Michelangelo carved the statue of David out of a single piece of marble with a hammer, a couple of chisels and some sandstone. You can do the same with your transportation network.
Building and managing a transport network is not an easy task, but the right people with the right tools can create wonders.
The right people can be found in the modern, forward-looking public transport authority as well as in many bus, tram and light rail operators. They have been selected for their skills and belief in public transport.
Often with years of experience, they have a deep understanding of bus operations and network design. They push the boundaries of service delivery and help ensure the viability of the operating companies.
To make the most of this intellectual pot of gold, they need the right tools.
The right tools, of course, have changed over time.
It used to be that a large desk with rolls of transparent paper and a pencil was the right tool. Planners would work out run plans using huge space-time diagrams.
At the depot, the right tools were a whiteboard, printed timetable lists and a dedicated private radio system to let operations management talk to drivers.
Locating the vehicle was a case of asking the driver where they were (not much help if they were lost) and then managing operations based on the control room’s mental picture of the services.
Passengers got a printed timetable at their stop (updated every 12 months) whether they needed it or not.
Historically, the government also had little in the way of tools and were reliant on the transport operators to report performance.
As responsibility for designing and operating routes has shifted away from operators, the transport authorities have taken up the mantle. They are now actively seeking to improve both service quality and frequency, putting services where people want to go and running services at the rate and times that they are needed.
To help with this, transport authorities have embraced new technologies and now use maps based on travel time (isochrones), census data and state-of-the-art planning tools to determine the best routes and derive budgetary costs before putting these out to tender.
The modern transport company also uses a specialist planning tool to optimise fleet runs and driver shifts. This is coupled with a day-of-operations package to manage the rosters, payroll and allocation of assets whilst taking into account work practices and enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs). These operational tools allow them to deal with the frenetic pace in a depot during morning dispatching.
In all these cases, the right tool in the right hands delivers exceptional value to both the transport authority and the operating companies.
Savings made by operating companies in operations will result in lower costs, allowing authorities to buy more services for the same amount of funds.
In addition to planning and asset management tools, a key tool used around the world is Automatic Vehicle Location and Control (AVLC) systems.
These systems track buses and trams in real time and report the vehicle’s location, allowing operators to manage their fleet and deliver real-time information to passengers. The systems also provide other economic benefits by way of reduced travel time (minimising fuel consumption, maximising fleet utilisation, reducing wear and tear on vehicles and so on).
Passengers benefit too through having easy access to accurate real-time information and improved arrival time reliability.
Because they typically operate across a city serviced by multiple operators, AVLC systems are normally purchased and owned by the transport authority.
There are many good reasons for governments to buy a tracking and control system, keeping both their own needs and those of the various operators in mind. Governments get the operational performance monitoring they need, and at the same time operators get a tool to help them deliver the very contracts the authority wants monitored.
This is a classic case of buying the right tool rather than the cheapest tool.
The right tool becomes an essential part of the city’s operations. It is a collaborative effort to help the operator meet the performance KPIs set in their contract with the authority, lower operator costs and improve services to the public.
So, what does the right AVLC tool look like? This will vary based on your perspective. If you are a public transport authority, then the following things may be important to you:
If you are an operator, there is quite a different and longer list that is focused on helping deliver services:
Finally, depending on who has responsibility for the public-facing help desk, operators or authorities will also want:
It has been said that “A wrench is a great tool, just don’t try to drive nails with it”. This analogy applies strongly to public transport operations.
The right tool is far more than just a specialist knife for the transport authority. The range of benefits that can be gained and number of use cases that can be identified require a multifaceted tool more akin to a Swiss army knife.
In Australia and New Zealand, the burden of picking the right tool falls largely on the public transport authorities. It is essential that they keep a high level view and never lose sight of the bigger picture, which is delivering a seamless passenger experience.
There is no doubt that we have some fantastically skilled people in both our transport authorities and in bus and tram operations. They are the Michelangelos of the public transport world.
Given the right tools, they can create and deliver transportation far beyond expectation. Transit leaders’ job is to think big, be the patron of public transport, commission their ‘David’ and then give both authorities and operators the tools they need to create a true masterpiece of public transport.
Bus, Trams/Light Rail, Ferry
Intelligent Transport Systems
Industry Solutions Manager, ITS