July 2009

Maximizing Route Efficiency with Software

by Thi Dao, Assistant Editor

For both fixed-route and on-demand services, routing software is essential in creating efficient routes, and the right one can reduce routes and the number of vehicles needed.

Routing software is used to create efficient schedules for dozens to hundreds of routes, factoring in numerous variables that include road conditions to union contracts. Technology has taken over what in the past was a laborious project, and advances now allow dispatchers to follow, in real-time, the routes of each vehicle, ensuring more accuracy. Routing software is available for both fixed route and paratransit systems.

Fixed-route scheduling

Trapeze Group, based in Mississauga, Ontario, offers its fixed-route scheduling product, FX, which performs the usual functions of trip building, blocking trips for each vehicle, run cutting and rostering driver work. 

According to Matthew Goddard, director of product development for Trapeze, the run cutting process takes into consideration many variables such as union contracted driver guarantees. "There's a lot of fine-tuning that goes into that process," he says. "You have to drive as much efficiency out of that entire schedule creation process as a whole. The blocking process, if done efficiently, can use a lesser amount of vehicles, and the more efficient you do the run cutting process, help you incur less driver expense."

The FX product integrates with other components, including planning tools, operations management, demand-response scheduling, customer information and intelligent transit technologies such as Computer-Aided Dispatch and Automated Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL).

The RouteMatch CA, for fixed-route public transit agencies, includes CAD/AVL technology, which allows the user to track vehicles in real time to see where vehicles are in relation to where they are scheduled to be. It gives the dispatcher the ability to let riders standing at the bus stop know if their bus will be early or late.

Made by Atlanta, Ga.-based RouteMatch, the software uses the RouteMatch Scheduling Engine (RSE), a GIS-based optimization engine that models real-world driving conditions. Its routes typically result in a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled.

The software is designed for "transit systems that want to tightly integrate all their dispatching needs into one single platform," says Tim Quinn, executive vice president of RouteMatch. He recommends the system for small-to-medium agencies running less than 50 routes.

Managing Growth

Trapeze's PASS software, for agencies of all sizes, supports multiple demand response models such as door-to-door and curb-to-curb transportation. Demand trip requests and regular subscription trip requests are input into the system and scheduled onto assigned vehicles for day runs. Scheduling is done as efficiently as possible, taking into account many variables such as vehicle capacity, relative geography, distance of travel and individual needs, including loading time for riders depending on their mobility, says Goddard.

The Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority (OCTA) began using Trapeze's PASS system for its paratransit services for client management, trip booking and scheduling in an effort to manage growth of both eligible and active clients. Limited funding prevented the addition of more vehicles and personnel, and OCTA wanted a cost-effective solution that could handle advance reservations, same-day emergency changes, and access to previous trip information for investigations and to measure system performance. By 2005, service had grown to 26,000 enrolled riders and 255 vehicles, servicing more than 1.1 million trips that year.

The PASS system ensures that requested trips are eligible for the service, making sure they fall within the three-quarter-mile zone around the fixed route. It also tracks eligibility on a trip-by-trip basis, letting reservationists notify the customer of any issues at the time the request is made.

OCTA later chose to add mobile computing to the system, allowing dispatchers to see itinerary and trip status on onboard computers. It also automates data collection and communication between drivers and dispatch.

The paratransit program was projected to save $1 million annually, with a return on investment after approximately two years.


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