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NXWM deploys SwiftMetrics across its network

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NXWM deploys SwiftMetrics across its network

The CitySwift bus data engine is being used to take the guesswork out of an unprecedented series of network recasts in the West Midlands following the easing of the coronavirus lockdown.

It has seen National Express West Midlands, the UK’s largest bus operator outside London, deploy our SwiftMetrics network analysis technology across its entire network. 

The move builds on our existing relationship with NXIS, the National Express transport technology incubator. Andy Foster, Deputy Commercial Director at National Express West Midlands, says the bus operator was drawn to CitySwift as "they are not just another IT company". Andy recognised that the CitySwift platform is created and supported by industry experts with a deep understanding of the intricacies of intensive urban bus operation.

"CitySwift have an underlying knowledge of the transport business. They are not just another IT company saying, ‘Oh, we know how to use big data and we’re sure we know how it can apply to you.’ They actually know how it can be applied effectively."

"CitySwift have an underlying knowledge of the transport business. They are not just another IT company saying, ‘Oh, we know how to use big data and we’re sure we know how it can apply to you.’ They actually know how it can be applied effectively."

Work on the project commenced in late November 2019, on a pilot high frequency route where the operator had identified a number of reliability issues. The aim was to put CitySwift through its paces in some of the most demanding urban bus territory in the UK.

It’s important at this point to emphasise that the CitySwift platform is not a scheduling tool – it uses big data from a wide variety of sources to provide schedulers and network planners with specific information on what drives passenger demand, while also accurately predicting what the running time will be between any two given points. This information can then be imported into a bus operator’s existing scheduling set-up in order to ensure operations are as efficient as possible, while also significantly boosting performance.

The results from the pilot project were immediate and impressive: a 3% increase in reliability and efficiency improvements without any change to the frequency of the service. Whilst peak vehicle requirement (PVR) was unchanged, National Express West Midlands reduced the operational hours required to operate the service. The operator also started to see early signs of passenger growth – something that was unfortunately brought to an abrupt halt by the coronavirus lockdown.

But the crisis gave Andy and his team the opportunity to put SwiftMetrics through one of the toughest ever tests. In the space of ten weeks, National Express West Midlands completed six - yes SIX - full reschedules of its entire network. It’s an impressive feat when you consider the company has the single largest bus network outside London – in normal times, the company’s PVR is a staggering 1,350 buses. 

While those full reschedules involved far fewer buses, it was still a considerable undertaking. Andy believes the last time that the company changed every single timetable was back in 1986 at the time of deregulation, something his predecessors had more time to prepare for!

"We’ve done big network reviews since, but I don’t think we’ve ever changed absolutely everything at once in the last three decades," says Andy. "We didn’t know how demand was going to respond and with 12,000 journeys each day, it was apparent that our existing systems would not be able to cope with the task in hand. We also realised we would need extra staff in order to do the job properly, so it became obvious that the way forward was to deploy SwiftMetrics across the network. It took a lot of the guesswork out of what we were doing."

The use of SwiftMetrics means that schedulers and network planners can respond very quickly to changes in demand as the lockdown eases. For example, the traditional morning peak has moved from around 8am to much earlier in the day. Meanwhile, the need for social distancing has reduced vehicle capacity and SwiftMetrics can be used to determine the optimum capacity that needs to be deployed in order to avoid passengers - many of them key workers - being left behind at bus stops. 

"SwiftMetrics can be used to determine the optimum capacity that needs to be deployed in order to avoid passengers - many of them key workers - being left behind at bus stops." 

In other words, National Express West Midlands now has an immediate picture of what's happening across its network – instead of waiting days or weeks for the data to become available, it happens in hours. In the future the viability and reliability of the entire network will be guided and informed by the CitySwift bus data engine and products such as SwiftMetrics and SwiftSchedule – our rapid timetable optimisation tool. The ‘new normal’ will require new thinking and it is crucial that bus operators are ready to react to these changes.

"The future is going to be very challenging," adds Andy. "I don’t think any of us have dealt with anything like this. There will be lots more schedule changes coming up with very uncertain and quickly changing passenger demand. SwiftMetrics will help us deliver the best possible service because we can quickly analyse trends and probe demand, vehicle speeds and identify problem locations. Meanwhile, SwiftSchedule enables us to complete analysis of running times in hours rather than days or weeks. These products will help us to optimise our bus network, for the short, medium and long-term."

"SwiftMetrics will help us deliver the best possible service because we can quickly analyse trends and probe demand, vehicle speeds and identify problem locations. Meanwhile, SwiftSchedule enables us to complete analysis of running times in hours rather than days or weeks. These products will help us to optimise our bus network, for the short, medium and long-term."

Andy Foster using SwiftMetricsAndy Foster, National Express' Deputy Commercial Director using SwiftMetrics while working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown

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