Bus network planning and incident coordination are two key areas for managing bus operations.
Computer-based network planning tools range from simple spreadsheet-based resources to complex network modelling and demand forecasting tools. For spreadsheet-based planning, only basic calibration data, current travel patterns, growth forecasts and unit cost and revenue data will be needed. More complex modelling and forecasting will require heavy computational software modelling abilities – such as four-step or activity based models. It will also require considerable data input including origin-destination datasets, activity information, road network descriptors and travel times and costs.
Potential demand for a bus network is likely to emerge, either directly or indirectly, out of wider multi-modal models with much data. Relatively little data will then be needed for modelling the bus network itself – data such as journey times, fleet sizes, depot locations, and fares.
Some collaboration will be required between the road network operator and the bus operator(s) to specify the corridors and sections of road where bus priority is needed and the junctions and approaches where bus gates or traffic signal priority and enforcement are required. (See Urban Traffic Management and Urban Traffic Control)
The bus network will need to be digitally defined, using accepted national or international protocols (for example the TransXChange data format used in the UK, which is based on the CEN - Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN) Transmodal conceptual model). This definition will include details of the roads used, the stops used and the stop patterns for each defined bus journey. With such a geo-spatial definition it becomes possible to construct digital maps of the bus network that can be accessed, in whole or in part, over various digital media such as websites, and mobile phone apps and can also be produced in printed form.
A particular useful application is the public transport journey planner, and increasingly these are combined with information on walking routes and walking speeds to give door-to-door journey planners. (See Journey Planning)
Equipping service controllers with internet-enabled communications devices (such as hand-held devices or smartphones with relevant apps) enables them to keep passengers informed with up to date and correct in formation. Similarly, enabling direct radio communication between vehicles, will allows drivers to co-ordinate their own operations where appropriate. (See Traffic Incidents)
For bus network planning, major determinants of demand for bus services are fare levels, fare structures and payment methods. Fare structures are also a key factor in helping make interchange with other bus networks and other transport modes convenient – and this too is a key influencer of demand. Service planning modelling tools should be used in conjunction with local knowledge to ensure that local constraints and conditions are given their proper weight.
For service incident coordination it is essential that clear protocols are in place for operating staff to follow - so that they can judge when to delay the departure of connecting vehicles if first vehicles are running late and when to strictly adhere to the scheduled timetable.
The availability of detailed and freely-accessed digital street maps has increased enormously in recent years, as have the computational power and data storage facilities of PCs and other desk-based and portable computers. This has meant that relatively simple and straightforward models of bus networks with accurate data can be more easily constructed than before. (See Location Referencing)
Demand for bus services will grow in response to rapid urbanisation and the ease with which operators of more informal bus services - often found in developing economies - are able to function. This must be taken account in all bus network planning. It is necessary to attend to basic requirements first – such as designated passenger pick up and setting down points. Properly functioning communications systems are essential to deal effectively with incident coordination.