Schedulers: get ‘armed with the knowledge’ to schedule

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.