They say that a developed country is not one where poor people have cars, but one where rich people take public transport, a la Sir Paul McCartney. It's certainly important to have the nice buses and trains that go from here to there, but how do you manage all these, especially when your transit system is so developed it seems to resemble a plate of spaghetti?
These days, we use software, of course!
Increased complexity means optimization is more important than ever across assets…
There are two elements of transit planning that have been dramatically changing: route planning and asset scheduling.
When it comes to route planning, COVID has changed patterns of work: a large part of the workforce is electing to either work from home full time or part time. A transport network needs to handle the peaks when everyone is in office, as well as survive in troughs (like Fridays).
There are additional changes to our surroundings too, like low traffic neighbourhoods or public works around fibre roll-out, clean-up, etc. - this all means that routes need to be carefully managed.
On asset scheduling, it's interesting to see an increase in the usage of electric buses. These not only need to follow a given route, but also need to charge, which tends to take longer than fuelling up (at least for now!).
…as well as people, who need easy to use systems
One of the many wonderful things about living in a city like London is the ability to walk around and chat to people in all sorts of trades and activities. If you're interested in public transit systems, this can be as easy as walking up to a bus that's idled and speaking to its driver. Admittedly many find it strange that you should ask... but eventually, will open up about what it's like to use software as a driver.
And folks in transit will share two big painpoints regarding the people side of scheduling: the driver shortage and the quality of platform UX that sometimes makes it difficult for drivers to work with these apps. Many of them are non-native English speakers or are on average older and less tech savvy. Therefore, whatever solutions are presented to drivers need to be easy for them to use when inquiring about or changing their schedules.
I was surprised by the driver shortage the most though. We hear on the news that there is a shortage of truck drivers, but hadn't appreciated the domino effect this might have on the ability for operators to hire bus drivers. However, speaking to a few drivers in London helped clear up the picture for me: bus drivers are being hired away by truck driving companies who are desperate for staff, and incentivizing drivers with signing bonuses and higher pay. In all, this generalized shortage results in pressure on scheduling.
Software to the rescue
All of these issues are being addressed by modern transit software providers like GIRO and Optibus. Optimization is one problem where solutions are usually very math-centric, which is something that software can handle well.
Things will always get in the way in an unexpected manner: there is an accident, there are urgent roadworks, drivers are delayed - everything and anything can affect the running of our transit systems. But with a bit of software and the care from experienced managers, we're certain to see better and better service.