Modernisation of Operations Management: Role of ITS in Bus Operations at NMMT and the Netherlands

Introduction

Management and operations in transportation systems is defined as an “integrated approach to optimize the performance of the existing infrastructure through implementation of multi-modal, cross-jurisdictional systems, services and projects” (FHWA, 2013). It focuses on the transit vehicle operations directly and how they interact with the transit users. Increasing the performance of an existing infrastructure can improve operational performance, reduce long-term costs and save time (Abou-Senna et al, 2018). The components under operational systems are (ADB and MoUD, 2008; COST, 2011):

  • Route planning
  • Capacity augmentation
  • Ticketing, fare collection and revenue management
  • Operations management (Schedule span, type of services, driving rules, etc.)
  • Customer’s orientation
  • Passenger information
  • Operator’s efficiency
  • Human resource development
  • Quality Management (including safety, security, operator’s training, etc.)

It is important that the transport infrastructure always adapt to the constant growth of the city and its never-ending demand. Information Technology Services (ITS) provides many solutions and models that can help in data collection, forecasting the demand, tracking the vehicles and the passenger movement. All major cities, like Amsterdam, Sydney, Sao Paolo, London, etc. make extensive use of technology in their bus operations and maintenance. They have a centralised command centre and they track the buses through GPS (EMBARQ, 2010).

The benefits of management and operations strategies like these brings forth safer travel, reduced delay in commute, improved reliability, lesser wasted fuel, cleaner air, etc. (FHWA, 2017). Earlier, we have identified that Indian cities have started implementing ITS to help improve its transportation planning and management. In this article, we will study the data management and collection methods in practice at the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport (NMMT) control centre.

Case Study 1 – Real-time Data Management at NMMT, Navi Mumbai

Currently, NMMT has a bus fleet of 467 buses running on 75 routes. It experiences a daily ridership of approximately 3 lac passengers and generates an approximate daily income of Rs. 37-40 lacs. All the bus lines add up to a total route length of 1895 kms. and have an average length of 26 kms. The average headway is about 15 minutes, the maximum being 65 minutes and a minimum of 7-10 minutes (“NMMT City Bus System”, 2017). NMMT has allocated the buses among 3 depots (Turbhe, Asudgaon and Ghansoli) and 13 bus terminals.

On similar grounds of other major cities mentioned earlier, NMMT has also established a centralised command centre. It tracks the daily movement in the buses to make its operations and maintenance more efficient. They have implemented the real-time data management system through these eight modules:

1.      Automatic Vehicle Locator System (AVLS)

AVLS captures the real-time on-board location and helps create a substantial database where the progress of the bus is stored on a second-to-second basis (Hounsell, Shrestha and Wong, 2012). It receives and stores the bus location and also the bus event information through an on-board GPS. Through this system, the location, speed and the route of the buses can be tracked. From the current location of the buses being tracked and comparing it with an average gives the estimated time to reach a destination. Through the same module, the estimated time for the bus to reach a bus-stop is also calculated.

Fig 1 – The total number of GPS enabled buses distributed among the three depots.

Over 95% of the buses have a GPS installed in them. GPS boxes in the older buses are being installed externally, while the newer buses come with an inbuilt GPS. Based on the movement of the bus, its status (Running, idle, on-trip standby, off-trip standby) gets constantly updated at the control centre, which is useful during the peak hours.

2.      Passenger Information System (PIS)

Deriving the information from AVLS, the control centre constantly tracks the real-time information of the buses.  It calculates the estimated arrival and travel time of the buses based on the historical travel data across different road segments and the time of the day. The commuters can receive this information (estimated arrival and travel time) through the mobile application. The passengers can also get information about the bus drivers and report for incidents.

The passenger movement is counted from the tickets count, through which the peak and off-peak hours are estimated. NMMT uses this information to dispatch the buses and at the same time maintain a reserve stock of them. The reserve stock is useful in case of unprecedented demand or breakdown of a bus.

3.      Control command centre

The control centre constantly records and analyses the real-time information of the buses and passenger’s commute. AVLS and PIS provides a substantial database, which is useful in the maintenance and operations of the buses. Based on the data provided, the control centre is able to:

  • Forecast demand
  • Avoid bus-bunching
  • Check the fare collection and segregating it according to different categories
  • Track the buses for route violations and over-speeding
  • Check for incident reports
  • Interact with the staff and the commuters
  • Maintain the database

Image 2 – The role of control center in real-time data management of NMMT. (Content source – Hounsell Shrestha and Wong, 2012)

4.      Incident Management

The control centre keeps a track of the bus operators and if their buses are following the route or not. They also maintain the incidence reports submitted by the commuters. In cases of any issue noticed by the centre or submitted by the commuter, the control centre resolves it immediately. Operational faults and break-downs are resolved by the respective depots, this:

  • Releases the work-load on a single depot
  • Allows depots to deploy reserve buses effectively
5.      Mobile application

Information like the schedule of the buses, its operators, etc. are available on the mobile application.  Through the mobile application, the commuters are capable of:

  • Checking the nearest bus-stops and routes
  • Checking the available buses and the waiting time
  • Setting a time for notification to leave their place of origin and reach the bus stops.
  • Checking the details of the bus and the bus operators
  • Reporting an incident
6.      Business Intelligence, Financial management system and Enterprise management system

The control centre creates different real-time reports for the general manager, the accounts department and the employees of NMMT. These reports help them to monitor and analyse the performance of the buses and the operating staff.

7.      Scheduling and planning

The scheduling of the buses at the initial stages follows the traditional approach by over-lapping On-site surveys, Activities according to the land-use maps and The number of buses available.

The number of buses on a particular route are increased or reduced according to the demand of the commuters. This demand is tracked online through the count of the tickets.

8.      Automatic Fare Collection System

There are many ways to register a trips made by the commuters; through on-board ticketing, monthly passes and through a mobile application. All of these are recorded and maintained to analyse the daily ridership in the buses. Through which, the peak and off-peak hours are estimated. The same online system is also used to create stock correction reports.

Case Study 2 – Network of Bus Corridors in the Netherlands

Any transportation system is based on potential user’s demand. This demand forms the technical foundations for designing the system, planning operations and the financial feasibility (EMBARQ, 2010). Route planning of any public transport should always be in response to the context of the neighborhood and in consultation with the local stakeholders. It should be laid out to serve the maximum commuters in the most efficient way.

Following a similar ideology, the development or improvement of the public transport in the Netherlands is done gradually (from a regular bus to a dedicated infrastructure) on the basis of the integral vision of the change in transport requirements (number of passengers) and the development of the locations (with the increase in number of residents and jobs) (Public transport in the Netherlands, 2016).

This data to document the necessity to develop a route is collected through many ITS models. An estimated amount of €170 million is budgeted for 75 projects in total; for data collection models such as cluster travel information, Multi-Modal information, dynamic traffic management, etc. (Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, The Netherlands, 2012). The data is processed into travel information, for both unimodal and multimodal mode, through apps such as 9292 (public transportation) and ANWB (Dutch Automobile Club). The travel information is useful for improved accessibility and traffic flows. The appropriate use of ITS architecture leads to co-ordinated and standardised development of a cohesive framework of technical and information structures (Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, The Netherlands, 2012).

The integration of different services is also one of the key features of Dutch public transport. It follows a hierarchy of fast (peak hour), local and community, and demand responsive services. The bus operators setup their time-tables around a ‘transfer-scheme’ to be able to find a convenient way to connect to a metro/rail. The ticketing and fare system is also integrated. Use of Strippenkaart, sterabonnement or ov-chipkaart (tickets and pre-paid cards) are capable to allow the commuters to travel using the same fare and tickets.

Take-Aways

The real-time data management system implemented in NMMT is still young and constantly upgrading. However, a positive impact in the operations can be seen. Since the implementation of this system, there has been a significant reduction in the incident reports (Fig 2). The statistics suggest that cases of over-speeding of buses is almost negligible now.

Fig 2 – Percentage reduction in incidence reports (Content source – NMMT)

Through constant tracking of the buses and implementation of this system, NMMT is now capable of:

  • Monitoring the services of the buses
  • Managing operational maintenance and reports
  • Real-time incidence reporting and resolving
  • Retrieving performance data for post-process applications
  • Reducing the manual data collection

Efficient data collection, availability of travel information and integration among different operators are key for developing an efficient operational model. A coherent and integrated route plan ensures user-friendliness and higher usage of the bus services. It has a direct influence on the passenger demand, reduced travel time and the operating costs; hence, also on the revenues (ADB and MoUD, 2008). Indian ULBs have also started developing similar models, however, the process of implementation is rather slower and complex. With an increasing use of ITS in bus operations, open data collection and disseminating travel information is getting easier and more efficient.