you have executed them, so having a system that captures all of this is valuable.
Taking over a new operation is a huge undertaking requiring a lot of your attention as you handle the human element of the change on both sides.
Working with an ERP technology provider that is bus-minded and can support your move is also incredibly powerful as they can provide experts when you need them the most. With an ERP solution that is tailored to the bus market and your current operation, the transfer of best practices will be more seamless. For example:
From a planning and scheduling perspective, your runcutting and rostering experts can build on the current schedules and perfect them prior to the transition using a system they are familiar with, allowing you to benefit from more efficient schedules and duty rosters.
Every operation and even depot has its own nuances when it comes to managing drivers and buses, but the fundamentals are always the same. Having a tool that allows you to implement your best practice principles at the same time as capturing local knowledge will ensure any new operation will be up and running at its optimal level quickly with the least amount of risk to the business.
From a fleet management and inventory perspective, you are aware to the most granular level of the health and productivity of the largest physical asset your business owns: the buses you operate. Having an accurate account of your inventory will also allow you to best manage cash flow and concentrate on the areas of the business that need the most attention.
From a finance point of view, if you have an integrated finance solution already set up that can reach into every part of the new bus operation, you will identify very quickly what areas need the most improvement in order to bring it up to standard and you can compare and consolidate across your group.
Being able to quickly automate the complicated task of payroll eliminates risk from your business. You will not be reliant upon a few key individuals within each operation who hold all of the knowledge.
Utilising a single solution across your operations that your staff are intimate with allows technology to smoothen the change management process when taking on new ventures. Your people are already familiar with the solution and can educate others on its use.
Ultimately, for both buyer and seller, it is evident that having a bus-specific ERP solution in use can be a significant advantage. Such a system is extensive in the benefits it can provide in allowing each party to come to the table better prepared for any sales negotiations.
By David Eason July 29, 2018 Reading time:
The Secret of Any Successful Bus Operator
It is widely accepted that effective communication within any organisation is essential for its functioning.
The beneficial flow-on effects that can be achieved through enhanced communication are extensive. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are proven to successfully facilitate such communication and have resulted in many positive outcomes.
Wasted time on performing activities manually translates to wasted costs – a dual negative outcome.
Using a single ERP system across your entire bus organisation has the ability to limit this by making interdepartmental communication seamless.
Because all of your company’s vital information is managed in the one system, every staff member can access it and employees can obtain the information they need directly instead of interrupting their colleagues and breaking their workflow.
For example, with an ERP system in place, payroll would be able to access shift schedules and driver sign-on and off times to generate driver pay.
They would not need to request this information from the operations department to effectively perform the requirements of their job, as the entire process is automated. This further ensures that when face-to-face interactions are conducted, they are more meaningful and less disruptive.
An ERP also allows for the standardisation of processes (5), so less time is wasted performing duties inefficiently.
Having a single streamlined process can also make the education of new staff members easier and less time-consuming.
A solution that is specifically built for and utilised by the bus industry will give you an additional time saving in terms of the configuration and maintenance of the solution for your operation.
A solution tailor-made for your industry and business type will require far fewer customisations out of the box than other generic ERP systems, allowing you the benefit of a faster implementation and cost savings.
Processes, such as those involved in decision-making, are made easier with an ERP system due to its ability to enhance communication between different departments (5).
This is achieved by integrating all of your operational information into a single database, which can be easily accessed through a consolidated interface and analysed to produce business intelligence and make informed decisions (5).
This enhanced flow of communication is in real-time.
For instance, operations can see which buses are available for dispatch and those that are unavailable due to maintenance or repairs as any vehicles off road are excluded automatically.
The system’s ability to monitor and alert staff of potential problems prior to their occurrence furthermore contributes to its problem-solving capabilities.
As an example, an ERP for bus operators should have the capability to flag a driver fatigue regulation breach before it happens.
Furthermore, such a system can be used to monitor and predict inventory demand, request required parts, allocate costs, disseminate information with external organisations and estimate key financial metrics (1).
A further benefit of working with an ERP solution that focuses on your industry is that the people implementing and supporting your successful use can provide insight based on years of experience. This means enhanced workflows based on the unique needs of the bus industry and transportation services.
Empirical evidence suggests that companies are able to gain competitive advantage through the use of an ERP system (3)(4).
This edge is a result of the integrated system’s ability to eliminate the duplication of both effort and data, increase the efficiency of processes, improve productivity, better facilitate communication and enhance an organisation’s preparations for competitive market changes (1).
Transactional cost benefits through the use of an ERP system are also possible.
This is because an ERP system replaces a multitude of separate computer applications with a single, streamlined system that functions across the entire operation (2).
Going from many to one software system means you will save on licenses, maintenance fees, firmware updates and the need to have multiple in-house ‘power users’ for different systems.
By using an integrated ERP system, bus companies can gain a multitude of benefits including those attributed to saving time and costs.
Most of these result from the system's ability to significantly enhance communication by streamlining processes. Ultimately, an ERP system creates a more efficient and effectively functioning organisation.
 Abu-Shanab, E., Abu-Shehab, R., & Khairallah, M. (2015). Critical success factors for ERP implementation: The case of Jordan. The International Arab Journal of e-Technology, 4(1), 1-7.
 Bendoly, E. & Kaefer, F. (2004). Business Technology Complementarities: The Impact of The Presence and Strategic Timing of ERP on B2B E-Commerce Technology Efficiencies. Omega, The International Journal of Management Science, 32(2004), pp. 395-405.
 Kwahk, K., & Ahn, H. (2010). Moderating Effects of Localization Differences on ERP Use: A Socio-Technical Systems Perspective. Computers in Human Behavior 26 (2010) , pp.186–198.
 Salmeron, J. & Lopez, C. (2010). A Multicriteria Approach for Risks Assessment in ERP Maintenance . The Journal of Systems and Software 83 (2010), pp.1941–1953.
 Yazgan, H., Boran, S. & Goztepe, K. (2009). An ERP Software Selection Process With Using Artificial Neural Network Based on Analytic Network Process Approach. Expert Systems with Applications 36 (2009),pp. 9214-9222.
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