They’re a vital cog in the UK’s public transport machine, and yet bus schedulers are rarely afforded the recognition they deserve


By Tom Quay:

Timetables are utilitarian. They serve a purpose. They provide structure and process to the bus networks they chart and confidence to the customers who use them.

And yet, despite their commonplace nature, the work that goes into the creation of timetables is anything but tedious. If anything, it borders on artistry. Concealed by the nearly aligned rows and columns of departure information lies a process by which geography is profiled, space mapped and the movements of a substantially sized fleet expertly navigated.

The schedulers responsible for this impressive feat are the UK bus industry’s very own modern-day Theseuses. The courses they plot through labyrinthine data ensure the unceasing, round-the-clock, systematic flow of movement that is any bus network.

And yet – despite being the beating heart of these operations – schedulers rarely get the recognition they deserve. They remain hidden behind the data they create.

Bus schedulers do much more than crunch numbers and spit out timetables on the other end. The data they create powers communities; it ensures a steady ebb and flow of commuters to and from work; it gives Google the information required to answer the thousands of journey plan queries made every second of every day.

This information is not just important; it’s essential – and it’s constantly in flux. Schedulers must constantly optimise departure times in response to changes along a given route. They must stay aware of these ever-changing dynamics in a network, which is no simple task when you consider a few minutes’ shift in one area can have a huge knock-on effect in another.

At a time when information is arguably one of the most important considerations in the public transport industry, it follows that the people creating that information should also be a crucial concern. We need to elevate the role of schedulers to a level of regard befitting the value of the work they produce. But how to make them the real rockstars of the industry?

Bus scheduling should not be synonymous with the “boring” timetable. The role should be discussed using language that makes it feel as exciting and dynamic as it truly is

Bus scheduling should not be synonymous with the “boring” timetable. The role should be discussed using language that makes it feel as exciting and dynamic as it truly is: it’s a role for enigmatologists with a knack for unravelling complex propositions; for individuals who want to have a tangible impact on the roads of the city in which they live and work. Instead of “scheduler”, how about “transport data specialist” or “urban data planner”?

Beyond the language surrounding scheduling, it should also be the remit of operators to create an environment suitable for the position. In an ideal world schedulers would work in Google campus-like offices with all the trimmings – but at minimum, a contemporary office designed for comfort, with breakaway areas and space to think, would communicate that the role of a scheduler is as much about creativity as it is logic.

The more the role of the scheduler outwardly reflects the dynamism its day-to-day work entails, the better the talent that will come through the door.

​Investment in training is key – not just around the use of systems such as those of Omnibus and Trapeze, but also into the most recent findings in data science. The better schedulers can understand the latest approaches to data, the better they will be able to map out structured schedules. Training combined with a rebrand of the role could result in the influx of a new generation of schedulers – individuals who have grown up in a world of data and possess an ingrained understanding of how it is presented to consumers of the digital age.

Schedulers are vital, and their value only increases with long service. The greater the length of their tenure, the better they understand the communities they serve and the networks they’ve established. Greater remuneration not only tempts in capable individuals who might otherwise be attracted by data analyst roles in industries more willing to pay for their talents, but will also ensure that they stay to continuously optimise and improve the networks they manage.

Data isn’t the future of the public transport industry. It’s the here and now

Data isn’t the future of the public transport industry. It’s the here and now. The sooner we all, operators included, wise up to this, the sooner the industry will adapt to the new demands of customers and governments alike. With schedulers standing at the heart of things, the transition will be a lot smoother.

About the author:
Tom Quay is CEO of Passenger Technology Group. Passenger combines mobile ticketing, network information, journey planning and real time departures into one platform for operators.

Further coverage appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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