In a small rural transit agency, it’s common for everyone to pitch in. Finding a better way to complete the tedious and challenging task of runcutting may improve the work-life balance for staff and drivers. That’s what happened at the North Central Regional Transit District (NCRTD): automating their scheduling meant hours and money saved, allowing them to reinvest in other priorities.
In North Central New Mexico, more than 300,000 people live and work in the sunny and culturally diverse region. People rely on the Blue Bus to connect them to places in more than 10,000 square miles, including Taos, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Española, and the northern Pueblos.
Since beginning service in 2007, NCRTD has added more frequent service and routes. With a fleet of more than 40 buses, the agency is still growing, and the staff is learning. “We’re a small department,” said Stacey McGuire, NCRTD’s Planning, Projects, and Grants Manager. Previously, scheduling took about four months: exporting data from their ITS system, working with a contractor who produced a first runcut draft, and revising with a lot of back and forth.
Like many small transit agencies, NCRTD has a board, comprised of 15 representatives from each of the four counties, incorporated towns and cities, and tribes. The board is supportive, which Stacey said is a big asset. “We have everyone supporting a regional cause. It’s not about, ‘Well, this is my neighborhood and I need service just for my constituents.’ There’s a big picture and everybody is amenable to that,” she said. “There isn’t the parochialism that you can often see on regional boards. We’ve got a mission and we have a vision and everybody is there to support that.”
Given budget constraints, staff wanted to show the board members different scheduling and route options. Yet coming up with alternatives manually — sometimes as many as six route models — was time-intensive and error-prone. “No matter how much I program all of these routes into our ideal system, I still don’t know every single little detail that’s going on,” said Jeanetta Bachand, GIS/ITS Specialist. “I can’t remember, off the top of my head, what’s going on at this time of day, and where drivers should be, and how many vehicles on the road at that time of day.”
When NCRTD started using Remix scheduling in late 2017, they immediately found the software’s visualization helpful, especially seeing line attributes with each stop in order and each distance offset. “Being able to move each work chunk around and then pull something out, and see where else it can be placed in an autofill way made it so much easier,” Stacey said. “For us to be able to come up with a runcut in a few days was much more efficient and effective than what we could have done without the software.”
Presenting to the board was easier, too. Stacey was able to present a variety of options live, enabling staff to provide more informed assessments to the board for them to then provide better direction on how to move forward. “I showed everyone in real time, ‘This is what we can do, if we want to add a bus stop and add this little segment of route. What’s the cost implication?’ They really took to it,” she said. “The flexibility it gives you as an agency to take a look at things without a major time commitment and cost investment is really important when you’re trying to grow your agency.”
She added, “I feel like I’m better prepared to talk to our board about changes and to justify why we need to do X, Y, and Z.”
An easy rapport was established with Remix staff during training that has carried them through. “We have had experiences in the past with other vendors and contractors, where they think they’re done. And we know there’s a lot more to do.” Working with Remix was great, Stacey said. “You brought us to the water and showed us how to drink, and that’s what we really needed.”
For Delilah Garcia, Transit and Facilities Operations Director, the difference was immediate. “The product was super easy,” she said. ”My schedule is nonstop, all day long. And so if I had eight hours to work on the runcutting, that was a lot.”
In October, NCRTD introduced a new route.
“It took a fraction of the time to create,” said Jeanetta. “What we did in Remix in 20 minutes used to take Stacey and I a few days or a week!”
With the new schedule, NCRTD increased the number of 4 day work weeks from 7 to 33, giving more control over the types of shifts they design for their operators. As a result, the agency’s costs are way down, reporting a reduction of 60 hours overtime in the first two-week pay period of the new bid.
“We didn’t want our drivers to be exhausted,” said Stacey, who noted that it can be a challenge operationally to ensure that drivers show up for work. Providing a four-day work week option for those who really need it was one way to mitigate that risk. “If they’re taking care of their grandkid every Tuesday, then they might want to pick a shift that has Tuesdays off and they can still contribute to their family life,” she said. “The software allows us to be proactive and flexible.”
When it came time to print the schedule brochure, an unintended bonus became apparent. Previously, NCRTD staff would go through 10 to 20 drafts, reviewing for errors. “You know, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It was horrible,” Delilah said. “So to be able to export the data that’s in Remix and then have marketing just take what they need and not have to re-enter numbers was a huge time saver.”
The biggest benefit is to the bottom line. Whenever the agency wanted to make schedule adjustments, they had to send it out at a large cost, which added up over time. “For us, it’s significant to be able to look at the routes that are coming out of Española or Santa Fe and use a software that allows us to do that ourselves versus having to farm out a runcut,” she said. “There’s a benefit to being able to do it in-house and have that flexibility, but there’s a longterm cost savings as well.”
NCRTD is proud to have taken the initiative and switched to Remix. “We’re a small rural transit agency, but we want to be on the front line,” Stacey said. “To be able to be nimble and proactive and make changes is invaluable for us.”