Rowgate Group, a leading Berkshire-based bus and coach operator, has chosen Omnibus software solutions for driving timetabling, scheduling and allocation efficiencies.
The group incorporates three independents – Fernhill Travel, White Bus and Baileys Coaches which have a combined fleet of 70. The partnership brings digitalisation of processes to White Bus, andOmniDAS, a cloud-based depot allocation system, to all three of the group’s operators.
OmniDASprovidesRowgate Group with real–time driver and vehicle management, andseamless cross-functional collaboration across its4 locations in Windsor, Bracknell, Woking and Newbury.
White Bus also adopts the intuitive Omnibus scheduling suite, allowing the county’s oldest independent to produce complex timetables and robust scenarios in minutes, and TransXChange tools to easily share data with other systems.
Together the market leading software solutions provide Rowgate Group with the capability adopted by larger operators.
Simon Rowland, Managing Director of Rowgate Group, said: “It is important for us to stay ahead of the game and to do this we need a partner with proven solutions and a deep understanding of the UK bus industry and the challenges operators face.
“Omnibus is uniquely placed with the knowledge, expertise and technology to support us as we optimise our resources toward the most effective services for communities across the Home Counties and beyond.
“The solutions cover 100% of our needs. The powerful algorithms in the software maximise results, resources and non-driving staff efficiency as well as being easy to use. We are excited about our partnership and leveraging the innovative capabilities offered by Omnibus.”
Peter Crichton, Founder of Omnibus, said: “With a 30-plus year track record of supporting the passenger transport industry, Omnibus is proud to provide Rowgate Group with software solutions which will help drive business growth by improving operational efficiency across the business. Our comprehensive solutions continue to make Omnibus the partner of choice for smaller independents up to large global operators.”
The scheduling suite consists of powerful timetabling, scheduling, mapping, rostering and crew duty modules, while OmniDAS can allocate and manage resources, produce timesheet and payroll information, and automate staff sign-on. This allows organisations to focus on service provision without having to worry about time-consuming administration.
Cardiff Bus has embraced enhancements to the Omnibus vehicle scheduling software, OmniBASE, to improve the scheduling efficiency of their alternative fuels transport.
The operator will use the features to validate assumptions for its battery-electric buses.
The new functionality in the powerful software makes scheduling alternative fuels vehicles easier and quicker.
Operators can specify alternative fuel types along with fuel capacity and discharge rates – and the data is specific to each schedule, which allows schedulers to adjust parameters by depot and over time based on real-world data.
Schedulers can quickly review their workings with new reporting which provides an overview on the ability of each bus working to operate within range, based on the vehicle parameters defined by the user.
Other new features to help improve efficiency include distance details on the bus graph – making editing workings easier, and the ability to provide information on driver running boards to advise on the required battery charge for an electric vehicle to complete a trip.
Also, intelligence has been added to the link process to assess the effect on charge levels and feasibility of potential bus links, assisting the scheduler in selecting the pieces of work that provide the best match and taking into account charging requirements and opportunities.
In terms of electric vehicles, new functionality identifies a period when a vehicle is recharging, and this time is automatically converted to additional range and factored into the range calculations.
Gareth Stevens, Commercial Director at Cardiff Bus, said: “As Cardiff’s main bus operator and a real cog in the wheel of city-life, public transport is key to reducing air pollution in our cities. With the adoption of new fuel types, we need a partner who understands our business. Omnibus has consistently proven to be a trusted partner for us as we continue to use the latest technology to meet our zero emissions goal and investment plans for the future.”
Peter Crichton, Omnibus founder, said: “Providing robust software solutions for the bus industry is at the core of what we do and OmniBASE achieves this by enabling operators to produce efficient and accurate vehicle schedules quickly and for all types of passenger transport.
“The new advanced functionality in the software not only improves scheduling efficiency, but it also supports operators on their journey to meet the Government’s clean air targets.”
Ritchies, New Zealand’s leading passenger transport operator, has selected Omnibus’ depot allocation solution to be adopted across its main depots.
The solution will transform the operator’s planning and on-the-day driver and vehicle allocation processes to improve operational efficiency, cost management and enhance collaborative working.
OmniDAS is the complete Depot Allocation System providing operators with the capability to confidently deliver services safely and legally whilst minimising costs and providing real-time driver and vehicle management control.
Ritchies has been using Omnibus’ scheduling suite since 2018 and gained efficiencies in the planning of services as well as making the process much easier for schedulers.
Stephen Cruttwell, Implementation Manager at Ritchies, commented: “We are confident that our depot controllers will gain valuable operational efficiencies which have been experienced in the network planning teams across the business. This major investment in OmniDAS will provide access to leading-edge technology ensuring our allocators can react to on-the-day unscheduled driver events and easily access real-time driver and vehicle information to make the optimal business and customer service decisions.
“Having worked with the Omnibus team for 3 years and the great customer support we have received, for instance accommodating working out-of-office hours on their side due to the time differences as we rolled out the solutions, we are in good hands for the next phase.”
Aiden Proctor, International Client Manager at Omnibus, added: “We are delighted Ritchies has selected OmniDAS to support their future growth and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Having proved our scheduling solutions and demonstrated operational efficiencies to the business, this has further cemented our partnership. Our technology will play a key role in rebuilding patronage and providing a reliable service in New Zealand.”
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.
Aiden Proctor, Omnibus’s scheduling suite product owner, takes up the story.
“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.
“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.”
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.
Empowering bus operators with software solutions to improve operational efficiency
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Merseytravel has extended its software partnership with EPM Group (EPM and Omnibus) through the adoption of the Omnibus cloud-based scheduling suite.
Omnibus’ solution provides users with a range of flexible and easy-to-use tools aimed at improving efficiency and reducing the margin for error when timetabling and scheduling and is accessible from any location.
Merseytravel is the transport delivery arm of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and has previously worked with EPM Group on the deployment of contract management solution ETM DAS to monitor the performance of tendered routes in a central hub – reducing administration time and providing data to make cost-effective decisions. In addition, Merseytravel also implemented the interactive analytics platform EPM Insights which offers strategic insight through real-time management information and dashboards.
The scheduling suite integrates seamlessly with both products, removing the need for manual entry of timetables when preparing to issue a new tender. Timetables and scheduling data is then fed into EPM Insights for visual reporting and analysis.
The Omnibus TransXchange viewer tools can also be utilised to review submissions from operators to ensure compliance with the tender specification, making this process as efficient as possible when dealing with multiple tender submissions.
Jeanette Townson, Bus Development Manager at Merseytravel, said: “The implementation of Omnibus scheduling suite will help streamline and increase the efficiency of the tendering process by removing the need for manual data entry.
“Previously this process involved creating timetables in Microsoft Word and Excel which was time consuming and difficult to update. The integration of the products and automation capabilities will help ensure data quality and provide significant time savings – freeing up valuable resources to focus on other priorities.”
Ian Churchill, CEO at EPM Group, said: “We are thrilled to expand our partnership with Merseytravel, and this new integration is testament to the software’s capabilities as well as the value which is achieved with the two businesses, EPM and Omnibus, working together.
“Driving efficiency is the key goal behind our software solutions and we are committed to helping Transport Authorities improve the effectiveness of their organisation and the success of their networks.”
Sam Greaves, Head of Service Delivery at Tower Transit UK, has been in the bus industry for over 25 years. In this video he discusses how automatic crew scheduling system CrewPLAN enables his schedulers to efficiently find the best answer quickly and “quite often it’s option number 1”.
Empowering you with software to drive your business forward
The drive to net zero is revolutionising the passenger transport industry as we know it – and our solutions are too.
To meet the needs of bus operators, our vehicle scheduling software OmniBASE now includes advanced alternative fuels functionality to make planning for battery-electric, hydrogen and gas buses quick and easy.
In our webinar, recorded on Tuesday 7 December, we run through our Alternative Fuels functionality, covering all facets of the new features available to OmniBASE users.
The webinar includes:
How to configure new fuel parameters for your vehicle types
New ‘at a glance’ reports to help schedulers quickly review workings
Improvements to the link tool and adding distance information to the bus graph
For EVs, functionality to identify when a vehicle is recharging
Scheduling is an art and there are concerns about an emerging skills gap that is about to hit the industry.
Much has been written about the bus industry’s skills gap – the missing generation of managers brought about by the sector’s deregulation in the mid-1980s. However, it seems that there are issues looming in other segments of the industry, specifically the increasing number of schedulers who have reached a certain age and are choosing to retire.
“We have a real and significant issue,” warns Peter Crichton, founder of Omnibus. “Schedulers tend to be of a certain age and more and more of them are retiring. Just how do we replace that talent that is now starting to leave the industry in increasing numbers?”
While the skills gap in industry management teams has been largely plugged with the profusion of graduate and internal management training schemes, Crichton expresses concerns about how the looming skills gaps in the scheduling function will be tackled.
“You can’t just pop people down in front of a computer and expect them to get on with it,” he says. “Scheduling is an art and a skill and it takes time to train people up to meet expectations.”
With staff costs roughly accounting for 45% of the cost base of the industry, even a 1% saving in resource can lead to significant cost savings. With a good, well-trained scheduler having the ability to save bus operators thousands of pounds, Crichton notes that good, thorough training is key as well as a thorough knowledge of the job and the tools of the trade.
“You can’t just expect people to take on scheduling within five minutes,” he says. “It takes time, training, knowledge and expertise. I wouldn’t sit someone fresh out of school or college in front of a computer and expect him or her to run my financial year-end. You need training and skills to be able to do that and scheduling is just the same.”
He contrasts the training that many of today’s new schedulers experience with his own training in the area in the late seventies in Greater Manchester. Crichton’s starting points was an intensive 4 weeks of training that gave him the nuts and bolts of the job. This was then followed by 12 months of on-the-job training under the wing of an experienced scheduler, where Crichton admits that he was given every drudge job going, but he learnt the scheduler’s art “from the ground up”. His career then progressed.
“It was just an excellent way of learning,” he says. “Back then there was a demographic time bomb that was about to explode too. The generation of schedulers who joined the industry in the immediate post-war era was on the verge of retirement, but there was structured training and there was a very clear path. What we have now is very similar – that generation is now coming up to retirement, but I’m not sure there’s that succession planning there today. I’m also not entirely convinced that the industry, on the whole, has the skills to provide a good level of training.”
Crichton remembers the paper-based systems that were in use when he began his career in the late seventies. “Back then we had four people scheduling just two depots as a full-time job,” he remembers.
“The advent of computers to assist with the scheduling process has really, really cut that down. I know of some companies where there’s just one or two people responsible for scheduling whole companies and there isn’t any form of structured succession strategy.”
He points to the management training schemes that the major groups and even some smaller operators have developed in recent years. Crichton feels that this is all well and good but it is structured towards people looking to reach the top in operational and engineering roles. As he says, there’s nobody thinking about recruiting and training the next generation of schedulers in any meaningful way.
“Those management training schemes aren’t really attractive to people who would be interested in scheduling, “Crichton says. “More and more operators are getting involved in apprenticeships for engineering staff to solve the problem of a generation retiring there, so why don’t we, as an industry, have some sort of formal training scheme for schedulers? Perhaps we need to think about almost a scheduling apprenticeship.”
This article originally appeared in the ALBUM magazine.