Reporter 452, 22 May 2000

Leeds software to run 10,000 buses

University innovations in transport scheduling have won a valuable vote of confidence from Britain’s biggest bus company. FirstGroup has agreed a £1.2m deal to equip all its 26 operating companies with a sophisticated software package developed at the School of Computer Studies to ensure its buses and drivers operate on time.

First choice: Professor Tony Wren, centre, and the six-strong Transport Scheduling Unit research team celebrate with FirstGroup schedules development manager Michael Meilton, right

The Transport Scheduling Unit in the school is headed by Professor Tony Wren, who developed the world’s first computer-based train schedule nearly 40 years ago. He has seen his six-strong research group’s ideas adopted by more than 40 bus and railway companies in four continents.

In the FirstGroup deal, the Leeds unit teamed up with Omnibus Systems of Oldham to create a system called Schedules Office. It incorporates systems developed by the University to schedule buses and drivers, along with an interactive timetabling and reporting package from Omnibus Systems, and a driver rostering system created at Oldham and Leeds.

FirstGroup chose the solution after extensive evaluations of products from leading suppliers.

FirstGroup expects significant savings through replacing existing computer or manual systems and gaining flexibility and speed in developing alternative strategies.

"Our scheduling systems consistently produce significant savings," said Professor Wren. "This success is due both to the quality of our algorithms, and to our demonstrated ability to produce solutions to stated problems, working with each operator to meet their specific needs."

The Leeds-designed driver scheduling system, used by several train operators, is saving Reading Buses an estimated £135,000 a year. London Transport bought an earlier scheduling system which has been in use in London since 1984.

The deal with FirstGroup followed a flurry of international publicity for Professor Wren’s research last year, after his calculations on the predictability of bus scheduling errors featured in the Reporter (436).

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