Transportation Scheduling 101


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

Public transportation is the backbone of every major city. From the New York City subway system to the San Francisco cable cars, each metropolis has its own way of helping its residents navigate commuting to work, school, and essential services.

What most people don’t realize, though, is how much complex planning goes into making sure that public transit runs smoothly and efficiently. Transportation scheduling in particular is a nearly-invisible activity that makes an enormous difference in running a bus or train system.

This article will discuss the ins and outs of transit scheduling and look at some of the common pitfalls that planners may face. We'll also explore how transportation scheduling software like Remix can help systems run smoothly, and how planners can set up an effective transportation scheduling system.

What Is Scheduling in Transportation?

Transport scheduling deals with the nuts and bolts of improving a transit system’s operating efficiency while also cutting costs wherever possible. Its main goals are to improve both vehicle utilization and drivers’ schedules so that every dollar in the budget is well-spent and riders' needs are well-met.

It ensures route timing is optimized so commuters can get to their destinations on time. Transportation scheduling also helps drivers so they don't spend time idling or unnecessarily back-tracking when handing off routes or starting and ending shifts.

What Is Vehicle Utilization?

‌Vehicle utilization measures the degree to which vehicles (like buses or trains) are used within a given timeframe and along a given route. Measuring vehicle utilization helps gauge the level of need for a certain bus route or train station. Vehicle utilization can also be a valuable tool for planners deciding things like where to place a new dock for their bike-share scheme.

There are a few possible ways to measure vehicle utilization.

Vehicle utilization can be assessed in terms of:

  • The distance that each passenger rides
  • The number of hours that people use vehicles

Many planners decide to measure the number of vehicles that are used during peak service times as a percentage of the total number of available vehicles.

The Public–Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility — an organization supported by the World Bank — estimates that at peak hours, vehicle use should be at 95% to 100%. A lower figure would indicate that there is not enough need for the buses, trains, or bicycles being offered.

Why Is Vehicle Utilization Important?

‌The cost of operating vehicles varies from city to city, but data shows that it ranges from about $100 to $215 to operate a single bus for one hour.

Assessing vehicle utilization rates allows planners to decide where vehicle use can be reduced. If the rates show that certain vehicles are being underused, the deployment can be cut back. This can result in significant savings, which means that funds can be reallocated elsewhere in the budget.‌

What Is Route Scheduling?

‌Route scheduling is a subset of transportation scheduling. Instead of focusing on vehicle utilization, route scheduling focuses on maximizing drivers’ schedules so that they are driving for as much time as possible while they're on duty.

All too often, scheduling conflicts create gaps in drivers’ days so that they spend blocks of time sitting idle in between trips. This can be a hardship for drivers since most employees like to feel actively engaged in their work. It also represents a significant cost for the transport system as a whole. Paying drivers for idle time drains resources that could be spent on other pressing needs.

Planning drivers’ schedules can be challenging. Planners must take into account the drivers’ right to a full workday with two days off per week — a schedule which does not line up naturally with most bus and train routes. In order to keep drivers at full employment with minimal downtime, two drivers will sometimes inevitably share a route. This then raises questions about how drivers should hand off control of the route and where they should begin and end their workdays.

Why Is Route Scheduling Important?

‌Just as vehicle utilization allows planners to cut back on unneeded vehicles, route scheduling lets planners cut out unnecessary idle work hours.

The goals behind route scheduling should include:

  • Minimizing paid idle hours
  • Minimizing driver layovers‌
  • Allowing drivers to start and end their shifts in the same place to minimize travel time
  • Minimizing route-switching as bus drivers hand off routes

Achieving those goals will look different for specific transit systems. But for most planners, it will entail a mixture of blocking, runcutting, and rostering. This will ensure drivers are given a full but fair schedule, and riders are given a consistent, reliable transit schedule. ‌

No matter how carefully planners draw on their experience and firsthand knowledge of their drivers and their commuters' ridership, this planning process can be difficult. Having the right tools — including cutting-edge, data-driven computational tools — makes all the difference in the world for this process.

Using Algorithms for Route Scheduling

‌A study by McKinsey found that taking a data-driven, mathematical approach to scheduling can dramatically increase revenue. In a study of a trucking company, McKinsey found that using algorithms to plan vehicle use and route scheduling saved the company both money and time — resulting in 16% gains in profit.

Transit systems can also benefit hugely from implementing a data-based planning method. Remix’s transportation scheduling solutions provide planners with visual and highly intuitive data-based insights into how their plans are likely to impact both transit riders and drivers. It’s route scheduling made easy.‌

Transit Scheduling Solutions with Remix

‌Effective transit scheduling calls for granular, data-based insight coupled with the flexibility to build new responses to adapt to changing circumstances.

During the pandemic, Remix worked with the North Central Regional Transit District to plan out a rapid solution to a sudden shortage in drivers. The team used Remix’s software to plot the changes and visualize their impact on riders throughout the system. Then, they produced an extra board of seven operators so that the agency could handle no-show and call-out drivers going forward.‌

Remix’s team can work with transit planners to improve vehicle utilization, route timing, and other aspects of transportation scheduling. To learn more and set up a free demo, contact Remix today.