Stage 5 Developing the Improvement Plan

Bus Operating Plan

Improving bus services can be achieved through a set of linked actions. The necessary actions will depend on the problems identified, the ability to act and their expected impact. The action plan flows from the strategies selected by stakeholders. It should include the following components:

  • Route Plan
  • Capacity Augmentation
  • Operations Management
  • Ticketing and Revenue Management
  • Customer Orientation
  • Human Resource Development
  • Operator’s Efficiency

Route Plan: Network and route design is important for three reasons:

  • It has significant influence on passenger demand and satisfaction and hence on revenue. It can significantly reduce journey times if well designed. If poorly designed, it can frustrate customers and provide opportunities for informal and illegal operators to enter the market.
  • It affects operating cost. A poorly designed network (badly planned routes) is inefficient to work, both at route and at network level, with avoidable congestion and delays. A high degree of route overlapping leads to unnecessary costs and reduced profitability.
  • A coherent network, rather than uncoordinated routes, is user-friendly and will increase use of bus services. It also provides the basic platform for integration and advanced customer support services.

The Route Plan may be based on either trunk routes supported by feeder routes; the hub and spoke principle; or on a grid structure. Each has advantages as well as limitations.

Transport planners should decide on the route pattern in consultation with stakeholders. City bus services are generally not planned scientifically - as a result there are overlaps and gaps. The Route Plan will largely depend upon the existing infrastructure, but it is desirable for the infrastructure plan to take into account the route planning norms.

This stage is suitable for computer modeling. Therefore it is recommended that experts in the field should be involved.

Route rationalization (existing bus network): Route rationalization increases both commuter satisfaction and the financial returns to the operator. It assumes that the fixed assets cannot be changed significantly.

Irrational route networks are characterized by duplication and overlapping of routes, some areas are served excessively while others are under-served. From the users’ point of view, there are overloaded buses together with under-utilised buses, a mix of extended intervals and buses running in bunches. From the operators’ point of view, the load factor varies widely between services, as do earnings per bus. Irrational route networks are uneconomic for operators and at the same time result in user dissatisfaction.

Figure 3 Route Rationalization Process

At Task 6, if there is a lack of fleet capacity, route lengths or operating frequency may need to be adjusted. In Task 7, the parameters typically used for evaluation are: load factor, average travel time, average waiting time, earnings per bus, average walking distance to bus stop.

Route planning should consider that travel demand is not uniform throughout the day. There may also be a conflict between revenue maximization and providing accessibility for all areas. A balance has to be achieved.

Capacity Enhancement: route planning may require enhanced capacity. For cities lacking adequate bus services, or where services are undeveloped, the quickest and most effective action is to add routes. The basic need is identified in the initial problem diagnostic and in the consultation process. Capacity enhancement has to be scheduled properly, in coordination with other improvements, especially human resource development.

Operations Management: The relevant measures will depend on whether there is a coordinated operations management and whether operators are consolidated or fragmented. Operations management and service planning is an interdisciplinary subject. It is therefore suggested that a team of experts be associated with such planning.

Ticketing and Revenue Management: defining the fare structure is not the responsibility of the task force or the group working on service improvements. The fare structure should be reviewed, however, to see whether viability can be improved, in conjunction with the authorities concerned. This is an iterative process.

It may be desirable to introduce more options, for example passes entitling travel on all or a set of routes for a day, week or month. Smart cards etc. could also be explored. The cost of revenue collection should be minimized and the chances of pilferage reduced.

Customer Orientation: Satisfactory service results from reliability, punctuality and comfort. Other customer-friendly measures include:

  • Preparing an enforceable citizen’s charter.
  • Setting up a mechanism to redress public transport users’ grievances.
  • Establishing a citizen’s consultative forum.
  • Involving citizens in monitoring operations.
  • Installing effective passenger information systems.
  • Display of passenger friendly maps, routes and schedules at bus stops.
  • Establishing active marketing and outreach programmes.

Customer support can greatly improve the image of public transport, reduce stress on users, and resolve issues that would otherwise lead to dissatisfaction.

Human Resource Development: Public transport operation is labour intensive and therefore a pre-requisite to reforms and improvements is a motivated, competent and disciplined workforce. Staff need to be properly trained in customer care to maintain an image of high quality transport. Human resource development requires personnel policies, encompassing recruitment, training, incentives, employees grievance redressal mechanisms, fair and transparent methods of enforcing discipline, sensitivity towards customers needs etc. Making commuters aware of the problems the crew face would also help in improving mutual understanding. The capacity of operators can also be improved. This is relevant to associations and consolidation of independent operators who lack corporate experience, to traditional operators who do not have professional qualifications and to large companies that have not invested in modern business practices.

Significant change can offer new opportunities to bus companies of all sizes and structures and these need to be fully exploited. In many cases, the improvements are not an end in themselves, but the platform from which an improved and more sustainable business model can be established. This requires training, know-how and capacity development. It also requires an upgrading of the knowledge and support systems within the organization.

Improvements in human resources include:

  • Training for owners and senior management in modern business and management practices
  • Training for operations, financial and administrative managers in modern practices
  • Study tours and secondments for key personnel
  • Encouragement of recognized qualifications such as Certificate of Professional Competence. It can be made a condition of service contracts and operating permits that key personnel must be so qualified
  • Assistance, training and know-how transfer for computerization and data management
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