The balancing act: managing service levels in times of austerityThe Trapeze Team | May 12, 2015
In austere financial times, the challenge of delivering savings and cutting costs, while also maintaining high levels of customer service, requires tenacity of the highest order by transport professionals.
Many transport providers for schools and social care transport will doubtless agree that their approach, first and foremost, is to minimise the impact of cuts on passengers. Unfortunately, however, austerity measures and increasingly tight budgets mean it is often not enough to deliver internal and negotiated savings to deliver a balanced budget.
Consequently, service providers must inevitably turn to areas that will have a direct impact on passengers and service provision.
Needles in haystacks
It is often possible to optimise route schedules in order to create savings, but in order to realise any such opportunity, the potential must first be identified.
One barrier here is that local authorities often have split budgets, with different individuals responsible for SEN transport; mainstream school transport; adult care services – and so on. This of course means that data is often stored in a number of different information systems.
The sheer volume of transport services being managed – and the large size and diversity of the accompanying data – is compounded by the fact that vehicle and schedule information is spread throughout departments. This ‘siloed’ structure creates a ‘needle in the haystack’ scenario, whereby the information required to identify optimisation opportunities is difficult to locate and utilise.
In order to identify the opportunities and empower planners with the information they need, collation of data using a single transport system is part of the answer.
We need to talk about cost-savings
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 – and scheduling optimisation tools in particular – can effectively help to identify a means of cost saving. This is done by using collated data and piecing it together like a jigsaw; compiling it and inputting that data into a transport system which can assist in identifying the cost savings. Such tools can have an instant and direct impact on the cost of transport provision when the route changes are implemented.
Utilising schedule optimisation tools effectively requires the ability to model services and service rules, so that operational travel constraints are adhered to. For example, by implementing parameters and creating rules that identify instances of passenger groups who must not travel together, or where passengers have specific travel requirements that must be met by a transport provider.
Having the ability to create an accurate model will avoid costly errors, preventing attempts to merge transport services that cannot – due to various requirements or regulations, etc. – be combined. The basic rule of data processing applies here: “garbage in, garbage out!”
However, modelling tools and software can go further still. For example why not build in financial calculations and rules to influence decisions and thereby keep costs down? By adding in an ‘average vehicle mileage’ cost, stakeholders can clearly see how much of a budget is being used/affected directly by their decisions. While this doesn’t necessarily mean decisions will be better; it can ensure they are better informed.
By ensuring information is readily available to assist with decision making, strategies and budgets can be better managed and hopefully implemented more effectively.
With appropriate user training, new technology and schedule modelling tools can help integrate data sets and optimise vehicle routes, all while keeping within the framework of service level agreements – be they regulatory or otherwise, so that high service standards are maintained while delivering against austerity-driven goals.
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