Category: Opinion

Driver communication – Are holiday requests creating a time drain for your drivers?

Driver communication

At a time when driver recruitment and retention are the biggest challenges across the transport sector, bus operators should consider how they can make their organisation a place where people want to work.

One such area is the process for managing driver holiday requests.  

Driver communication

It can be quite frustrating for a driver, who at the end of their working day, needs to speak to someone about a holiday request, only to find that person is unavailable or busy seeing to other drivers. The driver can have a clear and easy way of requesting leave that does not affect their own time, such as a driver app which can be used remotely and independently when convenient. 

Other options that make managing the driver’s work-life balance easier can also be available. For instance, it can be easy to swap a shift for a more suitable start or finish time or know where they might be at a given time on a given date in the future. Having easy access to duties weeks in advance and the content of those duties empowers your drivers with better management of their own time. 

The benefits go beyond the time saved discussing leave or swaps with the person responsible for driver allocation; the quality of information is vastly improved, and it differentiates your organisation to current and potential employees. 

Drivers who want to volunteer for overtime can also be accommodated. They do not have to scan the noticeboard after each shift or burden the allocator; they too can request overtime at their convenience or even just let the allocator know they are available.  

If a driver can do all this at any time, it adds an element of fairness. The driver does not miss an opportunity to request holiday just because they could not get into the office and the overtime does not always go to the person who is in the canteen at the right time. If overtime is available through a driver app, it is available to all your drivers at the same time in the same place. 

Driver requests are a time drain and fraught with inaccuracies when done manually. By leveraging technology, you can make the process a positive experience where staff are encouraged to take the appropriate leave and come back recharged, refocused and recuperated. 

Drivers need support to help manage their home life around varying shift patterns and you need an efficient and fair process which makes the depot allocator’s life easier, whilst improving the level of control and accuracy of information.

Coming soon – In part 2 of our series on driver communication, we consider how you can ensure your staff are kept in the loop about operational and business decisions. 

How we can help

Part of the EPM Group, Omnibus has over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services and has comprehensive knowledge of the passenger transport industry and well-established software solutions to meet your challenges.  

Our driver app OmniENGAGE enables operators to stay connected with drivers whilst reducing administration to your operations team remain focussed on service provision. 

To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 0161 683 3100.

Empowering you with software to drive your business forward

Intuitive. Seamless. Dynamic.

Optimising control room and engineering communication to improve operational efficiency

Optimising control room and engineering communication to improve operational efficiency

Bus operators have invested in multiple control room software systems from depot allocation to incident management in order to run a smooth operation.

To maintain operational efficiency, they need to work in harmony as often an action or data point in one system has an impact in another.

Optimising control room and engineering communication to improve operational efficiency

But without integration this can lead to double entry of data, which is an inefficient use of time and can lead to inaccurate data. Also, the team can make poor service decisions if all the relevant information is not easily accessible to them.

Improve communication

Control room teams and engineers rely on each other for information. The engineer needs to know when a vehicle has broken down, what to expect when attending or dealing with a breakdown and if a driver has reported a vehicle fault. In most instances, the engineer only discovers a vehicle problem when they receive a message from the operations team, and this does not always include all the key information they require to efficiently deal with the problem. 

The depot controller needs support from the engineering team to keep the service running by providing the required vehicles. They need to know when a vehicle is available after being worked on by the engineering team. The receipt of this information can be slow, and this results in a delayed resolution to a time-critical problem. 

Communication between controllers and engineers can be poor or slow due to several reasons. The control room and engineers are often based in different parts of the site and can be completely remote from each other. But more importantly, both functions use different software tools, so email and phone calls are the current means of communicating and sharing data. 

What is the solution?

An operator’s engineering teams use a range of software solutions and providers to manage vehicle maintenance, inventory and costs. Integrating these third-party solutions with your vehicle allocation and incident management systems can improve operational efficiency by automating data flows. 

For the engineer, this means that when the depot controller records a vehicle defect, the data is automatically populated in the system with the relevant incident categorisation against the correct vehicle. Time is saved as there is no need to enter the data manually; the system is updated automatically as soon as the driver reports the incident to the operations team. 

For the depot controller this means that when a vehicle is taken off the road for maintenance it is automatically marked as not available for allocation. Similarly, when it is released by the engineering team using their software system, the vehicle immediately appears as available in the depot allocation system. The controller does not waste time chasing the engineer on the vehicle’s status. 

The controller can also supply details of vehicle incidents, with details of the bus and any defects, straight to the engineering team. This saves valuable time as there is no need to rewrite the information in an email or relay it over the phone. Furthermore, the controller does not need to then mark a vehicle as unavailable in the allocation system because that is updated automatically as soon as the engineer takes it off the road. A double timesaving for the operator! 

How we can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has comprehensive knowledge of the passenger transport industry and well-established software solutions. 

We offer an end-to-end solution. For engineers and depot controllers, we can integrate with engineering software solutions to improve your operational efficiency by automating communication and data transfer. As soon as an incident occurs, it can be logged through the Bus Incident Reporting Screen (BIRS) in the EPM Traffic system and reported to engineering. Engineering can quickly process the issue and make the vehicle unavailable, and this is then automatically updated in OmniDAS. 

To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 0161 683 3100. 

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

Video – Measuring end-to-end performance of a bus operation

Measuring the end to end performance of a bus operation

A bus operation is a complex business relying on many moving parts or links in a chain, which need to work in harmony to achieve optimum efficiency.

Key performance indicators measure how well each part is working and drive efficiency across the whole operation. The links fall into three broad categories: planning the network, delivering the service, and performance (operational and engineering) review.

In the videos below we discuss how to measure the performance of each of the components which make up an efficient, profitable and sustainable bus operation.

Measuring the end to end performance of a bus operation

Planning the network

Duty efficiency is part of the efficiency chain. In the following 4 videos we discuss how timetables and layover, vehicle utilisation, rostering and the allocation of drivers impact the efficiency chain.

Timetables efficiency

Peak Vehicle Requirement (PVR)

Schedules efficiency

Actual driver cost vs planned driver cost

Building an efficient bus operation

Measuring end-to-end performance

efficiency ebook

Root cause analysis – Can you see the wood for the trees when it comes to your data?

Root cause analysis. Can you see the wood for the trees when it comes to your data.

Bus operators need to be able to turn their data into actionable insights so they can achieve that fine balance of providing a bus service which passengers want to use, a place where staff want to work and efficiency levels that maintain profitability. 

Data is key in achieving this but data on performance measurements is not enough on its own.  

Root cause analysis. Can you see the wood for the trees when it comes to your data.

Identifying trends in your data

Bus operators have more data now than ever. Having the ability to analyse this data in one place is vital and unlocks the potential to view different datasets together that have only been considered in isolation previously. 

An obvious example is being able to review schedules versus punctuality and feed back into the scheduling and network review process, but further analysis can go much deeper. For example, overlying punctuality with driver sign-on data may reveal that punctuality problems stem from driver lateness for a duty rather than the timetable. The fix, therefore, is very different. 

Identifying trends and drilling down into root cause analysis can help operators answer some key operational questions. Is driver fatigue having an impact on accident rates? Could a longer minimum layover provide more loading time on a popular town centre route? Would a smaller vehicle be more efficient in congested areas? This can also help operators ask the big questions. Do our buses fulfil customers’ needs while making a profit? 

Typically, a root cause would come down to one of a few classifications: a vehicle issue, timetable issue (schedule), a driver issue or an external factor such as congestion or weather. 

Customer complaints is a good starting point for investigating root causes and identifying trends. By analysing complaint data with all other data sources available to an operator, unexpected patterns could be identified. Perhaps there is a correlation of complaints with a certain vehicle, a certain driver or due to certain external conditions. Drilling down further could identify a training or knowledge gap, a failing of a supplier or a lack of correct infrastructure.  

Combining datasets to resolve issues

Identifying root cause impacts the way we can resolve problems. We could identify potential improvements to customer satisfaction by changing our training programme or holding more stock of a certain bus part. We can also use data analysis for positive engagement with external stakeholders and local authorities. Particularly where working in Enhanced Partnerships or as part of Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) operators can demonstrate where local authority or third-party investment could provide maximum impact. So, providing a bus shelter in a certain location could resolve the root cause of several problems faced by the operator. 

What might surprise operators is that this is simple to do with the right tools. With a solution that can bring multiple datasets together into one place, make sense of them and present the data in simple, easy-to-digest formats, an operator can have insights they never had before. It can identify previously unknown or unseen trends and correlations and help identify root causes of problems and complaints. With quality data from multiple sources, we can quantify and qualify the impacts of decisions by measuring trends over time. 

Furthermore, the same data can be used to measure the impacts of changes made. Did changes to the training programme reduce complaints? Did retaining more stock of a certain bus part reduce operation issues, breakdowns and complaints? It is an important outcome of a BSIP to be able to measure the success of actions taken. 

How we can help  

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has comprehensive knowledge of the bus industry and well-established software that can combine and analyse a wider, richer dataset to bring new insights. 

The EPM Insights solution empowers you with actionable management information on your network performance, supporting you to react to both the changing nature of demand and to help shape your future network. 

To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 0161 683 3100. 

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

Improving staff morale to retain drivers

Retain drivers

Driver shortages continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the bus industry today.

Operators are trying to address the problem by bringing new blood into the profession, but it is also critical to retain drivers. After all, prevention is better than the cure.

Retain drivers

Mix of duty types

To do this positively, operators should not lose sight of providing a mix of duty types that appeal to different groups of drivers. To keep drivers on board, duties should be kept to two or three pieces of work and split shifts should be avoided at weekends.

Software can help with improving efficiencies and enable network planners to create schedules that do not detrimentally affect another part of the bus operation’s efficiency chain. With tight schedules that are workable, operators are more likely to create driver-friendly duties straight out of the box, rather than having to be manually adjusted.

Improve driver engagement

Improving engagement is also important to retain drivers. Are drivers spoken to only when things go wrong? How easy is it for a driver to raise a concern?

Regular performance reviews are a great way to keep staff informed of their progress and provide a continuous feedback loop where managers are not left wondering if they will have another bout of resignations this week. By using operational data to facilitate these conversations operators can put interventions and strategies in place sooner and more effectively manage their drivers.

Connecting multiple data sources

For any review to be successful, operators will want to see a complete picture of a driver’s performance, including their training records, customer feedback, their telematics Red-Amber-Green (RAG) score for driving behaviour, total time spent driving, lost mileage incidents and punctuality information.

But for many bus operators this data resides in multiple systems. These datasets should be connected into one unified platform to remove the need for data consolidation. The reporting screen should be interactive so operators can drill down into the metrics to interrogate the data and in doing so remove the need for separate analysis to understand the root cause of any issues.

As operators work in time-pressured environments – and with some having 1,000-plus drivers, the output needs to be simple and visual so that it can be easily understood by both reviewing managers and drivers. And for fairness and consistency, this report should be standardised, and the same metrics tracked and managed across all drivers.

By having key metrics on one dashboard operators gain a single source of truth which assures data integrity and provides information in the most efficient way.

Opening communication channels

Another point to consider is how effectively operators communicate with staff to help them manage their home life around varying shift patterns. Operators need to find smarter ways to keep drivers informed. By leveraging technology such as a driver app, they can share useful information quickly which, in turn, connects drivers to the business and helps them feel part of the organisation.

By adjusting duties that may be putting drivers off and proactively using data to improve engagement, operators can better manage their staff which, in turn, will help increase morale and lower labour turnover.

How we can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has comprehensive knowledge of the passenger transport industry and well-established software that can integrate multiple data sources into one unified platform to deliver a 360-degree view of your operation.

The EPM Insights solution empowers you with actionable management information on your network performance, supporting you to react to both the changing nature of demand and to help shape your future network.

The OmniDAS solution is a cloud-native depot allocation system for real-time driver and vehicle management. Used worldwide for managing day-to-day resources and handling unexpected changes, it is configured to your unique working practices and ensures services are delivered safe, legally and cost-effectively.

To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 0161 683 3100.

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

Maximising control room efficiency

Solution for bus operators to maximise control room efficiency

EPM Group aims to empower bus operators’ control room teams with integrated technology.

As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, the bus sector is working harder than ever to get people back on the bus.

Software solutions specialist EPM Bus Solutions aims to assist that process with the creation of new products and techniques that can help operators achieve that goal while making them ready for the post-Covid world.

“We work closely with our clients and from those conversations, we know they are really focussed on rebuilding revenue and patronage,” says Nick Brookes, software director at EPM Group. “That’s a given, obviously, but they are also seeking to enhance their operational effectiveness as well in order to reduce costs and drive profits.”

Article featured in The ALBUM Report 2022 by Passenger Transport

Tools to enhance business processes

It means Nick and his team at EPM have been looking very closely at developing new tools that aim to improve business efficiency. That process has been broken down into three component parts:

  • ‘Before the day’ network planning;
  • ‘On the day’ control room processes; and
  • ‘After the day’ processes where commercial and operational performance are scrutinised.

“Our solutions play a key role at each of those three stages,” says Nick, adding that EPM Group has been closely looking at those ‘on the day’ control room elements in order to create new ways of improving efficiency and business productivity.

Part of that process is assisted by the breadth of solutions and products EPM already offers to clients. As Nick notes, they cover the complex chain of processes that run throughout bus businesses and they not only help to drive efficiencies but also lead to a better service for customers. “That really helps operators to deliver an excellent customer experience,” he adds. “That’s absolutely critical at the moment.”

Control room processes

Bus operator control rooms are the hub of the business and the key to ensuring fantastic on the ground service delivery. They cover a myriad of processes such as driver absences, lost mileage or on-the-road issues that can affect punctuality and reliability like traffic congestion or specific issues that require liaison with other departments, like in the case of an accident or vehicle breakdown.

Nick Brookes“They are tasked with providing a high-quality service to the customer,” explains Nick. “Those core tasks – making sure the staff are in, the vehicles are on the road and the service is running reliably – are key to that goal.”

But to gain greater insight into how those processes actually work, Nick and his colleagues have spent time in bus operator control rooms to observe them in action. He says it was an enlightening experience.

“One of the things that really stood out was that operators have invested in lots of different solutions in recent years,” he reveals. “There are lots of different systems in there, but we noticed it was all rather disparate – control room staff have to go to lots of different places to gather that information. When they find it, it’s not always in an easy-to-use format either.”

Nick says this means that some of the decisions made as a result of not having a centralised source of information can sometimes have significant cost implications and even detrimental impacts on service delivery. “Without a central hub, control room staff have to move from one system to another and then to another rather than it being presented in a way that facilitates good decision-making,” he adds.

A good example of that is a driver who may have been delayed on the first half of their duty, perhaps as a result of traffic congestion. Nick highlights that control room staff may have to extend their break before they can go back on the road for their second half. It’s a problem that has to be solved immediately, so having visibility of issues in a central hub enables operators to make decisions efficiently and cost effectively.

Solving the problem

“There are lots of different impacts in terms of how that situation can be managed,” says Nick. “If we have all of that information displayed and available, and particularly the key information you really need to know to make effective decisions, that’s not only going to help improve the efficiency and operation of the control room but also the wider business too.”

He says this could be the engineering department or customers services, but the key advantage is that rather than control room staff resorting to time-consuming written reports, ad-hoc emails or phone calls – all parts of the organisation are automatically informed immediately, triggering further automated processes further down that line.

“So you have this single operations platform, that brings together not only information from EPM systems, but third-party platforms too. That has the potential to not only create efficiencies but really improve communication across the business while avoiding the potential for errors to creep into the data,” Nick adds. “People don’t have to resort to frantic phone calls or wade through files or emails in order to find the information they need.”

Making the right decision

Of course, bringing together all these data sources also presents the opportunity to do new things with them. In that late running bus example, the driver’s duty may be in one system and the vehicle real time information may be in another, but by bringing those two sources together control room staff can be alerted in advance that there is an emerging issue that needs solving.

“We can facilitate proactive decision-making,” says Nick. “It’s perhaps inevitable that if you have information tucked away in various different systems, sometimes you just can’t see the wood for the trees. By bringing those pieces of information together we can help people to focus on making the right decision while managing the operation as efficiently as possible.”

Integrated solutions

The first phase of EPM Group’s development is to integrate between their new cloud-based Depot Allocation System, OmniDAS, and the EPM Traffic system to ensure that any staff-related incidents are automatically created. This streamlines the process and improves data integrity.

Powering the future of your bus operations

Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

Video – Bus operator efficiency around the clean bus revolution

Bus operator efficiency around the clean bus revolution, bus operator

Bus operators will need to address a number of issues in order to be in a position to run a fully electrified operation or one with a mixture of alternative fuels vehicles.

Sam Greaves, Head of Service Delivery at Tower Transit, discusses the issues in this 4-part video series on the clean bus revolution and its impact on bus operator efficiency.

Bus operator efficiency, Sam Greaves, Tower Transit

Getting enough power to run services

Efficiency issues around depot electrification

Impact of EVs on the efficiency chain

Bus depot location and efficiency

Supporting operators to improve efficiency when scheduling alternative fuels vehicles

Sam Greaves
Head of Service Delivery at Tower Transit

How OmniBASE has improved efficiency at Tower Transit around scheduling electric vehicles.

Produce efficient and accurate vehicle schedules quickly

Conceive, plan and schedule complete operations in OmniBASE.

Making the bus operation chain more efficient

Bus operation chain, making the bus operation chain more efficient

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.

Natural partners

Aiden Proctor, Omnibus’s scheduling suite product owner, takes up the story.

Aiden Proctor“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.

Nick Brookes“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.”

Customer-informed process

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

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.