Buckinghamshire County Council
“I want people to use buses and not cars; and the way to do that is to maximise the quality of the information – while making it easy to read and accurate. That should be the goal of everyone working in passenger transport. If it’s not then you’re in the wrong job.”
One man who is definitely not in the wrong job is Buckinghamshire County Council’s Paul Goodwin. Speaking about public transport data is something he does well – and as the quote above indicates, he’s fairly evangelical on the subject.
At a time when Local Authority transport department staff are pushed to deliver results in spite of ever increasing restrictions, it is always impressive to meet people who remain committed to a public transport ideal.
“Quality of data is the key: there’s no point doing any of this if it’s wrong,” Paul continues. “Put yourself in the position of a passenger in an unfamiliar area: you want to get to the hospital but you don’t know how. Is there good information that will get you where you want in front of you? And is the time it says on the display the time the bus will actually come? It’s all about good information.”
Positioned on the 10th floor of Buckinghamshire County Hall (with a bird’s eye view of Aylesbury bus and train stations, appropriately), Paul is responsible for the entire County’s data (budgetary cuts have seen the team reduced from three to one), including some 170 routes, 3000 stops, 230 buses and almost 20 operators.
Following a familiar pattern, cost cutting has seen public transport management outsourced to a private organisation – in this case Ringway Jacobs. Paul works in the same place and continues to do largely the same job as before, but has a different employer.
Despite the limitations and structural change, Paul insists data quality remains an area of strength for Buckinghamshire: “I think we’re probably the best in the country for data. We spent a long time getting it right.”
The time he refers to is the period some 18 months ago when Buckinghamshire County Council upgraded from Trapeze’s Routewise system to the new NOVUS FX to manage their fixed scheduling and publicity requirements.
The upgrade had clear advantages for both parties: a good relationship already existed, developed through more than a decade of partnership on Routewise. Trapeze wanted a technically strong client who could really test the system, while Buckinghamshire were eager to embrace the new technology. The transaction was simple, requiring no tender process, so everything made sense.
“We had seen NOVUS FX and liked the look of it,” Paul recalls. “We ran the two systems side by side while we tested CIF exports to Traveline and TransXChange for real-time – all went well.”
Paul dismisses a suggestion that the early adoption is a sign that he may be something of a technical innovator: “We just want the software that will produce the best results while being affordable,” he insists.
As part of the upgrade, Paul decided to completely build fresh new data in NOVUS FX: “It’s just simpler and more accurate to start fresh – we recommend that to everyone who asks us,” he says.
“By creating the data new you can check everything is correct so you know it’s clean. We viewed the change as an opportunity: some of the routes hadn’t been changed in three or four years. We’re now happy that 99% of all our data is present and accurate: we have a single set of accurate data for real-time and Traveline.”
“Clean” is a word which comes up again and again as we talk. Paul clearly prides himself on the quality of his work and the measure of that quality is its accuracy – or as Paul explains, how clean it is.
NOVUS FX has also brought the advantage of on-board mapping included (“in Routewise you could never be sure where the route went”), and makes it easier for Paul to see what he’s doing: “It’s quicker to ensure you’ve done a good job; the ability to see distances between stops means that if you know what you’re looking for you can spot issues straight away.”
End result? “We have the right stops and routes. Wherever it is needed, the data is accurate,” says Paul.
And in a world of hot desks and increasingly flexible working processes, the fact that NOVUS FX is web-based also has brought significant advantages in terms of home working, where Paul feels he is more productive.
This functionality has also helped when dealing with operators: “Sometimes I’ve been speaking to an operator about a route and it was difficult to understand what was going on,” explains Paul. “With NOVUS FX I can take a laptop to see them, open up the system and work through the issue together.”
Intriguingly, the browser-based format also creates potential for data management brokerage (indeed, Buckinghamshire currently manage the data for the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead & Slough Borough Council).
With NOVUS FX simplifying access to (and control over) other users’ data, Paul has already been contacted by a number of Local Authorities regarding the possibility of taking on their data management requirements.
With public transport departments increasingly being outsourced, is this trend likely to continue? Paul certainly thinks it is possible: “We are part of a commercial organisation now, so there is potential for offering this as a service elsewhere,” he agrees. “If we can bring in self-funded work and there’s a business case then it will be looked at.”
But for now Paul’s focus is very much on data quality and the public transport agenda in Buckinghamshire: “In Bucks, public transport is well adopted in the major towns, but less so elsewhere,” he explains.
“We need to make public transport convenient,” Paul concludes. “It’s easy with people of retirement age who have bus passes, but how do we appeal to the younger audience with some money and a car in the drive? You need good information; reliable, clean buses with a nice driver; and realistic fares.”
Of course, that process starts with good quality data – fortunately, with Paul on the case Buckinghamshire County Council have that bit covered.
“We have the right stops and routes. Wherever it is needed, the data is accurate,”
- Paul Goodwin, Passenger Transport Team Leader