Peter Crichton, founder and managing director, discusses Omnibus’s ethos, values and acclaimed bus planning software.
Oldham-based Omnibus provides software and consultancy to more than 70 per cent of UK bus operators, as well as several light rail operators, over 35 local authorities and a growing number of clients overseas. From humble beginnings, the team now totals 36 staff. The company has made a small number of acquisitions over the years and this has complemented and added to the original suite of programs. The various products take the user from initial planning of bus services through scheduling and marketing to the allocation of drivers’ duties. The latest developments in bus planning software embrace mobile phone application technology and web-based solutions.
I have always believed from the outset that software should reduce the complexity from routine processes. This is still our ethos today, and bus planning software continues to be developed with the end-user in mind. Innovative development techniques combine input from transport industry professionals with regular feedback from customers. Expert software developers translate this into user-friendly applications.
Installation of the bus planning software is just the beginning of a continuing relationship with our users, with comprehensive training, ongoing support and regular updates to ensure that customers are able to achieve the maximum benefit. Reading Buses, one of our longest standing customers, believe that the Omnibus developers really understand their business and are very responsive to their requirements, and, as a direct result, they have improved efficiencies.
Transdev Blazefield’s marketing team has found Omnibus to be excellent to work with, saying: “We are a challenging customer for Omnibus, but they understand what we are trying to do and are very responsive”. Hertfordshire County Council has been a customer of ours for a number of years; the council has been impressed with the way the team at Omnibus has worked with them to create a tailor-made bus planning software solution, providing passengers with clear and concise bus stop information.
Passenger information has always been an important requirement for public transport operators. Historically, this took the form of printed timetables in booklets or as leaflets, but in the last few years, customer demands have changed. Today, the first source of travel information people turn to is the internet, accessing information through operators’ websites and journey planners such as Traveline. With a wealth of electronic data stored in our bus planning software, we are in an ideal position to work with operators and information providers on innovative ways of presenting travel information for use in journey planning applications.
Professional bus planning software solutions
The provision of data in an electronic format has taken on further importance as a significant feature of last year’s Bus Services Act. This covers not only passenger information, but also the electronic registration of bus services by operators with the Traffic Commissioners. Our developers have worked on new applications designed to assist operators in the switch from paper-based registration to the electronic alternative.
There are other aspects of our business that do not have such a high profile but are equally important. For example, driver wages make up a significant proportion of operating costs, so it is essential to have efficient and robust schedules to operate public transport services.
The Omnibus crew scheduling application is a proven algorithm, with an excellent pedigree, but the developers are always looking for ways to improve the results. A major enhancement to this application has been undertaken, in order to take advantage of the capabilities of increased processing power and the latest algorithm innovations. This is now in the final testing phase and will be ready to release to the first customers very soon.
We are not just a company who concern ourselves solely with the development of bus planning software. Almost all members of the commercial and support teams, and a number of the development team, have many years of experience working in public transport operations. With such a wealth of cross-discipline knowledge, we are able to offer advice and consultancy services to operators and local authority customers who may need additional resources, for example, to smaller operators who do not have a full-time scheduler. With the new opportunities arising as a result of the Bus Services Act 2017, we have seen a need for operators to evaluate ‘what-if’ scenarios quickly, and we have been there to assist with tailor-made software solutions when called upon.
A logical development from this consultancy work is that we have now introduced a new manual scheduling training course. This has been developed to meet the demand for knowledgeable schedulers and allocators who understand the principles, even when using a bus planning software package, and to train the schedulers of the future. We believe it is essential for employees who are making commercial decisions on service changes to have an understanding of basic scheduling principles.
In the last twelve months we have joined the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) ‘Earned Recognition’ scheme; our software is used to confirm that drivers have all stayed within their legal driver limits. At present we are the only supplier that has entered the scheme to supply this information for bus service operators.
Changes, challenges and the future
I am proud of what Omnibus has achieved so far. There is a general attitude of enthusiasm concerning the public transport industry visible in every member of staff; we all share a keen desire to provide customer service of the highest quality. We are firmly rooted in our industry, but a capable relationship with the IT world has enabled us to keep up with the latest technological developments and at the same time look for ways in which the sector can benefit from them.
The collaborative relationship we have with all customers means that these advances in bus planning software are always in line with the users’ needs, and all customers can take advantage of these latest innovations. Cloud-based technology has recently taken centre stage and our growing appreciation for this means that our latest developments take more of our own software down this route.
Public transport has faced many changes over the years, especially in recent times, and all those involved have had to adapt to new challenges. We strive to find ways to assist wherever possible, and as a result, are now a well-respected member of the public transport community. We take our position in the industry very seriously, and actively participate in many industry events. We consider all Omnibus customers as partners – the principle of working together with them to achieve a common goal is one of the main reasons for our success.
Omnibus Solutions Limited
+44 (0)161 683 3100