8 ways for Local Authorities and community transport organisations to save money!

The Trapeze Team | September 17, 2015

All local authorities in the UK are facing the challenge of modernising services against a backdrop of diminishing funding. Working smarter – more efficiently and more cost-effectively – is therefore a crucial part of any strategy to address the challenge of doing more with less.

Fortunately, there are several ways you can use new tools, systems and technology – from apps and great software to new hardware – to slim down your budget while simultaneously boosting productivity and functionality within your organisation.

Photo of a bus in Brighton

1. Move tendered bus services to commercial operation

Of course, running tendered bus services is a significant cost to any Local Authority transport department’s budget. These services are of paramount importance to the passengers who use them – often in more rural communities – as they offer mobility and enable people to get from A to B. Because of this, Local Authorities will understandably try to preserve such services. But what if there were a way to reduce the cost of operating them while maintaining service levels? Fortunately, there is!

By using accurate tracking systems it is possible to present evidence for moving particular services to commercial operation. This has been achieved at Poole and Bournemouth , where the Local Authority transport team was able to show operators that they would achieve a return on investment by running previously tendered or council-run services as a commercial operation.

As a result, the Poole-Sandbanks link, which previously saw three subsidized services a day, now offers hourly commercial services – and the council have been able to reduce their budget with no reduction in services.

2. Mobilise stakeholders

Developments in online technology have produced countless opportunities for innovation and efficiency in the workplace – and Local Authorities are no exception. Indeed, there is a huge potential for Local Authorities to improve efficiency and make vital cost savings by providing external stakeholders – social workers , parents, guardians, carers (as well as commercial operating partners and members of the general public) – with online access to back office information systems.

This would be the first stage in a wider process of mobilising stakeholders as a business resource – which would see central online information repositories accessible anywhere and at any time.

Secure online portals and interfaces are widely used to provide all kinds of value added services, such as customer enquiries, name and address registrations, transport applications etc. But the biggest benefits come through the streamlining of data capture to avoid duplication and to facilitate better communications.

3. Web-based services

Booking office staff are accustomed to hearing such questions as ‘When will the vehicle I booked arrive?’; ‘has the booking office got my new telephone number?’; ‘How can I cancel a trip I have booked?’. And, while staff may well be happy to answer such queries, it does take up valuable time. In times of austerity, staff time has to be utilised carefully. So is there a way to minimize the amount of time staff spend on such queries?

Fortunately, there is an extremely simple solution here. And this is to provide transport users with the means of answering their own questions via PC, tablet or smartphone – rather than needing to call the booking office.

By using a web-based self-service feature, passengers can access trip information and deal with various booking-related tasks themselves, whenever it suits them.

Tools such as Trapeze’s TravelMate are designed primarily with passengers in mind – yet they also represent a big saving for transport booking offices. Customers estimate that up to 80% of all telephone enquiries to the booking office concern travel cancellations for the same day or for a period, updating of personal data and queries about when the booked vehicle will arrive.

By dealing with these questions using tools like TravelMate, passengers get the information they need, while saving Local Authorities time and money.

4. Embrace the cloud

Often, one of the most significant costs that Local Authorities must contend with are the information and communications technology resource and infrastructure required to maintain it. Yet much of this ICT network is itself vital in making significant cost savings elsewhere in the organisation. So how can organisations maintain its ICT services while minimizing relating costs?

Simply put, this is by embracing the potential of ‘true cloud’ technology.

Cloud technology is easily deployable, simple and provides cost effective maintenance. And, as we discuss in this article, it also enables smart working practices, such as flexible working, ‘hot desking’, remote working and working from home.  At the same time, it reduces IT bills and costs of associated infrastructure, while simultaneously increasing security controls.

A further benefit of cloud is that it can improve operational performance in terms of responsiveness, and facilitate greater co-operation between other Local Authorities and bus operators, with much easier sharing of information and data – which can improve data quality and remove instances of data duplication.

5. Collective purchasing

While new technology can streamline operations and bring about cost savings, it does of course represent a potential outlay of capital funds in terms of the initial investment. This can be overcome via collective or shared purchasing – a tactic among groups of Local Authorities that has emerged in response to increasingly tight austerity measures.

Indeed, throughout the UK, this is solution is an emerging trend – just look to the Midlands, where a new scheduling software deployed to Leicestershire via Trapeze’s NOVUS FX system will also benefit Nottinghamshire, Leicester City and North East Lincolnshire in the near future. This is thanks to collectively purchasing shared, hosted infrastructure – and also investing in technology that is designed to help Local Authorities work together to improve the quality of data.

While it might sound simple, this strategy can help multiple Local Authorities realise numerous benefits from modern IT systems, while also reducing costs.

6. Reduce taxi bills (through better scheduling)

When it comes to providing transport for schools children with special educational needs (SEN), all Local Authorities will agree that their priority, first and foremost, is to minimize the effects of any necessary cost savings on passengers.

Yet it’s also true that one of the most effective ways of managing costs is through vehicle sharing. For example, Powys County Council in Wales saved £1.2 million by integrating school’s transport with local bus services. Meanwhile, East Riding of Yorkshire sought to eliminate cases where “two taxis and a minicab” were “chasing each other on the same route to the same school.”

Technology can help Local Authorities ensure that SEN children still receive the transport to school they need (and which meets all their travel requirements), while minimizing the higher costs of using third party operators or taxis. Effective scheduling tools collate data and optimise transportation, looking for instances to merge transport where possible.

7. Bring together fixed-route and RTPI systems

In recent years we have seen a trend toward open data and accessible information within Local Authority transport data. This trend – as well as the rise of cloud and web-based systems - presents an opportunity for Local Authorities to integrate previously disparate IT systems, such as fixed route (FX) scheduling systems and real-time passenger information (RTPI) systems.

There are a number of benefits from doing so. First and foremost, utilising a suite of integrated services can prove far more cost effective than purchasing numerous different systems from a range of different suppliers. Yet another reason to integrate your IT systems is because doing so can improve data quality – and nowhere is this more evident than in fixed route scheduling and RTPI.

Indeed, by integrating both fixed route scheduling and RTPI feeds, it is possible to reduce data errors and instances of data duplication, while also improving scheduling information and providing more accurate information to passengers – which can increase ridership and improve passenger satisfaction.

8. Make the most of QR codes in your printed publicity

Printed publicity - for so long the corner stone of passenger information in the public transport industry - is changing. Indeed, it is increasingly looking to incorporate interactive elements. Near Field Communication (NFC) and Quick Response (QR) codes are becoming ever more common at bus stops and stations, and these tools enable printed materials to be enhanced with specific information – while also enabling traditional blended schedule data to be blended with real-time elements.

These digital elements provide a cost effective means of delivering real-time information to your passengers – as they reduce the need to install on-street RTPI displays at every bus stop.

Furthermore, with printed publicity more generally, automation tools such as NOVUS Publish can take service changes and identify output changes; then batch print them ready for installation at whichever stops need updating. This simplifies processes and workflows, while also utilising customisable templates that ensure consistency with your organisation’s branding.

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About The Trapeze Team

The Trapeze Team are here to bring you news and information from Trapeze Group (UK) and the public transportation industry.