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October 10 2018
By Jessica Barton

Jessica writes for routeone, Group Tourism & Travel, and is the Editor of Coach Drivers Club News

Scheduling: Save time, save money

Using artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced algorithms, Optibus brings bus scheduling into the 21st century

It’s not about training a scheduler to schedule, it’s about giving them the most effective tools to help them do the job more effectively and more efficiently.

That’s the message Dave Joshua, Optibus’ UK General Manager, presented when routeone caught up with him in the technology provider’s London office.

With offices already in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and Düsseldorf, Optibus has now opened an office in the capital, setting its sights on establishing its foothold in the UK bus market.

What is Optibus?

Optibus provides a cloud-based platform that is not only changing the face of the way bus operators are scheduling routes, but it is assisting with the delivery of operational savings.

Optibus’ UK General Manager, Dave Joshua

Its SaaS platform provides a log-in domain, which means operators do not have to install or download any software. It plans and schedules the movements of every vehicle and driver –delivering detailed crew and vehicle schedules as well as an optimised rota – and provides a detailed insight into how this affects operations, on-time performance and costs.

It has been chosen for more than 300 cities and drives some of the most complex and large-scale transit operations worldwide – firmly cementing its capabilities.

The system Optibus provides is helping to improve on-time performance and efficiency, reduce costs, streamline operations and reduce congestion and emissions – something all bus operations regardless of size will benefit from.

To put it in perspective, the platform significantly reduces costs between 3-15% of the total operational cost. 

How it works

The platform uses advanced optimisation algorithms which allow the expression of all rules and constraints – from driver shift preferences, to selecting the right vehicles, electric vehicle charging and more. The result is quicker scheduling and better business agility.

Its platform provides a log-in domain, which means no installation of software

It can even deal with complex scheduling scenarios such as when different drivers on the same route work under different work agreements. This means that schedules reflect all needs and don’t require extensive manual edits, saving schedulers time and delivering better results.

It can also automatically understand the elements that affect performance of the current operation (vehicle types, the time of day, different driver agreements, schedule restrictions, etc.). It then suggests to the scheduler intelligent recommendations to improve the service offering.

Operators can use the Optibus platform to automatically learn from large data feeds of location and demand data – both historical and current. This delivers continuously improving prediction models that can recommend schedule changes for better on-time performance, while still controlling costs.

Says Dave: “The artificial intelligence part of the technology takes public data, like ibus, and it takes that in on a regular basis and it starts to suggest options that could be a better option for the schedule in terms of on time performance but not cause a spike in costs.

“This predictability can be scored, so there are penalties operators can put in and there are certain things they can say ‘I really want that’ and then give it a five star out of five for the on-time performance and where it might change.

“So, if they’re looking at, for example, to improve the on-time performance percentage in a certain area, change routes or even the frequency, the Optibus platform will be able to suggest the best places to start.”

The benefits

Being cloud-based, operators experience exceptionally quick compute results, minutes instead of hours or days, and can establish better sharing and collaboration, where many people can work together on a schedule, rather than storing it on their PC. 

Additionally, the system is continuously updated, delivering additional savings and features as it improves.

As the saying goes, time is money – and time is a very valuable commodity.

Says Dave: “With Optibus’ system operators can go ‘ok, I’ve got the route here which we’ve run for the last 15 years, but what are my other options?’ And because they’ve got the time, they don’t have to then spend a week doing it; it takes them about an hour.”

A system is born

Says Dave: “There’s lots of systems out there, but none of them focus on enabling – they just do ‘something’.

“So, they do scheduling, for example, but they don’t look at how it can be improved, they just tick and box – that’s where Optibus all started.”

In 2014 this concept software was realised by Co-Founders Amos Haggiag and Eitan Yanovsky in Tel Aviv and since then “has gone from strength the strength,” he adds.

Optibus Co-Founders Amos Haggiag (L) and Eitan Yanovsky

In 2017, the business was growing nicely, and it also received some growth funding to assist it as well.

“It grew the company significantly in 2017, to the point where we have substantial presence in the US with clients such as MV transportation and Keolis. Then we’ve also got quite forward-thinking companies like Tower Transit,” says Dave.

The tech evolution

In a world so focused on technology, figuring out which systems are better suited for specific operations can be daunting. Will this system still be functioning at the highest standard in a few years? Will it dwindle out like many other technological innovations that came before it? With a price tag attached, it’s important to know your investment is secure.

Optibus is changing the face of the way bus operators are scheduling routes

But Dave assures that this system is not a “fad”.

He says: “This technology is something that will transform an operator’s whole business. It’s about collaboration, training and really importantly, guidance.

“We are passionate about it, and we really feel that over the next five-10 years we can really drive a better form of public transport that more people will use in the UK.”

Added support

Setting up an already-established business in a different country can come with its challenges but having an industry professional onboard is a great source of support.

Transport for London’s former Head of Buses and Surface Transport, Leon Daniels, has joined Optibus as an investor, as well as an adviser [routeone/News/29 August].

Leon Daniels has joined Optibus as an investor and an advisor

“Leon brings a number of things to Optibus,” says Dave. “He has extensive experience in the industry and hasn’t invested in the business in terms of monetary value, but also his time.”

Leon – one of the early adopters of computerised scheduling when it was first available about 25 years ago – has spoken about the evolution, or lack thereof, of scheduling.

He says: “When I took a look at the scheduling systems that transit operators are using now — not much has happened in the last 20 years.

“Certainly, the equipment that is used is a little bit more modern, but in essence, it’s the same thing. It’s something that requires detailed manual intervention, at all stages of the planning and scheduling process.”

So how can Optibus help? Leon continues: “Optibus is fresh: A fresh start, fresh thinking and people. It takes advantage of the superb computing power on the Cloud, a great user interface and advanced technology.

“I chose [to support] Optibus because — having had a career in the transport industry – I am as fascinated as ever to know what’s going to happen in the future, and it was really important to me to join a company who was absolutely focused on the future.”

Part of the service

The cost of Optibus’ technology is paid monthly, per number of vehicles the operator has, and full training is provided for free.

Says Dave: “We offer anything from week-long workshops if it’s a big operator or a workshop for a day.

“From our UK headquarters in Paddington, London, we are growing a team of solutions engineers. They check in face-to-face with operators as regularly as they can usually every few months just to make sure operators are up-to-date with the latest updates and happy.”

Optibus also offers its customers 24-hour live chat support online.

“There are people in Tel Aviv and they are there 100% for all of our global operators. If a scheduler needs assistance to change a route in an area, we will go into the system and help them online – free of charge, it’s all part of the service,” says Dave.

“Scheduling isn’t a dark art – some very clever people do it. Optibus is all about helping them, and the people coming into scheduling, make the best use of their time.”

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