Blog

Transit Discussion in real-time.

Next-generation route management expands options for efficiency.

By Matt Schroeder
Director of Marketing, ETA Transit Systems

As a marketer, I’m constantly exposed to new and interesting facts.

Did you know that a transit agency on average spends between two and six months researching new routes?

Or how about this one:

44 percent of dispatchers spend at least 30 minutes inputting route changes into the system (30 percent require more than one hour to complete the task).

Or this:

69 percent of agencies make seasonal changes to their routes.

Or perhaps this little nugget of awesomeness:

Only 49 percent of agencies use the data collected from their operations to inform their route changes.

I look at this information and the story it tells me is that route planning and management takes up a lot of time. It makes sense that over the past few years, we’ve seen a flurry of new ideas and solutions hit the market with the specific purpose to simplify, streamline, and improve route creation.

Most of these solutions are straightforward WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) route editors. Click on a map to add a stop, then another, then another. Click save and essentially, you’re done. All the GPS locations of these stops are saved in a database and uploaded to various software and hardware systems. Boom. Done.

And on the surface, that’s exactly how the process should perform.

But the last fact listed is the one to really focus on—only 49 percent of agencies use the data collected from their operations—to inform route changes or creation.

Less than half. Ouch.

Transit agencies invest hundreds of thousands—sometimes millions—of dollars into equipping their vehicles with equipment that gathers data about every facet of their operations. From driver behavior, to passenger counts, to stop performance, to automated performance creation. Millions upon millions of data points collected every day.

Yet less than half of agencies make use of this information.

81 percent of transit agencies cite improving operational efficiency as their primary reason for making route changes

...but half are doing it with one arm tied behind their backs by not utilizing all the data and resources that is readily available.

And there lies the potential for next evolution of route management systems.

Currently WYSIWYG editors are in vogue because they’re a huge step up from the prior solution of manually entering in GPS coordinates one-by-one into a table or editor in order to define a route. No real visual component. Just rows and rows of numbers. Do it correctly and you have a route. Transpose a number or two and your 3:30 pm route ends up in Tibet.

Next-generation route management tools will incorporate artificial intelligence (AI); smart systems that proactively scan and analyze route performance and create recommendations for improvements. Believe me, that future isn’t very far off.

Think about the benefits available with these new systems:

  • Route changes become greatly simplified and faster to implement
  • Service additions or changes become easier to sell to governing bodies/boards because they’re backed up by data
  • Drivers can be held accountable in greater measure for running routes correctly
  • Route analysis takes in all factors, from time of day to passenger load to traffic and weather conditions
  • Less time is spent on debating routes, and more time is freed up to improve passenger experience, expand business operations, and train drivers to minimize churn

A key component to the implementation of any route management system is the inclusion of the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). Now, GTFS has been around since 2006 and its adoption is growing. As of 2017, 73.3 percent of transit agencies use GTFS, but our 2019 survey revealed that just under 39 percent of agencies fail to share this information.

By not sharing this information, transit agencies are quite literally missing the bus.

The sharing of GTFS data becomes a critical component in creating local, regional, and national multimodal transportation networks. Route data shouldn’t be proprietary, there’s no reason for it. A driving principle behind public transit is to help people make connections; to get from A to B in the most efficient means possible. GTFS is the gateway to making this happen.

Using GTFS technology, a rider should be able to step on a bus, make a connection to a train, that helps him arrive at an airport in time to make his flight. GTFS data allows software to ingest this information and help plan trips in whatever manner is most appropriate for the user.

Think about the possibilities that are created when GTFS data meets the AI in next-gen route management systems. We’re looking at the potential to deliver far reaching impacts at every stop of every journey.

Less pollution.

Less traffic.

Shorter travel time.

Improved financial performance.

Rest assured, these new route management systems are closer to reality than you think, and in our view, they’ll be worth the investment.  What features in next-generation route management systems are on your wish list? What impact would this type of solution have on your operations?