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Data fuels Go North West’s response to the pandemic

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Data fuels Go North West’s response to the pandemic

Manchester-based Go North West (GNW) is a recent addition to the UK bus scene. 

It was formed in 2019 when Go-Ahead Group acquired First Manchester’s Queens Road depot in Cheetham Hill to the north of Manchester city centre. From there it operates a network of services predominantly in the north of the city and into Salford and Bury.

Since Go-Ahead took over, there has been significant investment in the nascent operator’s fleet and facilities. There have also been wider changes with the operator’s move to a new parent as Matt Harrison, GNW’s Marketing Manager explains.

Whilst benefiting from the experience of being part of a larger group, Go-Ahead companies such as Go North West have the freedom to operate autonomously, and consequently we each work a little differently according to our environments,” says Matt. “We’ve all got slightly different ways of doing things, but enjoy learning from the experiences of our fellow OpCos.”

The operation was purchased from FirstGroup in the summer of 2019 and was initially run by a transition team composed of a variety of faces from around the Go-Ahead Group. “We’ve built upon the hard work and the solid foundation created by the transition team, and evolved our systems over the last 12 months to get to where we are today,” he continues.

We’ve built upon the hard work and the solid foundation created by the transition team, and evolved our systems over the last 12 months to get to where we are today."

One of the first to move to was Joe Mear, the operator’s Commercial Manager. He joined from Arriva just four months after GNW's formation. The new team had work to do creating systems and processes that would form a bedrock for the new operation.

Matt and Joe agree that the use of data has dramatically increased in recent years. As Joe notes, initiatives such as Bus Open Data are empowering wider changes that allow bus operators to capture information and put it to good use.

GNW is using data systems and techniques to plan its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a move that emphasises how modern bus operators are deploying a variety of technological solutions to deliver services day-in and day-out (our recent eBook, ‘The Data-Driven Bus Operator’ explores this phenomenon in detail). 

We’ve swapped out single deckers for double deckers; tweaked frequencies; and changed departure times to reflect what we’re seeing in the data”, Joe continues. “At the start of September we put on 25 or so duplicate vehicles on school journeys of which we’ve been chopping and changing things quite a lot as a result of the data. We look at things and can see whether the journey needs a duplicate or not. Working with Transport for Greater Manchester, we can redeploy the resource to the trips that need the capacity.

We’ve swapped out single deckers for double deckers; tweaked frequencies; and changed departure times to reflect what we’re seeing in the data. Working with Transport for Greater Manchester, we can redeploy the resource to the trips that need the capacity.”

Social distancing measures are also being enhanced at Go North West with the introduction of When2Travel. Powered by our bus data engine and SwiftConnect API, When2Travel provides a dynamic colour-coded online timetable, showing which buses will be quieter, to help passengers plan safe, socially-distanced journeys. 

When we launched When2Travel, we were trying to push the message that we’d like people to travel outside peak times if possible. We don’t want to say to the customer, ‘you can’t get on the bus right now’. It’s about helping people to come to a decision about when to travel and when it’s the right time for them. Some people can’t change their working patterns, but others can change their travel plans by being flexible. That’s where the benefit is.”

“When we launched When2Travel, we were trying to push the message that we’d like people to travel outside peak times if possible. It’s about helping people to come to a decision about when to travel and when it’s the right time for them."

Joe agrees, noting that When2Travel came into its own last year when schools re-opened for the autumn term, smoothing over concerns he had that traditional commuter peaks could clash with the school peaks. Luckily that did not happen due to the changing nature of working arrangements – indeed he reveals that the operator’s peak (before the January 2021 lockdown) was between 11am and 6pm. The morning peak subsided, although it returned somewhat when the schools went back.

This reflects potential wider changes in employment. Matt thinks the traditional rush hour will not return any time soon, fuelled by the ongoing Covid crisis and a wider acceptance of home working. However, he suspects that operators will make changes to their networks on the basis of their experiences arising from the pandemic. 

He suggests that enhanced vehicle cleaning regimes will remain and operators will work hard to communicate when and where a vehicle was last thoroughly cleaned to the user. “That will require data and systems,” he says. “But that data will help make our efforts more visible.

The whole of the UK is now back in lockdown – and both Matt and Joe believe that data will shape the operator’s response.

Data will shape that response,” says Joe. “The benefit to us as a bus operator is having these systems in place that allow us to react at a speed that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

"The benefit to us as a bus operator is having these systems in place that allow us to react at a speed that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

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