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Minimizing the impact of bus driver shortages

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Minimizing the impact of bus driver shortages

Many public transit operators are grappling with bus driver shortages, with a pre-existing shortfall being aggravated by the impact of the Covid pandemic and an ageing workforce. We spoke with Chloe Gray, a CitySwift Customer Success Manager, about this challenge and how data can help mitigate the impact.

Chloe recently joined our team as a Customer Success Manager. She brings a wealth of hands-on experience gained during a five-year spell with UK operator Stagecoach. Chloe started her career with the group as a graduate trainee and worked in various operations roles before becoming a Commercial Analyst.

Chloe is no stranger to the challenges operators face in recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of drivers – but it’s a task that has become much harder during the pandemic.

“Some people I know in the transit sector have been saying that they are losing quite a lot of drivers to the trucking industry,” says Chloe. “Some haulage companies are inflating wages because they are also struggling to recruit drivers. It's more difficult for bus companies to increase drivers’ salaries in the same way.”

“Haulage companies are inflating wages because they are also struggling to recruit drivers. It's more difficult for bus companies to increase drivers’ salaries in the same way.”

This is a challenge currently faced by many bus operators, with some offering bounty payments to help lure new recruits. “It's everywhere,” says Chloe. “I hear more and more from bus companies who are struggling to fill driver vacancies. You can see it on social media – they are screaming out for drivers. Everyone's recruiting.”

“I hear more and more from bus companies who are struggling to fill driver vacancies. You can see it on social media – they are screaming out for drivers. Everyone's recruiting.”

Chloe acknowledges that recruiting and retaining bus drivers has never been easy. “It's always been quite difficult to keep people,” she says. “A lot of time you’ve got people for maybe a year and then they go. Or you have that opposite end where you've got people who have been there for say 20 years or whatever, so in many depots it's an ageing workforce.”

More and more drivers retiring has created a vacuum in finding enough new recruits willing to accept the lifestyle that comes with being a bus driver. Operators have been urged to embrace flexible working practises that might encourage more people to consider the job, but it’s difficult to put into practise. “I know there are some companies that are quite forward-thinking and are trying to introduce things like that – but it costs,” Chloe explains.

How CitySwift can help 

Bus operators are doing what they can to plug the gaps in their labor force, but for many it seems unlikely that they will be able to get a full complement any time soon. And in situations where mileage is routinely being lost and there’s no quick fix, there comes a point when bus operators must accept the need for planned cuts to services. No one wants to see services withdrawn or frequencies reduced, but many operators are likely to conclude that if mileage is going to be lost then it must be done in a way that has the least impact on ridership and their business. Our specialist bus data engine can help minimize those potential issues.

Chloe explains: “The CitySwift platform allows you to look at your scheduled vehicle hours versus what's actually happened, so you can see the dropped vehicle hours and establish where exactly you may be losing the hours and the mileage, so you can then speak to your control teams and prioritize, if you have to lose mileage, where it should be.”

“The CitySwift platform allows you to look at your scheduled vehicle hours versus what's actually happened, so you can see the dropped vehicle hours and establish where exactly you may be losing the hours and the mileage, so you can then speak to your control teams and prioritize, if you have to lose mileage, where it should be.”

It’s much better to properly manage the situation than to lose mileage on the wrong routes and at the wrong times of day, such as an important service to a hospital at early shift time. 

“You can drill down into looking at the demand - where it's spread across a route for example - on a trip-by-trip basis. Maybe there are some trips that aren't busy so you can then start reducing frequencies, if you have to.”

“You can drill down into looking at the demand - where it's spread across a route for example - on a trip-by-trip basis. Maybe there are some trips that aren't busy so you can then start reducing frequencies, if you have to.”

But it’s possible to use the data engine to go even further.

“You can use our SwiftSchedule product to optimize journey times,” Chloe explains. “So rather than reducing frequencies, you can use SwiftSchedule to remove unneeded dwell time from the schedule, rather than making frequency cuts."

“You can use our SwiftSchedule product to optimize journey times. So rather than reducing frequencies, you can use SwiftSchedule to remove unneeded dwell time from the schedule, rather than making frequency cuts."

Harnessing the power of data enables transit operators to prune their bus networks in the most careful and very considered way, giving them the best chance of growing again when the time is right.

The CitySwift platform can also help operators demonstrate to all parties concerned that any cuts are being made with all due care and attention, with the aim of having the least possible detrimental effect on communities.

“Operators can communicate that they are not just doing changes on a whim,” says Chloe. “They have the data and the evidence to back it up.”

“Operators can communicate that they are not just doing changes on a whim. They have the data and the evidence to back it up.”

The impact of the pandemic on travel patterns is already forcing operators to reexamine their service provision, with more people now working from home and a sizable chunk of the population remaining fearful of Covid risks. As emergency support from government subsides, difficult decisions will have to be made.

Our data engine can’t reverse the driver shortage or the impact of the pandemic, but it can help to mitigate its impact on local bus networks.

Learn more about CitySwift’s specialist bus data engine, request a demo or contact us to discover how CitySwift can help you.

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