Developing a schedule involves the preparation and assignment of the operational duties of a vehicle and crew in accordance with a required service specification, legal regulations and agreed work rules. Automated schedule systems are key for feeding data into other ITS systems as they determine the detailed timetable to which the bus service runs and provide a benchmark against which ITS applications are monitored.
PC or cloud-based proprietary scheduling packages are available but require the operator to input additional data on resource requirements (such as vehicles and crews), operating parameters (route lengths and operating speeds) and any relevant legal and policy requirements (such as drivers’ hours regulations).
Effective bus service scheduling is critically dependent on the accuracy of the data in terms of running speeds and their variability over different sections of route and times of day. In developing countries the variability may be very high, whereas the systems for accurately recording the data may be poor. The planning of reliable and efficient procedures for recording and using data is a key issue to be tackled prior to implementation.
It is in the road network operator’s interest to ensure that bus schedules are planned and maintained with an accurate knowledge of expected road closures and any known reductions in network availability. Data on planned events and other activities that may disrupt transport services should be made available to bus operators as far ahead as possible to feed into timetabling and service planning. Conversely the transport operator may hold accurate data on journey times and traffic running speeds at different locations and at different times of day that may be useful to the road network operator (for example as an indicator of the levels of service provided.)
Practitioners should consider the ability of automated scheduling systems to transfer data easily and cheaply under open protocols. The value of such systems to operations and fleet management essentially depends on the extent to which interaction with other ITS applications is possible.
More accurate data on road networks is becoming available – and the power and capacity of automated scheduling software is continually increasing. Suppliers of software are enhancing their products by developing features that integrate with other applications.
The key issue in running a scheduled service to a fixed timetable or headway in a developing country, is that scheduled services are rare because it is often the norm for services to run only when they are full. It may also be the case that the concept of running operations according to fixed times runs contrary to the prevailing culture. This represents a challenge - particularly where operational control procedures are not well-established or formalised. Operating a scheduled bus service also relies on the number of vehicles available being fairly stable. This can only be assured if formal vehicle maintenance procedures have been adopted and there are adequate facilities.
A serious issue is the high cost of proprietary scheduling systems. The investment may be justified by the potential efficiency savings that the systems offer - particularly in terms of the vehicle numbers required. However, the savings can only be realised if there are clear control procedures for staff and drivers so that vehicles can be moved between routes smoothly, according to the scheduled plan. Systems may need to take account of low literacy rates amongst driving staff in some countries.