Planning and Scheduling Systems: ITS Evaluation Guide

Electronic planning and scheduling has experienced significant developments over the last 30 years. With some software programs reaching their fifth or sixth generation, they have evolved from paper-based methods to artificial intelligence-powered systems.

Today, planning and scheduling systems routinely find the best use of resources and operational requirements algorithmically – creating optimal plans and schedules for all public transport modes.

The optimal scheduling of public transport services improves the overall passenger experience. Planning tools include route planning tools that help authorities determine what is the best route to service an existing population or a planned set of passenger destinations. With route options decided, the scheduling systems then allow authorities to look at service frequencies and determine potential timetables. When supplemented with operational data from ticketing systems and passenger counters, electronic scheduling can dramatically improve how services address passenger needs.

For operators, the ability to optimise driver and fleet requirements can lead to significant savings. Fleet optimisation undertaken by powerful algorithms helps transport operators optimise vehicle and personnel resources while meeting passenger needs. For passengers, the correct scheduling of services between interchanges or transport modes allows sufficient time for connections and significantly improves the experience. Increased satisfaction levels translate to increased public transport ridership and profitability.

A top end system, such as used by Transport for London, goes even further and is a portal for management and collaboration between the authority and the operators, supporting franchise bidding and operations.

This type of system:

  • Allows the authority preparation of a template for the route requirements
  • Includes optional planning tools for small operators who might not have their own planning tool
  • Allows operators to upload their timetable at bid and the tool helps to verify the response
  • When an operator is awarded a franchise, the tool pushes the timetable at regular intervals and checks compliance to the template
  • Supports publicity management

As an example of collaboration, there are layover stands across London, but they have limited capacity – so the tool will make sure that the layover is not overloaded. With the advent of electric vehicles, planning and scheduling systems also need to deal with scenarios like vehicle range and opportunity/overnight charging.


The benefits a modern planning and scheduling system bring include:

Improved resource utilisation. The two major cost drivers for a public transport operation are vehicles and drivers. Electronic scheduling provides significant utilisation improvements for both. Performance data is used to refine timetables and improve passenger services. This creates efficiencies that can be allocated to expand services or drive costs down.

Improved labour relations. A major benefit is improved labour relations with drivers. The ability to schedule a driver’s work more accurately and fairly means they can work the shifts that fit in with their lives, ensuring a better work/life balance.

Passenger information. Access to scheduled services in a digital form can result in significantly improved passenger information for commuters. Data can be presented in printed timetables at stops, internet-based journey planners, mobile apps, third party websites, and apps like Google Maps. This ease of access improves usability and overall user impressions of public transport.

Improved journey experience. Passenger experience is paramount in improving public transport ridership. Well-planned passenger transfers and thoughtful services that meet passenger needs is essential to improving the experience and public transport perceptions.

Evaluation Guide

When assessing planning and scheduling systems, you should consider the following criteria:

  1. Is data easily imported?
    Importing your stop, route, and timetable information into the system significantly speeds up your ability to roll out new schedules. Check if it is possible to import information in formats like GTFS, VDV, or from Excel, CSV, or other text-based formats.
  2. Is information displayed in a graphical format?
    Importing your stop, route, and timetable information into the system significantly speeds up your ability to roll out new schedules. Check if it is possible to import information in formats like GTFS, VDV, or from Excel, CSV, or other text-based formats.
  3. Does it support Enterprise Bargaining Agreements?
    Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and local, state, and national regulations often specify maximum driving times, minimum break lengths, the number of breaks, and maximum working hours. When scheduling drivers, these rules must be considered, and the system should notify you when a rule is transgressed.
  4. Can it run optimisations for vehicles and/or crew?
    Vehicle and driver (crew) optimisation is essential to save costs. The optimisation is performed by algorithms that generate thousands of scenarios, tests them, and selects the most appropriate one according to user defined business rules and desired results. Optimisation can be a significant cost-saver for operators while providing the same service levels for passengers. The best systems optimise vehicles and drivers simultaneously – delivering blocks and shifts that are as efficient as possible whilst respecting the legislative requirements and enterprise bargaining agreements. They should also support facilities to define specific operational thresholds and service quality measures that need to be met.
  5. Can you run ‘What-if’ scenarios when optimising?
    When running optimisations, you will need to run different scenarios to see the cost impact of different options would have on your network. For example, does adding additional meal break locations provide a more efficient crew result, or what happens if a new depot was acquired? The ability to run unlimited what-if scenarios is an enormous advantage that a planning and scheduling system should cater for.
  6. Does it support exporting data to your depot dispatch software?
    Your planning and scheduling system should be able to export driver duties and blocks to your depot dispatch software (also known as Day of Operations software). Many solutions also have a depot dispatch module. Check that your software can export data or has an integrated module. Check that the systems that use this data receive the information they need for maximum efficiency. It is worth reviewing the workflow, the necessary steps, and the time taken by the system if the Day of Operations software is integrated into the planning system?
  7. Does the proposed system integrate with your other systems?
    Your planning and scheduling system should integrate with your Automatic Vehicle Location and Control (AVLC) system, journey planning system, ticketing system and others, so it acts as a single source of schedule information. Check the data formats these systems need and if the planning tool supports them?
  8. What data standards does it use?
    Using standard interfaces will save you time and money when connecting various components. Look for international standards for integrating with other systems. The system should comply with standards like TransXchange, VDV, and General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) to make data transfer easy. The system should also support or be upgradeable to support newer standards, for example, NeTEx and ITxPT.
  9. Does the system allow you to directly generate printable stop timetables?
    Printing stop timetables from within the application saves time and money. A configurable template allows for custom information layouts, avoids the need for a third-party application, and lets you communicate to your passengers in your way.
  10. Can the system be hosted in the cloud, or does it have to be installed on-site?
    Running a transport company should be about getting buses, trams, and trains on the network, not the best Ethernet router. Newer scheduling solutions can be hosted in the cloud and eliminate the need to buy and maintain server equipment. Lower IT demands mean more resources to spend on delivering great public transport.
  11. Does the system have the functionality to integrate with a journey planning system, or has a built-in journey planning engine?
    Journey planning is important, as it allows passengers to plan their journey with confidence. High-end solutions will have a journey planning engine and mobile application. As a minimum, your planning solution should allow you to upload information to a journey planning engine like Google Transit, as well as regional or national journey planning systems.

If you are looking at flexible scheduling, find out more in Demand Response Services.

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Download the ITS Evaluation Guide – Planning

Mode of Transport

Bus, Trams/Light Rail, Ferry


Intelligent Transport Systems, Bus Planning and Scheduling

Meet the author

David Panter

Industry Solutions Manager, ITS

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