The Loneliness of the Long Distance Scheduler

Quite by chance earlier this week, i met up with a friend of mine who i hadn’t spoken to in a while. As neither of us were required for further labouring for a good half hour, we found a cafe and spent a while chattering.

A thankless task
My friend showed me a thread on their phone from a social media group at their employer. A member of planning staff had asked for feedback on current services, particularly asking drivers to be as specific as possible in their criticisms. The results were interesting for many reasons.

Firstly, drivers appear to be unable to manage the concept of specific. The first few posts were full of sweeping generalisations about whole groups of services (or the work of entire depots). Drivers were getting paragraphs deep in to philosophy about their work without actually addressing the topic at all.

Too much information…?
There was then some discussion about individual stop timings, apparently a feature of their Ticketer configuration which tells drivers how early or late they are at every stop along the route. Because these times are derived from timing points and based on the distance between stops with gaps between them aggregated, certain predicted times are nonsensical, particularly those shortly after leaving the first stop in a city centre.

This approach strikes me as being overkill with regard to how much pressure there is upon their staff to perform the impossible. Drivers don’t need to be constantly badgered upon reaching the second stop on a route that they’re already four minutes late having started on time. The Ticketer platform is smart enough that drivers could be shown just their expected time at the next timing point and be left to get on with it like the professionals they are.

One way or another
The inner scheduler in me appreciates the huge challenge of replanning a multiple depot bus network every four weeks, a task which must be mentally draining. Thankfully, some of the comments from the drivers were rather more helpful. One depot in particular were complaining about the tight journey timings on their interurban services and also the short turnarounds. This is something i’ve experienced on poorly timed services with many operators.

Schedulers at both operators and councils are understandably keen to extract the maximum potential from their vehicles and drivers, but there comes a point where the combination of chasing your tail all day long and being due back out before you arrive at a terminus starts costing an operator in terms of stressed staff and vehicles. My philosophy is that services should be timed so that drivers don’t need to keep waiting out time along the route under normal conditions, but there should be appropriate recovery time at the end of each journey.

I would like to think that the most recent government announcement regarding ongoing support for local bus services would allow for some stability and hopefully retire the current monthly service revisions in favour of a return to the quarterly change dates as had previously become the norm. Perhaps then we could get back to passenger informing luxuries such as working Real Time Information and printed timetable displays at bus stops. It is all very well RTI displays spending two weeks saying “Please refer to printed timetables” after each timetable change, but that doesn’t really work if the printed timetables aren’t being maintained, as is currently the case.

Many other industries are attempting to return to normal as much as possible, so it would be good if we were able to at least present the impression of normality in order to regain the trust of the public.

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