It's clear competitive bidding is here to stay. How can you stay on top?
Tendering: Scheduling Your Way to Success
Whether you agree with the practice of open tendering or not, it is clear that competitive bidding is here to stay. The question is: how can you make sure you’re on the front foot and ready to submit your best offer when the tender is released to market?
Your effort to win work in an area should begin long before any tenders are released. Of utmost importance is building relationships with the local authority. You will not have access to them when they move into the tendering phase, so you need to get to know them before this happens and understand what is important to them for their community, ask any questions and gather important information about the network.
Next, make sure you have the right team in place. You will benefit from having local knowledge within your team, so start looking early as experienced people will be in high demand from other interested companies. If you leave it too late, somebody else will snap them up. You may also want to research planning and scheduling specialists who offer bureau or consulting services to help you during applications.
When you get closer to the tender release date, start sourcing information that will help you run calculations. Look for benchmarking information that gives you an idea of how many buses and duties are required currently to use as a reference point for your own results.
You should also import the existing network and timetable data from Google Transit or similar and give yourself a head start in the process of planning and scheduling. This will save you a great deal of time later and enable you to easily extract all of your statistical data relating to service kilometres and time for building your dead running times and distance.
Last but not least, especially if you are the incumbent, have an open mind. Don’t make the mistake of being rigid and doing things just because you’ve always done them that way – there is always room to improve and you want to spot these areas before your competitors do. Be open to new ideas and different ways of working to help drive efficiencies.
During the Tender
When the tender is released, you will be asked to provide numerous details such as total bus numbers (including spares); service and non-service kilometres; dead running time; total number of drivers; and, of course, the total cost for your bid.
In order to submit your most competitive proposal to the transport authority, you will need to run numerous what-if scenarios to look at the different options and balance your costs with driver numbers and fleet size. There are numerous operational constraints to take into account when you calculate these scenarios, but here are a few easy-to-miss items:
- Enterprise bargaining agreements: Are there any existing EBAs in place and do you have to honour them? The prescribed day-off patterns, award parameters, driver penalties, minimum/maximum shift lengths, daily working average and so on may conflict with your ideal working conditions. While it is possible to make changes to existing conditions, negotiations with the local unions will take time and may affect what you can operate on Day 1.
- Dead running: Are you being paid for service kilometres? If you are, this may affect how you schedule your drivers – for instance, you might opt to use a service bus to and from the depot for reliefs. If you are not, you may want to look into a new depot, layover location or meal location somewhere central to save on dead running and fuel costs.
- Fleet considerations: Are there any bus allocation constraints? Find out if there are any routes or trips where particular bus types are needed, as this affects your vehicle optimisation when creating scenarios. For instance, some routes may require a wheelchair-accessible vehicle while others may physically not be able to accommodate articulated or double-decker buses.
- Interfacing requirements: Do you need to interface with any other systems? You may be required to supply general transit feed data to the local authority for use in an open data hub (like TODIS in New South Wales). Investigate what third-party systems you have to work with so you can ensure your software will deliver information in the right format with minimal work on your own part and if you need to build in extra costs for this.
It is vital to use a planning and scheduling tool that can handle a variety of parameters and quickly give you answers at this stage. Relying on manual calculations or software that cannot take into account various operating constraints could lead to errors and inaccurate costings.
Well, you’ve won – now what? While your victory is certainly cause for celebration, it is no time to be resting on your laurels.
After you sign the contract or begin implementing what you have promised, you may obtain new knowledge that was previously unknown. Use this additional knowledge to go back and improve on your tendered results; fine-tune any issues you discover or any new rules that you were not aware of and run new vehicle and crew schedules to operate.
If applicable, you should also commence union negotiations as soon as possible to nail down what local conditions you must operate. Depending on how these discussions go, you may need to revise your crew schedules and rosters until a new agreement is struck.
After you are off and running with services, you should still review your network’s vehicle and crew schedules on a regular basis to see if improvements can be made. You should retain the use of your planning and scheduling tool for rerunning new scenarios, such as when you are making timetable changes. Manually altering shifts for service changes can leave you open to human error and paying more money than you should.
Getting all your ducks in a row and giving yourself plenty of time to prepare your submission goes a long way in creating a quality bid. Make sure you have the right team in place and give them a good planning and scheduling tool to work with. This will ensure you are able to construct fleet and crew schedules that meet the tender’s requirements quickly and effectively, increasing your chances of success.
Look for outside help early so that you find a good partner who knows the business of scheduling well and is prepared to invest in your ongoing business requirements. The last place you want to be is mid-application and in desperate need of help, unable to spend adequate time in researching and evaluating vendors before choosing one.
Written by Grant Coffee
This article was published in the Queensland Bus Industry Council’s June 2018 magazine (QBIC News) and is based on Grant Coffee’s presentation at the Australasia Bus & Coach Show 2017. The full slide deck is available here.
To read more about how other bus operators have scheduled their way to success, visit:
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