Monday, 13 December 2010

Knowing where they are

It's 0812 on a winter Monday morning and it's a bad morning for traffic. Not the worst, by any means, but enough to cause some late running. But I'm happy because I'm in the office and I have superpowers, so I know where everyone is!

Since I've mostly worked in provincial bus companies that have never been at the head of the queue for technological innovation, and of course when setting up our own company we had to be careful about making any kind of investment at all, I have gone through the nineteen years of my career to date not knowing where my buses are.

This is something the public find incredible, that most bus companies actually have no idea where there buses are most of the time. They know where they should be, but that doesn't necessarily bear much relation to reality.

Back in the summer, we invested in a system called DriveGreen, from a company called GreenRoad. This is primarily a system intended to monitor driver performance in areas such as braking, lane handling etc. The main conclusion so far has been that actually our drivers are pretty good - no surprise there. But the really exciting part for me is that the system gives us vehicle tracking, which makes the management of service disruption so much easier!

In the morning peak, the 0820 C1 from Eastleigh to Hiltingbury runs off the 612 service from Weston to Barton Peveril College, due at the College at 0805. The following C - the C2 at 0835 from the Bus Station, is scheduled to be operated by the bus that arrived at Barton Peveril College at 0815 on an inbound C1 that passed through the Bus Station at 0810.

However, I have been watching the 612 for a little while now. It was running about 20 minutes late at Bitterne - sure enough, a quick check of the Romanse cameras revealed that Bitterne Road West was a solid queue.

Various buses are converging on Eastleigh at this time of the morning, and as I look at the map I can see Matt (on the 612) has snuck round the back roads and has made some time back, but is looking doubtful for the 0820. He's the bottom icon on this map (also shown are J843 TSC on the inbound 603 and F303 MYJ on the inbound 618, but you'll have to take my word for that!)

Meanwhile, the inbound C1 that makes the outbound 0835 C2 is through the Bus Station on time and steaming down Southampton Road towards the college. It is quite likely that he will drop off and be back in the bus station before the bus off the 612 gets there. If this is the case, I'll attempt to use that bus for the 0820 and let Matt run off the 612 on to the 0835 C2. After all, there's nothing worse for the waiting customers in the bus station than seeing a bus parked doing nothing on the layby while their's is nowhere to be seen. Besides, the 0820 carries several Toynbee School students and we don't want to make them late (although they never normally seem quite so bothered, but that's another story!)

So I'm watching the 'blips' moving along on the map, and sure enough the C1 is unloading at the college at 0814 while Matt (with the 612) is still in Stoneham Lane, though he's doing better than he thought he would - I'm going to hedge my bets for a minute or two more.

Fast forward to 0818 and as you can see from this map, the bus that was the C1 (NX55 FFO) is now making good progress back along Derby Road to the Bus Station, while the 612 (F309 MYJ) is still at the college.

So that's settled then. A quick text to both drivers, which they should see when they get to the bus station, and their two scheduled journeys have been swapped. The Solo is back in the bus station actually at 0821, still a couple of minutes late for the 0820 by the time it leaves, but still better than waiting for 309 to come in. This one rolls in at 0824, with plenty of time to spare to get the C2 out on time.

Ok, not the most catastrophic late running and it probably wouldn't have mattered too much in this case if we'd left them as they were. But you can doubtless imagine that there are other times when late running gets more pronounced and we can save our customers a lot more than four minutes by judiciously swapping the workings around. And the nice thing for me is that I've micromanaged the service to this level just because I can - and in doing so saved an unnecessary 3-4 minute delay for the 0820 passengers, without them ever realising what has happened behind the scenes to get those few minutes of improvement for them.

A far cry from the days when any enquiry about whether a bus was on time could only be met with a vague wave of the arm and the response, "we've no idea, but all the buses are out there somewhere!"


  1. Another intersting post on running a small bus company.

    I'm intrigued to know whether you were aware of GreenRoad's tracking ability when you decided to invest in it, ot has this been a bonus that you hadn't taken into account?

  2. Yes we were aware. Given the relatively low cost of installing GreenRoad overall it has been tremendous value for money. I think GreenRoad actually undersell that part of the package.