Maas Aligned Local Authorities’ Transport Systems

Guest blog by Andrew Fish

A recent blog from Innovate UK highlights the vital role that local authorities (LAs) play in providing connected transport services.  The blog goes on to outline the innovation opportunities available for improving services which local authorities provide and, most importantly, that LA’s play a central enabling role in making these innovations a success.

The LA Transport Hub

The success of centralising access to passenger transport services is well proven through the operation of integrated transport service units (ITU’s) across the UK. The conceptual benefits of this ‘hub and spoke’ organisational model are clear, particularly where data management is at the heart of the service provision. This has also been a central theme when considering Total Transport services which relies on centralised and homogenised data to get maximum value out of overlapping services.

The hot topic in the public transport domain is ‘Mobility as a service’ and here there are parallels in the pattern design between a MaaS operator (or service aggregator) and a Local Authority transport hub. The MaaS operator and the LA Hub both act as the central service “glue” agent to allow heterogeneous systems to integrate and operate effectively together.

Conceptual diagram of Mobility as a Service. Shows a customers in the middle and shared assets, personalised services and facilitators feeding in from the left and connected living, on-demand transport and enablers feeding in from the right.

Source: Krista Huhtala-Jenks, Digital Services and Mobility as a Service at Ministry of Transport and Communication, Finland. Slide from the presentation: Keys to digitalising the Transport Sector.

Is there an alternative Service Design?

Yes… it might look something like the diagram below

Complex, multipoint system in which all points connect to all other points.
Source for this image: http://arachne.cc/issues/01/hub-and-spoke_flynn-casey.html

Navigating through a point to point network has been the topic of many a PhD thesis, the Travelling Salesman Problem being the classic computer science conundrum. And these navigation issues apply to systems as well as geospatial movement. Without a central coordinating hub, the number of connections between services can grow exponentially. In my experience, it soon gets messy.

The Customer Centric Transport Service Model

There are three vital and interdependent elements in MaaS needed to create the customer centric model

  • The people who interact with the systems
  • The data centrally accessible  to underpin the service provision
  • The systems Software systems that act on the data to provide the business functions

Not to be overlooked however, are the API’s which provides the “service glue” and enable discrete systems to talk to each other using a standard approach. Typically, this is via web services, XML or simple but effective CSV files in the case of QRoutes.

The underlying principles of modularity and connectivity in a MaaS system can be directly applied to  the implementation of integrated total transport services. They can enable a move away from large monolithic information systems to a modular design, with more manageable costs and project risks at each stage of an incremental roll-out.

Building Out the Connected Local Authority Service

So how could we begin to apply these principles to a Connected Local Authority scenario…

The People: The passenger, schools, system users, and, in fact all stakeholders now have an expectation of an online, ‘access anywhere’ interface. And self-service portals can provide a dual benefit of improving customer engagement and ensuring consistently good data. However, to do this it’s paramount that they are simple and intuitive.

Lots of local authorities already provide self-service systems which standardise and streamline data, for example Buckinghamshire County Council use an online portal for school transport applications. The use of these web portals to provide access to support services can only grow to meet the expectations of online users.

The Data is the heart of any information system and centralising databases into a single service is common place using relational systems such as MS SQL Server and Oracle.

Customers and stakeholders in the middle inferfacing functions with data.

The System: This is the one area where a change in mindset over how systems are specified can dramatically improve the outcome. Thinking about each component and business area in a more autonomous way facilitates a more decoupled and cohesive design. This is how online SaaS tools have evolved and are providing discrete business solutions where the value and savings are easier to recognise (an important consideration for local authorities in times of austerity).

QRoutes, is an example of a specialised routing tool with a focus on schools’ transport that could fit into this model.

Applying the design to local authority services…

… leads to a number of interlocking business services as shown below, which together provide the transport system:

System of cogs representing functions such as contract management, routing engine, report management, interfaced by APIs and data.

The Innovation Opportunity

From personal experience, building large information systems can become difficult and expensive to maintain, as the needs of individual users are evaluated against multiple customer groups.

Software technology has evolved quickly over the last few years leading to a dramatic change in the way systems are built, particularly with respect to the internet and smart phone usage.

With Innovate UK’s support is the opportunity now here to rethink the and enable transport systems to connect more easily between its own internal system parts and within the wider network of local authority systems?

Local authority transport planners take to the road to improve services

Bristol, 21 November 2017 – Local Authorities from across the UK converged on Birmingham last week to learn about ways to improve transport services. School and special educational needs Transport Planners from Councils as far afield as Somerset, Buckinghamshire and Sheffield met at Birmingham University as part of an event hosted by transport planning software company QRoutes.

The event brought together users of the QRoutes software, which is increasingly being used by local authorities to automate the complex tasks of planning transport using in-house fleets and contracted taxi services. With budget cut backs and increasing demands for services, attendees shared knowledge and experience and learnt about new software features designed to improve route planning and optimisation.

Part of the day involved an interactive session with each council charting out the structure of their transport operations and a group discussion on the big issues affecting the management of school and special educational needs transport.  Most agreed that the greatest challenges involved juggling demands from parents, schools and local politicians against the limitations of time and resources.

“It was a really useful day” commented David Jones of Buckinghamshire County Council. “It’s not often we get out to meet other transport planners and we were able to learn from each other as well as getting some useful advice and information from the QRoutes team.”

“Managing transport services for special educational needs and disabilities is a lot more complicated than other types of transport because of the specific needs of the passengers,” explained Jeff Duffell, Business Development Director, QRoutes. “With a host of varying requirements and a mixed fleet, there is the added complication from the reliance on contracted taxi services.  Our aim is to make the job easier by automating the planning process as much as possible so managers and staff can spend more time dealing with service delivery.”

QRoutes Launches Schools and Special Needs Transport Planning Software

Bristol, 14 November 2017 – QRoutes has announced the latest version of its Transport Planning tool, which is available online as easy to use software. Designed to simplify and improve the planning of school and special needs transport, QRoutes optimises routes and maximises vehicle utilisation, reducing operational costs.

It can take many months to route significant numbers of people but, without regular re-planning, optimised routes degrade over time, resulting in unnecessary costs. QRoutes automates route planning, enabling planners to repeat the exercise as often as necessary, creating visual map-based results in minutes. The tool enables planners to explore ‘what-if’ scenarios to find new improved routes. It also interfaces with existing data sets, making it easy to implement.

The QRoutes planner can configure the system to take into account a wide range of variables affecting each route plan. These include board and alight times for different passenger types, and road type speed settings, which can be calibrated from actual journey times.

The planner configures the tool according to vehicle type, cost, time and distance travelled, CO2 emissions and other variables. New features include the ability to prioritise which vehicles are included in the routing, allowing the selection of in-house fleets over external contracts, and visibility of height restrictions that might affect vehicle access.

“In developing QRoutes, we knew it was essential to produce a solution that was relatively inexpensive, could be implemented quickly and produce almost immediate results. For these purposes, it needed to be cloud-based, so that people could just turn to it and use it,” said Jeff Duffell, Business Development Director, QRoutes.

“QRoutes has the speed and economic viability to re-optimise the system very quickly, and of course this can be repeated over time. It also allows planning to take place at a particular time of the year when requirements are known, rather than undertaking the process over a period of months,” explained Duffell.

QRoutes is offered as a Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription, making it easy to access anywhere, anytime, through any web-connected device. Subscribers have automatic access to new functionality as releases come online, without having to update versions locally.

 

2nd User Group Meeting – book your place now

The 2nd QRoutes User Group Meeting is being held at Birmingham University on 15th November.

These events are an opportunity for users to

  • compare notes with other users
  • feedback directly to the whole team
  • direct the development of future features and functionality

The networking and collaboration between users is a key aspect of the day and participants can expect presentations from other local authorities about how they use QRoutes.

Make your voice heard. Secure your place at the 2nd QRoutes User Group Meeting via Eventbrite here

We look forward to welcoming you!

SaaS means QRoutes users see new features automatically

Our customers subscribe to QRoutes on a ‘Software as a Service‘ (or SaaS) basis. This means that they have automatic access to new functionality as releases come online, without having to update versions locally.

Today is a new release day and when users login today, they will see a new version of QRoutes full of requested features, including

  • Quick Routing Tool – find the best route between two points
  • Street View – easily inspect the feasibility of certain routes by accessing street view from anywhere on the map
  • Depot Routing – include depots at the start or end of routes for improved overall efficiency
  • Height Restriction Overlay – set a vehicle height and understand where low bridges might impact a route
  • Vehicle Priority – prioritise which vehicles are included in the routing (for example an owned fleet before a contracted fleet)
  • Virtual Vehicle Type Fleets – create multiple vehicles of a single type, particularly useful for defining contractor fleets

If you’d like to find out more about how QRoutes could help you quickly and nimbly solve your routing challenges, please get in touch

Listening to our users

Last week the QRoutes Team hosted the first QRoutes User Group Meeting in Milton Keynes. Thank you to the representatives of eight local authorities who braved journeys – some of them hundreds of miles – on a sweltering day to join us.

Fortunately, the meeting room was air conditioned and the group could get on with discussing the challenges they face in their work and how they use QRoutes to help them.

 “I rarely speak to other people who do the same job as me,” said one participant, “it’s interesting to compare notes.”

QRoutes is a cloud-based tool which is in constant development. The QRoutes Team gave the group an overview of recent, upcoming and proposed features, and some insight into how the development process is managed.

Users can influence this process simply by making suggestions or reporting issues in person or through the support site. The meeting was an opportunity to do this in dedicated environment and many ideas were proposed and discussed throughout the day. Putting this philosophy of user directed development into practice, the local authorities then voted on which suggestions to prioritise during upcoming development. A fruitful exercise that yielded outcomes that the QRoutes Team hadn’t anticipated!

We felt the day went well and this morning in my email I had this pleasant confirmation,

“Thank you very much to you and all of the QRoutes Team, I found the day extremely useful.”

A second meeting is planned for the autumn to review the summer planning season and build the next set of product features. If you would like to join us or receive updates about QRoutes, please get in touch

 

 

Power for planners

Thank you to Jeremy Branscombe, a planner at Warwickshire County Council, who flagged use of a ‘Private Road’ in a solution returned by QRoutes recently.

Ordnance Survey (OS) Maps  list approximately 30% of roads as ‘private’, including school driveways. So, thanks to Jeremy’s discovery, we are now in the process of updating QRoutes to check for further flags in OS Maps which label a road as ‘gated’ to make sure that roads that are not passable are not included in solutions.

While QRoutes can do in minutes what might take a planner days, planners and their expertise are still at the heart of the process. And this goes far beyond sanity checking automated results.

QRoutes enables planners to test solutions by rescheduling with different parameters. For example

“What if we change the maximum ride time to 65 minutes?”

“What if we use fewer, bigger vehicles?”

“What if we use vehicles from this depot instead of that one?”

The ability to quantify the impact of potential changes puts also planners in a stronger position when it comes to justifying those changes (should they be implemented) to stakeholders who might otherwise be resistant.

In other words, QRoutes gives planners the power to delve deeper into the problems they are solving to deliver better solutions with broader benefits for everyone involved.

We want to hear from you

If you’ve got a suggestion on how to improve QRoutes, please get in touch. Or better still, come along to our User Group Workshop on Wednesday 21st June. This event is an opportunity for users, managers and product developers to get together to share experiences and ideas. It is also a chance to discuss strategic possibilities for collaborating to develop improved ways to manage trip data and routing solutions.

The QRoutes User Group is being held on Wednesday 21st June at (Milton Keynes). To reserve your place, get in touch now

QRoutes welcomes Stuart Gilmore as Non Executive Director

Following an investment by Jenson in QRoutes, the team are delighted to announce that Stuart Gilmore has joined as NED.

“QRoutes is a very neat software product” comments Stuart, “It promises to deliver local authorities the dual benefit of financial and carbon savings whilst assisting the planning process in delivering SEND schools’ transport. I can see other great opportunities for QRoutes to apply its software in other sectors too. I am looking  forward to working with the directors of QRoutes as they grow their business.”

Stuart brings significant commercial and corporate banking experience covering business growth, turnaround, takeovers, management buy-outs and buy-ins, across a wide range of sectors. He has a deep understanding of issues facing start-up businesses.

He has a number of business interests across a range of sectors and continues his interest in start-up and early-stage businesses through business mentoring activities and through close involvement with entrepreneurial incubators/accelerators.

Stuart is a partner in both Jenson Funding Partners – an SEIS/EIS Investment Fund and Jenson Solutions – providing strategic, operational and financial business solutions.