Category: Manual Scheduling Training

The importance of accurate scheduling to driver retention rates

The importance of accurate scheduling to driver retention rates - Peter Crichton, Omnibus Founder

Many factors contribute to driver retention, one is fair duty and rota composition, writes Omnibus Founder Peter Crichton.

With the need to retain staff, it is important to ensure that duties are driver friendly.

That does not necessarily mean that they will be inefficient, but that the bus workings, crew duties and rotas are realistic and operable.

The importance of accurate scheduling to driver retention rates - Peter Crichton, Omnibus Founder

How to achieve this?

I have always held the view that you need properly trained schedulers, who understand the basics of manual scheduling. I can hear people say: “Why do we need to train schedulers when we have a computerised scheduling system?”

This is a view that I have heard many times over the years, and more so recently. But you need to make sure that the data, parameters, and agreements are entered accurately and adhered to, and that needs a fundamental knowledge of scheduling.

My response would be: “Would you let anyone untrained use accountancy software to do your year-end profit and loss accounts?” I think I know what the answer to that might be! So why would you put someone with no basic knowledge of scheduling in control of 40% of your costs and the wellbeing of your drivers?

This basic knowledge allows the scheduler to accurately enter the data to produce an efficient schedule, and make sure that what is generated adheres to these requirements with all work covered correctly, including any additional requirements such as walk times, depot trips, and minimum join-up times.

If these important items are missed, the efficiency of duties will be inaccurate, and you also do not want to risk upsetting your drivers by missing off pieces of work.

The importance of manual scheduling training

I always insisted that every member of the Omnibus team attended Jim Hulme’s TransACT manual scheduling training course. When Jim retired, Omnibus took over the course to make sure that this knowledge continues to be passed on. The course continues to this day, and it proves to be very popular.

With a firm understanding of manual scheduling, a scheduler will know what is achievable with regard to the number of bus and crew duties, and their associated costs, and will be able to benchmark the computer’s output to make sure that it is in line with what they expect.

They will also have the skills to fine-tune the generated schedule to better suit agreements, and even make it more driver friendly.

The next stage of the scheduling process is compiling the rotas. Again, a trained scheduler will be able to make sure that all agreements are correctly adhered to, and where possible, place duties in such a way as to produce rotas that are not only efficient, but, as much as possible, driver friendly.

A computer can produce automatic rotas, but they need to be checked, and sometimes fine-tuned to better suit agreements.

Drivers are unique

Not all drivers want the same thing to achieve their work-life balance. For example, when I drove buses at Hyde Road depot in Manchester in the late-1980s, a ‘one late a week’ rota was introduced.

It did not suit me, because I preferred a similar duty all week, but it suited others. So it could be better to have rotas that may be a little less efficient, but more driver friendly and suit the various lifestyle needs, which in the long run may help to cut staff turnover and all its associated costs.

So in conclusion, having efficient but realistic duties and rotas is necessary to help reduce staff turnover – and I would argue that a skilled scheduler is vitally important to help achieve that.

This article originally appeared in routeone magazine.

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Challenging time ahead for scheduling?

Challenging time ahead for scheduling

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.

Challenging time ahead for scheduling

“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.

When it comes to scheduling, is there too much trust in technology?

Close up of man using laptop

Computers are heavily relied upon for information, but sometimes the answer you want isn’t the one you always get. When it comes to scheduling, spotting when something isn’t quite right is a vital skill.

Can you trust technology? And the biggest question is: Can you trust your operation to be in the hands of technology?

Close up of man using laptop

With over 25 years’ experience providing public transport operators and local authorities with systems that meet their needs, Omnibus is one of the industry leaders in providing passenger transport software, whether that be to timetable, schedule, staff, record, manage and publicise services. 

Omnibus has a range of software solutions to meet any demand within the running of your operation, but it isn’t software that Omnibus discusses with routeone – it was the people who use it. 

Don’t de-skill a trade 

Scheduling is an art and a skill, and one that requires training. Most of all, it requires a scheduler, not just scheduling computer software. 

Transport is more than just a vehicle taking passengers from a to b, as operators will know, there’s hours of planning and organising that goes into running a functioning and successful bus service. 

Peter Crichton, Omnibus MD, says: “We still believe passionately that we need somebody that understands what they’re doing in the job. 

“If you’re the one controlling the computer, you should have a knowledge of what you’re actually controlling – having an understanding of what manual scheduling involves.” 

In a time where technology is evolving at a rapid rate and technological solutions are making tasks simple and easier – even if it means putting someone out of a job – Peter expresses his concerns about the “spin” computer systems get. 

“There’s quite a lot of spin these days about computers being able to do everything, but computers are only controlled by human beings who need to know what they’re controlling. 

“Scheduling is a skill. You don’t de-skill your accountants or your finance managers when you get a new piece of software, so why do people do it for schedulers?” 

Need to understand 

Using a computer system, if one chooses, is acceptable. But as Peter explains, someone will still need to understand what the outcome of the process should be. 

“At the end of the day, the whole thing with computers is, it’s garbage in, garbage out – and you only know whether it’s producing a good result if you know what you’re aiming for in the first place,” he says. 

“I think there is a tendency sometimes to undervalue schedulers, but with a stroke of a pen they can save companies hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

“You only have to input one – even when using a computer – silly parameter and make a meal-break twice as long as it needs to be and then suddenly your duties are costing a lot more,” Peter explains. 

Omnibus isn’t saying to rid the industry of computers, admitting that its computer systems will help just as much as the next, but it’s promoting the need for human control surrounding the job of scheduling. 

Whether a firm chooses to use a computer system or manual, someone will be at the helm inputting data – however, there is a disregard for training those people in control of scheduling. 

No magic box 

“There’s so much praise for how wonderful these computer systems are, and it might be seen as a bit of a luddite approach to be saying ‘oh you need to be trained’, but the only way you can judge something and to benchmark it is to know what it’s supposed to be achieved. 

“I think so many people think there’s a magic box, you just press a button,” Peter says. 

He also explains that while it will produce a result, someone will still need the knowledge to guide it to get that result. 

He adds: “It’s got to have parameters and you’ve got to understand the rules the parameters are there to achieve, what you’re trying to get from those and how to tweak those parameters to get the result you want – it’s not just a case of press a magic button and it’ll all work. 

“Schedulers need to understand what they’re actually doing. This is why we’re saying there is a need for the industry to start training again.” 

Essential training 

Omnibus is running a scheduling training course, which it says is getting enquiries because people are realising they need to have the skills to understand what it is they’re trying to achieve. 

The course is based at Omnibus’ own training rooms in Oldham and lasts for two days. It is open to anyone interested in planning and scheduling and takes place throughout the year. 

The training sessions come after the company decided to takeover Jim Hulme’s schedule training course TransACT. 

Peter says: “Jim wanted to retire, and we decided that this vital course needed to carry on, so we’ve taken over the rights to it.” 

The course gives an insight into how to produce timetables and schedules manually, which might seem counter intuitive for a company that specialises in scheduling software. But by understanding the manual process, it gives an ability to know what answer to anticipate from the computer and becomes easier to spot anomalies, usually caused by restrictive or incorrect parameters. 

Peter adds: “You would never ask someone who didn’t know how to do accounts to run your year-end figures. Likewise, with scheduling, you shouldn’t expect someone with no knowledge of how the process works to get the best from the software.”

This article originally appeared in routeone magazine.

Video – Training helped me deliver network-wide improvements

Blackpool Transport network planner Simon Harris at his desk

Simon Harris has single-handedly improved Blackpool Transport’s bus services – and said it is all down to the training he received from Omnibus. 

The former bus driver has spent the last few years rewriting every route so that each service runs on time. He said this is largely thanks to the Omnibus training, which “gave me a thorough knowledge basis to do my job and to help improve the buses of Blackpool”. 

Simon joined the commercial team in 2014 as a trainee network planner. He had impressed managers with his suggestions to improve Service 7 and, recognising the importance of good training, they sent him to Omnibus to learn the art of scheduling. He also benefitted from software training from the supplier’s industry-qualified schedulers. 

Now referred to as the senior network planner by colleagues, Simon said the knowledge he gained on the courses proved invaluable. 

Simon said: “I used what I learned to rewrite the Service 7 timetable which had no chance of running to time. They implemented it and the service became reliable. All of a sudden, buses were turning up when they were supposed to and that resulted in more passengers using it. 

“I was then able to use that knowledge to create network-wide improvements. So, since 2014 I’ve gone from suggesting how to improve one route to basically rewriting the whole network. This would not have been possible without the Omnibus training which gave me the knowledge and tools to drive those changes.” 

The manual scheduling course gave Simon a solid foundation in how to produce efficient schedules. And after five days of software training, he could build schedules, crew duties and create weekly rotas. 

Richard Yeo, Technical Account Manager at Omnibus who delivered the software training, said the intuitive nature of the system meant Simon picked it up very quickly. 

He said: “We worked through key aspects of each module using Blackpool Transport’s data and building schedules from the timetable stage, through to vehicle scheduling and crew duty compilation and then the creation of weekly rotas.” 

Simon said: “Richard is great at delivering training because he knows what schedulers need to know in order to do their job. He understands that writing a timetable isn’t just a case of writing a few numbers on a piece of paper.  

“He helps you through the whole process of writing a timetable, to creating the duties, to creating rosters to make sure that you fully understand the programmes available to you. I was then able to use that knowledge to create network-wide improvements. 

“Once you know the Omnibus systems inside-out, you can be more efficient with time usage and get the results as quick as you need them.”

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. 

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.

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.

The importance of good bus schedulers

People walk in front of city bus operated by Travel West Midlands

Kieran Proctor leads a discussion on the importance of good bus schedulers and the wider impact they have on an operation.

Good scheduling is not just a benefit for passengers, but it has massive implications throughout an operation, Kieran told CILT’s (Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’s) Busmark meeting. 

People walk in front of city bus operated by Travel West Midlands

An important aspect to keep in mind when scheduling is that a cost-effective route is not specifically an operable route. The industry is getting a lot more data driven and it is the schedules that drive this. 

A surprising place to find out whether schedules are being run affectively is social media. Kieran said: “Bus spotters like to tell you why you’ve cocked up. But if you have got that on social media, it gives you somewhere to look when making changes.”

Scheduler’s job

The power bus schedulers have is they control the number of drivers and duties required. They also dictate the number of buses needed. If they schedule more vehicles during the day, then more engineers are going to be required. Kieran said: “The scheduler’s job is to keep everyone happy.”

To keep drivers happy, they need to create sensible duties with reasonable breaks. He said: “It may be more cost effective to have a short break, but it’s not operable. Where they need a single rest day, try to avoid going from a late to an early shift.” 

He suggested educating ourselves on what drivers have to deal with. 

On keeping depot allocators happy, he said: “If you keep them happy you keep the drivers happy. It’s all about flexibility. If you build flexibility into the schedule, you won’t have to knock out trips and it helps them a lot.” 

Making sure drivers are well-scheduled helps engineers. Kieran said: “Tired drivers make mistakes and it’s the engineers that have to pick up the pieces.” 

To conclude, he said: “We ought to recognise scheduling is a skilled job and it needs the right kind of people to do it.” 

This article originally appeared in Bus & Coach Buyer.

Schedulers: get ‘armed with the knowledge’ to schedule

Objects for sketching and of work

Kieran Proctor explains why new schedulers need manual training to understand and learn their trade.

Scheduling is an essential job. It is the art of planning. With effective scheduling, it can minimise costs, increase efficiency and workflow and keep a business moving. Without it, a simple mistake can have a huge negative effect on the running of an operation. 

Objects for sketching and of work

Technology has certainly made a scheduler’s job easier, but anyone joining the industry cannot rely on this alone. How can you be certain that the computer has provided the best answer? This is where our training can help.

Essential training 

There are systems out there to make scheduling easier. Omnibus is one of the industry leaders in providing passenger transport software, whether that be to timetable, schedule, staff, record, manage and publicise services. Its managing director, Peter Crichton, agrees that technology alone is not enough for effective scheduling and says, “there’s no magic button”. 

routeone was invited by Omnibus to take part on its TransACT Manual Scheduling for Local Bus Services course, a two-day intensive course at Omnibus’ Oldham offices. 

It is open to anyone interested in planning and scheduling and takes place throughout the year. 

Kieran Proctor and Paul Wreghitt are the principal trainers, however, it has a larger team of experienced schedulers who are able to deliver the course if either one of them is unavailable. 

Keiran says: “We have both been running the courses since Omnibus took over, initially with Jim Hulme there to guide us but we are now running these ourselves.” 

Mystery of scheduling 

This course has a long history and was originally developed by Jim in the late 1970s. 

Kieran says: “When Jim first entered into scheduling, he encountered a very experienced scheduler who would protect his work by covering it with his arms, and created a feeling of mystery as to how the schedules were actually produced. 

“Jim recognised that this was a very good scheduler, but he just couldn’t explain how he actually did what he did. 

“This made Jim determined to find a way to explain to others exactly how timetables, schedules, duties and rosters are created and having found a way, he ran his first course in 1977.” 

Since then, the course has developed in line with the operating practices of the day, however, despite 40 years passing since its inception, the core lessons and methods outlined have remained true and continue to be relevant today. 

Omnibus took on the running of this course with Jim’s blessing in 2018 and hopes to continue developing and delivering these lessons for the next generation of schedulers entering the industry. 

Kieran adds: “We firmly believe in giving people all the knowledge and tools they require to do their jobs as best as they possibly can, so this course fits perfectly into this ethos.”

Course welcome 

The course covers a broad range of subjects: service specification, timetable design and construction, public timetable, bus scheduling, bus workings, working timetable, running board, duty scheduling, daily duties, duty rostering, duty roster and allocation – all of which are connected to form the scheduling system. 

“It gives the attendees a good idea of what is involved in getting bus services out there onto the roads in the real world,” Kieran says. 

“It would seem easy at first to say that a service should run every 15 minutes between the town and the outskirts, however, certain factors such as peak-time congestion and the availability of both drivers and buses have huge effects, and it is the skill of the scheduler that determines how well these issues are addressed.” 

He explains that also understanding how and why certain things may happen within a network schedule is important throughout all roles within the industry. “I believe this course arms all who attend with the knowledge required to do just that.”  

Omnibus says its TransACT Schedules Training Course is “designed to serve as a good foundation for those who need to create or have a working knowledge of bus timetables and their operational effectiveness”. 

During the training, it introduces the theory of good bus timetabling, including the creation of efficient vehicle workings and the relationship between these two disciplines. 

It also focuses on the creation of cost-effective driver duties and the impact that these can have on the vehicle workings and timetables, before also touching on the production of workable driver rosters. 

It adds: “This is all aimed at arming attendees with the tools required to produce efficient schedules that work for you as the transport provider and, perhaps more importantly, work for your customers too.” 

Says Kieran: “Jim had people on the course say ‘yes, that is exactly what I do’, so the method must be right.” 

routeone’s experience 

We soon discovered that it does not matter whether you’re a new scheduler, never scheduled or just want to brush up on the skill – the course is suitable for everyone with an interest in “the art”. 

Omnibus provides all of the tools needed to complete the course, pen, pencil, ruler, rubber and a booklet with all of the information needed. 

The course provides an in-depth look at manual scheduling, and is hands-on, so you are required to do the work in the book provided. 

Part one/day one of the course looks at timetables and bus scheduling, and part two/day two looks at duty scheduling. 

The maths is fast and the tip given at the beginning, which everyone stuck to was, “always use a pencil” – but the Omnibus team provide all the support needed to help get the right answers. 

No calculators are provided, however, for some trickier of the sums, but exceptions were made to double check the answers. 

You learn some tricks of the trade such as: “Don’t discourage drivers by having days off further apart. If when planning the roster you give a driver, for example, Friday and Sunday off, they may call in sick on the Saturday to get a three-day weekend. Try and give them consecutive days.” 

There’s no denying that this course could have many benefits on an operation, making it more efficient and saving time and money.

This article originally appeared in routeone magazine.