3 tips for driving bus network profitability

Bus operators review draft concessionary fares scheme documents

How to use your data to stay ahead of funding changes

In a welcome change from the news cycle these days, you will have heard that the CBSSG Restart fund, and its equivalents in Scotland and Wales, have been extended ‘until it is no longer required’. The Senior Traffic Commissioner has imposed a deadline of 4 January for the removal of temporary bus service variations, at which point pre-COVID-19 timetables will apply unless permanent changes have been registered within the usual timescales. The continued grant support is great news for bus operators given the continued uncertainty in the industry, but we mustn’t lose sight of the future — now’s the time to start planning and preparing your operations for when the funding is removed.

Having faced so many unexpected changes this year, planning for the future, even short-term, is now far from straightforward and certainly not easy. Luckily, there are three simple steps you can take to regain your footing post funding and put yourself in the best possible position to return to profitability quickly.

1. Review historic data to improve unprofitable routes

Take some time to dig through your pre-COVID-19 data to understand which routes have been profitable and which haven’t. Whilst patronage is still significantly lower than it was, this will undoubtedly help you put an informed focus on the routes that will directly impact future profitability.

Identifying your loss-making routes through detailed analysis is the first step to understanding where there are issues in your network that are affecting overall profitability. Reviewing passenger loadings, for example, by time-band and route stops will help paint a clear picture – flagging specific times of the day where patronage is below average and identifying the least popular stops. These insights can then be reviewed alongside current data to verify that similar patterns are emerging. Once validated, you’ll have the evidence you need to make effective timetable alterations, such as reduced frequencies, or changes to stopping points, to help reduce costs whilst minimising the impact on the top line.

Having this data to hand would also prove invaluable for discussions with local authorities where a case for funding is to be presented – be that for whole routes, particular days or even certain times of a day. Having patronage data and revenue generation, alongside demographics, would inform ‘value for money’ cases for local authorities, improving your chances of securing funding.

2. Be vigilant in finding the root causes of service profitability

Along with the under-utilisation of buses, you’ll likely find many other factors impacting the profitability of your routes. For instance, high levels of lost mileage could be adversely affecting costs on a route, whilst simultaneously driving down passenger numbers. Understanding the root cause for lost mileage would allow you to instigate remedial action going forward, such as maintenance issues with a particular type of bus that are impacting reliability and driving up engineering costs.

Analysing dwell time at bus stops is another useful tool for identifying scheduling inefficiencies. By minimising the dwell time, you can make cost savings in respect to both drivers’ wages and fuel usage. Speeding up journey times is a proven way to improve profitability that also has a massive positive impact on your customers’ perceptions of your service, leading to significant commercial benefits for the business.

Reviewing customer feedback can also be crucial in understanding why a route is not performing as expected, as it may throw a spotlight on operational issues such as persistent lateness, or regular cancellations.

3. Make informed business decisions with quality data

Clearly, operators require a wealth of data at their fingertips to accurately assess network performance and the factors impacting route profitability.

Understanding your data and extracting valuable insights is critical to actioning network optimisation such as timetable changes – with the normal lead times being reintroduced from January, tweaking or unwinding changes that are not delivering the expected benefits will cost valuable time.

It goes without saying that strong business decisions around future-proofing your network can only be made through high quality data analysis. The integrity of your data is fundamental to the whole process of network optimisation.

Get a specialist on your side to optimise your network for improved profitability

If you’re struggling to analyse or understand your data, or are looking to improve the quality of your insights, EPM has a range of versatile and fully integrated bus operator solutions to give you total end-to-end visibility of all business functions — from commercial to operations and engineering. You’ll find all the data you need in one place to streamline your operations and optimise your network. Our team of expert consultants is also on hand to guide you through your data to help inform the decision-making process.

To find out more about network optimisation and how EPM can help, book a consultation or contact Jon Anton, Director at EP Morris.