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February 27 2019

Optibus: Completing the scheduling puzzle

Optibus’ vision is coming to life with its new route planning module, which aims to give schedulers and planners an end-to-end solution

Why can’t mass transport route planning be as simple as planning a road trip?

Next-generation planning and scheduling software provider, Optibus, highlights that when it comes to planning a road trip, a search online will provide you with a myriad of websites and apps that will assist in the planning process.

This begs the question: Why isn’t there a simple system for planning bus routes and the corresponding timetables?

Speaking exclusively to routeone, Dave Joshua, Optibus General Manager, UK and Eire, explains the technology firm’s latest vision for its new route planning module, that, together with its scheduling modules, forms an end-to-end solution.

The launch of a vision

Deployed in 300 cities worldwide and trialed by several operators in the UK, Optibus’ vision was to create a product that enables a scheduler to simply draw and adjust public transit maps, and create timetables, rather than resorting to old planning methods, from pen and paper to spreadsheets.

The first stage of the vision was to create a scheduling module that will enable operators to reduce their costs and provide better schedules for drivers. The second part was to use artificial intelligence to predict on-time performance and automatically suggest changes to resolve these issues. With the route planning module, the company enters a third stage, where it offers an end-to-end interconnected solution, beginning with route planning, moving onto timetables, scheduling and then rostering (rotas).

Dave explains that if you look at today’s bus operators they are “very fixed”, both in terms of fixed-route services, and also fixed in routes that haven’t been changed in many years – possibly even decades.

“One of the problems is that the tools that the planners and schedulers have are quite basic,” he says.

“What the schedulers typically do is use it to check any route change requests they’ve had from the transport authority, and it’s very light usage. Effectively just a black-and-white map with lines on it indicating roads. It is a proper Ordnance Survey (OS) map.

“There lies the first problem, it’s an OS map designed to show you where to go, it has no other capabilities outside of that. It’s really just designed as a checking tool for someone who has already made the changes to the routes.” He adds that Operators want to change routes but don’t have the software to do that simply and easily.

Dave says that some operators are running the same services since their firm was launched, and they have just decided to run the route ever since.

However, now the system has got a lot of people thinking of ways they can improve their schedules; if they improve their routes, it will improve their timetables which will then improve their rosters and then their duties. This means operators will have much happier people.

‘Amazing set of tools’

The initial part of the platform is built on Google Maps. Routes are planned using this data. By using Google, it enables Optibus to do more with the platform than it would have been able to do if it had used an OS map and have a map that is constantly updated and contains a lot of visual information.

Dave says: “Optibus wanted to give its users the capability of an amazing set of tools starting with the engine underneath and then working on top of that.”

The map itself gives schedulers and planners the capability of doing a black-line overview just like you would on an OS map. It then allows them to do satellite view. But rather than it being just like Google Maps, Optibus has built a bus network map on top.

That network map allows you to drive through a bus station as if it were one, it enables you to see all the bus stops and make sure they’re in the right place as it allows you to go into street view. Also, if you then need to move or remove bus stops as part of you route, you can do that as well.

“It’s another part of our planning of all pieces of the scheduling puzzle,” Dave says.

More intuitive

As the mapping tool itself has built-in NaPTAN database, you can move and rename bus stops and it will validate if that’s true.

Another tool is Optibus’ free draw tool. Schedulers can click on part of a route and drag it to other roads or into a different route. This allows a scheduler to test moving around road works and other parts of the mapping.

“It’s much more intuitive than looking at a flat black line on an OS Map,” he adds.

The platform is fully integrated with Optibus’ timetable module, meaning it is a literal button click to flip between the mapping module and the timetable module.

As it is inter-connected, if you make changes to the map, that will automatically turn into a timetable for that route, which will then – if you allow it to – filter into your schedules and then your rosters.

“It’s all end to end, you don’t need to make any adjustments to any part of the system; it will enable happen automatically.”

New opportunities

After being introduced to the system, one scheduler, who has been doing the job for 48 years, has said it’s “the most exciting time of his scheduling life,” as it allows him to do things which have never before been possible.

It opens the door to performing ‘what if’ scenarios and gives schedulers a tool kit to make changes which haven’t been feasible when using just a map.

The system is available for operators of all sizes, and in a time where ridership is declining, the system gives the tools to instead of cutting a route, you can adjust it to make it viable.



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