Author: Gurby Griffiths

Video – Scheduling training ‘pivotal to the job I do now’

Simon Harris in front of a Blackpool Transport bus

Simon Harris has commended Omnibus’ manual scheduling training for giving him the tools he needed to succeed in the bus business. 

During his 12-year career at Blackpool Transport, Simon said he learned more in just two days at Omnibus than he has “in most courses that have lasted weeks and months”.

The network planner explains why the training is “interesting and enlightening” and why it proved pivotal to the job he does now.  

How did you find the training? 

I thought it was just going to be an introduction to scheduling and I would learn the basics of how you get a bus in the yard out onto the road. But it was actually very in-depth. 

I learned more in those two days than in many courses that have lasted weeks or months. In fact, the course gave me a thorough knowledge basis to do my job and to help improve the buses of Blackpool.

What did you learn? 

What you learn on the scheduling training isn’t just how to write a timetable on a piece of paper. I learned what timetables are in the real world. I learned what it takes to run a bus service and what you can do to make the most efficient service out of the resources you have available. 

I learned how other operators do things, the best way of scheduling and what terminology is used in the industry from knowing what a headway is to what a layover is.  

Has the training helped you in your role? 

I used what I learned to rewrite the Service 7 timetable which had no chance of running to time. I wrote a new timetable and suddenly the service became reliable, and more passengers started using it. 

I was then able to use that knowledge to create network-wide improvements and since 2014, that’s seven years as a network planner, I’ve gone from suggesting how to improve one route to basically rewriting the whole network. 

Could you have done your job without the training?   

Without the training I probably would have fallen over at times because I wouldn’t have had that foundation of knowledge needed to do the job. So, for me I found the course not just interesting and enlightening but actually proving pivotal to the job I do now.  

If I hadn’t done the course I probably wouldn’t be sitting here, I’d probably be back driving a bus because I’d be told I don’t know what I’m doing. 

Would you recommend the training? 

The training is important because you get to understand the foundations of how to do the job. A lot of people think they know what it takes to run buses, but new schedulers need a foundation of how to plan and schedule, be aware of the resources available and the cost implications of running a bus. 

The training is essential to give the scheduler the understanding of what their role is and how to go about it to do the best they can.  

And the Omnibus software solution helps schedulers to achieve the goals that everyone has of running a reliable bus service. Once you know the Omnibus systems inside-out, you can be more efficient with time usage, and you get the results as quick as you need them. 

Our portfolio of courses for schedulers and operational staff has been developed using real-world industry experience obtained over the past 40-plus years. We educate passenger transport operators and transport authority employees, union reps, company directors, schedulers and service delivery teams right across the UK. We also provide training to the light rail sector. 

How Buslines uses Omnibus to deliver savings

Buslines Group vehicle

Buslines Group is a regional bus operator servicing the New South Wales area in Australia. With 360 buses operating across 12 regions it primarily offers bus services for school children covering a large, mainly rural geographical area.

With 95% of passengers being children the operator prides itself on offering a reliable, safe and personalised service, where bus drivers know the children and parents they serve.


Buslines are a family-owned business who have been operating for 95 years. The production of schedules has been completed manually. Recently, management wanted to digitalise the scheduling process that would enable multiple people to be involved in the scheduling process and for them to be located anywhere, not constrained to one office.

Digitalisation of bus timetables is also becoming the norm with passengers getting journey information in real-time on-demand from key travel sites. However, Buslines did not have the capability to provide such data due to information being produced manually.


Omnibus’ solution was selected after Buslines reviewed a range of systems from different suppliers in the market. The operator wanted a supplier who provided not only a great product but also a high level of customer service to support them through the adoption process.

Buslines have implemented a number of Omnibus systems; OmniTIMES to rapidly produce timetables, OmniMAP to automatically generate bus route mapping, OmniBASE to create efficient bus schedules, CrewPLAN to deliver optimised driver schedules, and OmniROTA to deliver cost-effective staff rosters.

Consultancy services have also been provided by Omnibus to support Buslines in the submission of responses to large tenders. This allows the operator to access additional skilled resource and ensure high quality tenders are submitted, without impacting day-to-day business.


Efficiency and savings in the scheduling process

Since adopting the system, Buslines have been able to implement changes to schedules and make the process more efficient. This has delivered important savings, such as;

  • Changing the timetable by 5 minutes resulting in a reduction of the number of buses required to deliver the schedule.
  • Dead trips changes and timetable tweaks to deliver more efficient bus workings.

“We are seeing great value using OmniBASE and CrewPLAN, the algorithm in the system quickly produces the most efficient schedule and depot allocation workings” – David D’Apuzzo, Director at Buslines Group in Australia

Transport for New South Wales TODIS file produced quickly and seamlessly

Transport for New South Wales, the Connected Bus Programme, requires an electronic TODIS file which includes information on bus timetables and real-time bus journey information. By adopting the Omnibus software solution, Buslines have been able to provide this data quickly and seamlessly.

The TODIS file underpins the online travel planner where customers also have live feeds showing where the bus is, journey times and if a bus is running late. This is a key benefit for parents waiting for their children at a bus stop.

Minimise timetable errors 

As part of a Government programme, several towns in which Buslines operate are introducing new networks and are now offering additional services during weekdays, at night and on weekends. This leads to regular service review meetings and frequent timetable changes.

By using the fully integrated suite of Omnibus systems, Buslines can implement any changes quickly and efficiently. With data flowing seamlessly from timetables through to schedules and rosters, the operator is now confident that the latest timetable information is always used and previous errors in alignment between timetables and operations are eliminated.

The future

Buslines have now removed the risk of a single point of failure in the production of their schedules, whilst improving the effectiveness of the scheduling process. In turn, this has resulted in operational costs savings through more efficient schedules.

With work under way to map all Buslines services using Omnibus journey planning tools, the operator expects to achieve further improvements in operational efficiency whilst also raising the quality of bus services provided to customers.

Take the hassle out of scheduling

Empowering you with technology to develop efficient and optimised schedules

Creating optimised EV scheduling scenarios

Luke Marion, finance and commercial director, Oxford Bus Company

Building on the success of their existing electric-hybrid buses, Omnibus were chosen to work in partnership with Oxford Bus Company on their decarbonisation strategy.

Part of the Go-Ahead Group, the operator sought to gain a competitive advantage by creating schedules that supported their bid for the Government’s ZEBRA funding to purchase a fully electric fleet.

Luke Marion, finance and commercial director, Oxford Bus Company

Their goal was to keep costs to a minimum by improving vehicle and driver management. In addition, Omnibus advised on the inter-urban services operated by sister company Thames Travel.


Oxford Bus Company required scheduling scenarios to support a wide variety of work to analyse the impact of electric vehicles on operations as well as costs. Requirements included creating:

  • Multiple scheduling scenarios created and compared, to maximise the total number of miles operated per vehicle per day due to the limited range of the electric vehicles (EVs) specified, and to ensure that expensive new EV buses purchased would be effectively utilised. These are across numerous rosters at both Oxford Bus Company and Thames Travel.
  • Scheduling scenarios produced to inform on the effect that an EV operation may have on driver duty costs and content.
  • Scheduling scenarios produced to inform on the effect that a 100% EV operation may have on overall costs.

The company operates a comprehensive network of services in the city, as well as express coach services to the airports. It also operates the BROOKESbus service in partnership with Oxford Brookes University and park & ride which connects five car parks to the city centre.


Omnibus’ consultancy team proposed custom performance scenarios agreed with the operator’s vision to operate 100% zero emission vehicles on city routes by 2024. Omnibus also advised on the most cost-effective solution to roll out a fully electric bus fleet. The solution included:

  • Producing scenarios on agreed route groupings to determine:
    • Additional vehicle requirements
    • Changes to duty costs and content
    • Route branding issues
  • Highlighting the minimum cost solutions and advising on the most efficient solutions based on maintaining route groupings.
  • Highlighting requirements for opportunity charging during the day and for overnight charging.
  • Running further scenario testing for long distance inter-urban routes that were expected to be less well-suited than city services to move to an EV operation.

Luke Marion, Finance & Commercial Director of Oxford Bus Company, said: “We’ve had a long-standing partnership with Omnibus and have always highly valued their proactive and positive approach to helping us solve our scheduling challenges.

“The work they’ve done to support us on the electrification project has been invaluable in helping us understand how we will need to adapt our scheduling practices to deal with new vehicle technologies.”


By using Omnibus’ consultancy services, Oxford Bus Company was able to use optimal and robust scheduling models to meet its environmental objectives. The operator succeeded in:

  • Maintaining scheduled service times
  • Smoothing the EV charging operation throughout
  • Maximising driver efficiency by re-allocating duties
  • Reducing costs by mixing vehicle workings
  • Maintaining brand identity on established routes

Key features and figures found in these results are to be used to inform and appraise future decarbonisation projects across the Go-Ahead group.

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue and drive operational efficiency.

Video – Timetable publishing software ‘logical and easy to use’

publishing software

Kevin Brolan joined the commercial team at Yellow Buses in 2019 and is responsible for producing roadside timetables for all bus stops in the operator’s network. 

To do this he uses OmniSTOPdesign – an Omnibus publishing software solution he describes as “brilliant, logical and easy to use”.

It takes Kevin half-an-hour to produce PDFs for all 800 stops; it was previously taking up to three weeks and involved full-time support from a graphic designer.  

The commercial assistant highlights four of his favourite OmniSTOPdesign features. 


There are so many features of OmniSTOPdesign that are great, but the customisability is the top one for me; the options this feature provides are endless. From one master template, I can create eight, nine, 10 different templates and each one will be different and tailored to our needs. 

OmniSTOPdesign allows users to create templates to any paper size, with a large range of layouts to choose from, and full freedom over graphics and fonts. Printed material is tailored to meet company specific brand requirements. 

Route maps

I particularly love the route maps as well. We’re a tourist town that attracts visitors and students who need to make informed decisions on how to get to places and route maps by locality makes this very clear. 

OmniSTOPdesign templates can include an automatically generated line-of-route map for each service, showing which places are served by the service and how long it takes the bus to reach them from the current stop.

On-stop display imagery 

Another great feature is the ability to advertise our services such as Buster’s Beach Bus. We insert an image of the brand into the service line to point the customer to the beach bus and it will tie in with our calendars as well. It’s also useful when promoting services offered by our partner organisations. 

OmniSTOPdesign allows users to insert graphics in any format to enhance the displays; all services can have their own branding graphic shown alongside the service details as well as promotional messages for other services. 

One size fits all

We struggle with our roadside infrastructure where we have several services going to one place that we haven’t got the roadside material to fit it in. Again, this is where the customisability feature is so brilliant; we can force the times in by resizing the departure dates and departure. Without OmniSTOPdesign, we would have to use multiple cases on bus stops which would be confusing for the customer. 

OmniSTOPdesign allows all text elements to be customised using whatever fonts and font sizes the user requires for that particular text element. 

Kevin said it is important for Yellow Buses to provide clear information quickly to customers: “By using OmniSTOPdesign, we can do that easily. For us it ticks all the boxes.”

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

Are you ready for Bus Open Data Service (BODS)?

Network Big Data Transfer

The Bus Open Data Service (BODS) provides bus timetable, vehicle location and fares data for every local bus service in England.

The Department for Transport (DfT) wants to make it easier to travel by bus and says the open data will enable passengers to plan their journeys with confidence, spend less time waiting and find the best value tickets.

Aiden Proctor gives a rundown on the intricacies of a BODS timetable file.

Network Big Data Transfer

What is BODS?

The Bus Open Data Service is a scheme led by the Department for Transport (DfT) that requires all bus operators in England to publish timetables, fares and live vehicle tracking in an open data format that can be read by other downstream users. The intention is to provide more data to transport users, improving accessibility but also allowing third party developers access to the data.

What is required?
In regards to timetables, operators are required to supply a TransXChange (TXC) file that is either uploaded and hosted on the DfT site or hosted elsewhere but linked to the DfT site. The DfT wrote a separate list of requirements for the data it wanted to be included in a TXC file for BODS. This is known as the PTI Profile. It is currently on version 1.1A.

Fares and live tracking data is supplied differently and not in the scope of Omnibus.

What is the difference between a file for BODS and a standard TXC file?
The PTI Profile sits within the TXC 2.4 schema – that means the BODS file is laid out and set up in the same way as a normal TXC file but some of the data fields that are optional within a standard TXC 2.4 file are mandatory in a BODS file. The PTI Profile also stipulates the way that some of the data entries must be configured – this may be different to how you would export it as a normal TXC 2.4 file.

So what does that all mean?
It means that producing a standard TXC 2.4 file will not produce a compliant BODS file. That is why Omnibus created a separate BODS Exporter within our TXC Exporter Module.

Why is it separate?
Our standard TXC Exporter is very versatile in the way it allows users to configure the data fields they export in a TXC file. BODS does not have this flexibility – it must contain certain data and in a certain format. Therefore, we created a separate export routine. The BODS Exporter offers no ability for a user to customise their output because the data format is very specific as detailed by the PTI Profile.

What is happening in the real world?
The DfT have set a deadline of 30th September 2021 for all timetable files submitted to BODS to be compliant with the PTI Profile 1.1A. This means that a standard TXC 2.4 file or an invalid BODS format file will no longer be accepted.

Our friendly team is fully versed on BODS requirements and can walk you through the whole process, and continue to support you as requirements evolve. Think of us as your partner and just know that we’ve got your back; all you need to do is get in touch and we’ll be happy to make this process as simple as possible for you.

Video – Complex network revisions made simple

Complex network revisions simplified by Omnibus

In the first 12 months of the pandemic, Yellow Buses went through five network revisions – an “extremely difficult” and time-consuming task which the operator said was simplified by the Omnibus solution. 

The bus operator normally implements one or two small changes a year and larger revisions every few years. But COVID-19 temporarily changed this, and it had a significant impact on the Bournemouth-based operator. 

Yellow Buses uses Omnibus’ full suite of timetable and schedules modules, including OmniSTOPdesign to create at-stop information displays. 

Kevin Brolan, Commercial Assistant at Yellow Buses, said: “We’ve gone through numerous network revisions, one of the largest ones we did was in 2017. We did another major change in February 2020 only for it to last a month as a result of the pandemic. 

“The impact of the pandemic has been absolutely huge on our workload. Since the February change, we’ve had to do five different revisions of the network in all, so it’s been quite intensive. 

“Normally, all the on-stop run for 800 stops would be extremely difficult, but with OmniSTOPdesign we’ve been able to speed things up massively, so we can focus on all the other activity behind the scenes. Once we have it auto running, OmniSTOPdesign can PDF all our 800 stops within about half-an-hour and print them in a day. “To put it in context, for a service change that was starting on Monday, we would have all the material out on the previous Friday to minimise the disruption to the customer. The productivity of OmniSTOPdesign is absolutely astronomical.” 

Kevin added: “We are extremely satisfied with the Omnibus solutions and particularly in the case of OmniSTOPdesign. We would not have been able to implement the many different service level changes we have made to react to the fluctuating situation regarding the pandemic were it not for this intuitive and easy-to-use package.”

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

Can scheduling software replace the scheduler?

Can scheduling software replace the scheduler

Scheduling software has transformed the passenger transport industry, but many experts argue that it takes a mix of skills to achieve the right result.

Scheduling software packages are now well established at any bus operator of any significant scale and they have streamlined and transformed the way in which companies operate their businesses by reducing costs and increasing efficiency. But are these scheduling software packages the solution to all ills?

Can scheduling software replace the scheduler

Bus scheduling is an art and a skill that takes time to learn. Many experienced schedulers would argue that software packages need to be used in tandem with some very human skills; in other words, they are an aid rather than the means to an end. These packages can assist the scheduler in creating schedules that are more resilient, but despite advantages in technology, they still need human experience and talent.

Scheduling entails myriad of specialisms

Graham Atkins, network planner at Bournemouth-based Yellow Buses, joined the world of bus and staff scheduling around 2016. His background is as a bus driver, but he admits he was always interested in the way that his day-to-day duties were scheduled. “I’m also a bit computer savvy and enjoy problem solving, so it was inevitable I’d end up as a scheduler,” he jokes.

Atkins admits it took him around two years to get to grips with the complex process and myriad of specialisms that scheduling entails. “We had the Omnibus [scheduling] software, but we were still using pen and paper back then for so many of the tasks,” he says. “I thought we could do more with the software.”

Omnibus software is not a new product making bold unsubstantiated claims, but one that has been continually updated and refined for decades by industry experts, many of them with a background in scheduling.

The aim is to provide bus operators with a suite of efficient yet powerful tools that is backed by considerable investment and continued improvement by the Omnibus team. This reflects not only rapid changes in technology but also the evolving requirements of the industry as a whole, for example, with the software providing dedicated export feeds including VDV, TransXChange, ESBR and BODS.

Atkins and his colleagues recognised the power of the Omnibus software and the decision was made to embrace its full potential. The software company, says Atkins, were extremely supportive during this transition period.

Scheduling requires human input

“We went to see them and they came to see us and we really got under the skin of it,” he adds. “We thought carefully about what we wanted from the system and we worked closely with them to tailor the suite to what we needed: that has been such a benefit to the business. I can sit at the computer and it generates so many things that are used around the company – ticket machine data, real time information systems, timetables at bus stops and on the website, information for our finance team – all of that flows out of the one system.”

However, Atkins is adamant that a scheduling software solution can only go so far and that human input is also still needed. He says that the art of scheduling is about achieving a fine balance and it requires a real mix of skills, not just careful attention to detail. Atkins points to his background as a bus driver and how his experiences in that role have shaped the way in which he approaches his work as a scheduler.

“You could sit down and use the software to create a set of schedules, but it also needs a human eye to look over them,” he says. “With my driver’s hat on I look at a schedule and think about whether it would appeal to me. I’d say that from the driver’s point of view the scheduler is not the most popular person, so it’s about taking the output from the scheduling system and tweaking it to create something that makes sense for all concerned.”

Akins’s views are echoed by Andy Foster, head of network management at National Express West Midlands. He has over 20 years’ worth of experience of Omnibus software in a variety of roles and he describes the skill of scheduling as “an artful science”.

‘Power off’ test

“Scheduling is about creating a timetable that is attractive to the public but it also needs to be cost effective too,” he says. “So, you could create the most wonderfully efficient schedule using the software alone, but it’s more than likely you’d end up with a timetable with headways that just didn’t make any sense to the customer. I’ve always taken the view that you can only get the best from the software when you have a trained scheduler operating it.”

Foster likens this approach to the ‘power off’ test – in other words, if there was a power cut, could the scheduler resort to manual methods if need be?

He continues: “You could put someone in front of the software with no manual scheduling experience, but they just would not have all the answers. The software is there to aid and assist the scheduler. If you look at some of our most intensive services in Birmingham, you could schedule that manually, but it would take a long time to work something out that the computer can do in seconds. You then use the scheduler’s expertise to fine-tune things. That is how you make significant cost-savings and create schedule that works for all parties.”

Foster says that computer packages more often than not supply the right answers for 90% of any given schedule and it is the final 10% where experience comes into play, fine-tuning the output to create the right answer.

Software tailored to operators’ needs

Atkins has had similar experiences where by “continual tweaking” of a schedule he can create an efficient result that meets the expectations of all parties. He adds that this is in part due to the flexibility offered by Omnibus who have fine-tuned the software to the specific needs of Yellow Buses.

“We have a sister company in Greater Manchester and we do their scheduling here,“ he reveals. “The system has been set up to consider the specific needs of that company. We have also had a bespoke build created for outputs that are in a suitable format for use in our timetable books, so there is flexibility there too. You are not just taking a software package off the shelf and having to work around it; there’s a lot of flexibility. The support has also been excellent too – if we have a problem we have quickly received an answer and help.”

Foster also appreciates this flexibility. He has had experience of scheduling packages in the past that were very much tailored to the needs of other countries, in particular the North American market. He says this created some issues for him. In North America and elsewhere it can be a case of one bus and one driver without the more intricate scheduling found at UK operations.

In-depth knowledge of industry

“The Omnibus system is very much in tune with the UK market,” he says. “It has been created by people who have that in-depth knowledge of the UK and so it’s set up around how you’d schedule things if you didn’t have a computer in front of you. It’s a more logical way of doing things and some of those other systems just don’t manage to get to grips with those issues.”

Atkins also appreciates the way in which the Omnibus suite of products is tailored to the UK market. “We can run ‘what if’ scenarios,” he says. “The power of the software is such that if my manager comes in with a draft timetable, I can give him answers of how many drivers it will take, how many vehicles it will take, how many vehicle kilometres etc, within minutes, even for the most complex of problems.

“Over the summer we worked our way through a number of ‘what if’ scenarios about a planned change and the software gave us virtually instantaneous answers. We’ve really come away from Excel files and pen and paper and that’s been a tremendous benefit for all concerned.”

Omnibus continues to evolve its suite of products to reflect the realities and needs of the passenger transport industry of today. It also aims to make the best even better.

This article was first published in Passenger Transport 2018.

£226.5m bus sector funding to succeed CBSSG

Female passenger sitting on a bus

7th July 2021 – A £226.5 million bus sector funding package to ensure services outside London continue to run after coronavirus restrictions are lifted, has been announced today.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the cash injection for operators in England will run from September 2021 until the end of the current financial year. After April 2022, no further COVID-19-related support for the sector will be provided.

Female passenger sitting on a bus

The funding will be provided on a formula basis and follows the current emergency support package – COVID-19 Bus Service Support Grant (CBSSG) – which ends on 31 August.
In a written statement to Parliament on 6 July, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said that the bus sector funding will fund operators and local authorities.

“In addition to helping maintain services, recovery funding will support the key aims of the National Bus Strategy of encouraging local authorities and operators to work together to deliver better bus services. In return for receiving funding, operators will be asked to commit to co-operating with the process for establishing Enhanced Partnerships or franchising,” he said.

The announcement comes as the DfT said it has received 35 Expression of Interest applications for the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme, which gives local transport authorities the opportunity to compete for a share of £120 million to support the rollout of zero emission buses across England.

Both schemes are part of the government’s drive to build back better and greener from the pandemic, as the UK prepares to host COP26 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has welcomed the funding. But it called on the government to work with “industry to loudly back a return to bus” to support the economic recovery of towns and cities and “ensure the country remains on track to meet its ambitious climate change and air quality goals”.

Read the full announcement – £226 million package to support vital bus services.

Cardiff Bus improves cost efficiency with automatic crew scheduling

Cardiff Bus scheduling software

7th July 2021 – Cardiff Bus has reduced its driver costs through the adoption of the new CrewPLAN – the system designed to automate the production of efficient crew schedules – from leading operational transport software supplier, Omnibus.

CrewPLAN uses a powerful algorithm to make crew scheduling more efficient, while enhanced functionality enables users to tackle large and complex problems instantly and explore alternative scenarios to discover which works best – saving both time and money.

Cardiff Bus scheduling software

Cardiff Bus has been able to take advantage of the updated CrewPLAN features which allow the user to be highly specific about the results they want to achieve. Constraints can now be included to specify the types and average length of duties within set parameters, giving much more flexibility. There is also an enhanced penalty feature to minimise undesirable features, such as changeovers during peak times.

Nigel Tarrant, Commercial Manager for Cardiff Bus, comments: “We weren’t getting the results we were looking for and driver agreements can be quite complex which can make scheduling particularly challenging. With the new powerful capability developed in the latest version of CrewPLAN, this now gives us the flexibility and ease to play around with different scheduling scenarios and get the results we want very quickly and save on costs.”

He continued “We have really been able to explore its capabilities and the multi-run feature in particular is excellent at maximising the efficiency of duties and paid hours. The speed we receive results in is more efficient and certainly saves the scheduling team a vast amount of time.”

Peter Crichton, Managing Director at Omnibus, comments: “Our software solutions are built from the ground up with a real deep understanding of the issues facing schedulers and the complexities in planning and managing resources in public transport.

“We continually listen to our customers and develop scheduling solutions which improve operational efficiency and profitability, as well as driver compliance remaining front and centre.”

– END –

Press Contact:
Harmi Sangha

Marketing Manager – Omnibus and EPM Bus Solutions
07538 935 568 

Take the hassle out of scheduling 

Empowering you with technology to develop efficient and optimised schedules

Understanding the art of good bus scheduling

Buses operated by Stagecoach Group plc parked in the bus station in Aberdare town centre.

For some, bus scheduling seems like a dark art that is practiced in shadowy corners of the operator’s head office.

Others may assume that algorithms and AI make all the decisions in the misty reaches of the cloud. But which is it? What do schedulers do and why do they do it? To explain, it is easiest to look at the basics. 

Buses operated by Stagecoach Group plc parked in the bus station in Aberdare town centre.

Building blocks for bus scheduling 

We should all be able to agree with the statement that a scheduler must compile the most cost-effective and operable set of timetables, driver duties and rosters possible. 

Creating efficient duties is good, but operable duties are what is really required. 

A scheduler could ensure that duties pay only the bare minimum and weed out any pay for unproductive time. But that is no good if you lose all the flexibility within the schedule. Is it really efficient to reduce your pay by 15 minutes on paper, only to actually pay two or three hours’ overtime on top? 

Another statement is that a scheduler needs to feed a multitude of downstream systems with data. 

The most basic example of that is informing allocators of the duties that have been planned. However, in a fast-moving world where data is king, it is usually schedulers who provide data in various formats to more and more downstream systems. 

They include ticket machines, real-time information providers, websites and mobile apps, to name but a few. Additionally, the Bus Services Act will soon require more data from every operator – much of which, I am sure, will be administered by the scheduler. 

Controlling costs via clever bus scheduling 

It could be said that a scheduler controls all major cost centres within an operator. 

The scheduler dictates the number of duties a set of timetables requires. That filters through to how many rota lines exist and how many holiday weeks are needed, the number of DCPC days and so on. 

If you have a scheduler who consistently schedules more duties than are required, there will obviously be big knock-on effects. 

Perhaps less obvious is that the scheduler will also dictate the number of vehicles your company runs. The more that are in use, the more engineers, spare parts and land to house them are required. 

It is also worth saying that utilising unsuitable vehicles on certain routes or journeys has the real potential to increase the amount of work your engineers have and the number of vehicles that are needed to meet PVR each morning. 

What actually is a bus scheduler’s job? 

The three points above outline what a scheduler does. However, none of them explain what the scheduler’s job actually is. Put simply, a scheduler’s role is to keep everyone happy. 

That may sound like quite an abstract concept. But when boiled down, the person with responsibility for bus scheduling has the task of keeping the whole business ticking over. That surely works better when everyone is happy. 

A good set of schedules can keep all the below satisfied: 

  • Allocators 
  • Customers
  • Drivers 
  • Engineers 
  • Local authorities 
  • Shareholders 
  • Traffic Commissioners

The skill of schedulers is in successfully balancing the different needs and wants of every stakeholder invested in the company. Too often, schedulers can be pressured into only satisfying one group of people, which ultimately fails. 

An example of that would be trying to keep shareholders happy by reducing paid time and layover time. 

That will decrease costs and should increase profitability (on paper at least). But it can also decrease reliability, causing late or missed journeys. That will turn customers away from the service and ultimately leading to shareholders being unhappy as revenue falls. 

Give schedulers the right tools

There is, however, one person that the scheduler often does not keep happy. That is, of course, the scheduler. 

The responsibility for keeping the scheduler content falls on those who manage the company. They must recognise the enormity of what schedulers are trying to achieve and give them the support they need to do it. 

That can be as simple as giving schedulers the tools they need to do the job. It may include computer aids but what is really needed is some help. 

If you have multiple depots with multiple changes each year then why put all that pressure on one person? 

We should also invest in our schedulers. Keeping everyone happy is a difficult job. Schedulers should be given the time and opportunity to learn their trade. You wouldn’t let a school leaver with no experience do your year-end accounts – so why do it for bus scheduling? 

Operators should respect their schedulers

Schedulers have possibly the hardest job of all: Keeping everyone happy. 

As an industry we should recognise how difficult the job is and give those who do it the credit they deserve. 

We must support those who are in the role by giving schedulers the tools they need and the time to learn their trade. After all, if we keep schedulers happy, they should do the same for everyone else.

The article originally appeared in routeone magazine.