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Report by Derek Moses
CONCERN ABOUT the present state of research in the bus industry was expressed last Friday at the Third Seminar on Operational Research in the Bus Industry at the University of Leeds (CM last week). In a paper entitled "Advancing transport research", Mr P. I. Welding, director of planning and development, Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive, said that if members of the seminar concurred with his analysis, he thought they would be bound to agree that the present state of research was far from satisfactory.
The main shortcomings, thought Mr Welding, were:—
C] Lack of effort in certain important fields.
O Failure to pursue certain deep-seated and long-term problems.
O Lack of co-operation and exchange of information between bus companies.
O Lack of co-ordinated attack on the problems facing the industry as a whole.
In the discussion which followed Mr Welding's paper, Mrs D. Jowett, a research worker with London Transport Executive, claimed that the bus industry was too split up, and that researchers themselves were too modest. She asked the speaker where he thought research was lacking--LTE researchers worked in all fields—and where the results of their studies could be published.
Mr Welding replied that a study into bus /rail interchange was being undertaken by Merseyside PTE, together with vehicle design (to establish how many doors o-m-o double-deckers should have), and market research. Mr R. B. Medley (Motor Industry Research Association) said that any ideas put forward would be taken up_ He was concerned about the lack of a central clearing house for research information.
He added, however, that they faced the problem of secrecy, with to many people and undertakings involved in some of the research projects. It would be necessary to get clearance from all the parties concerned before new developments could be publicly announced.
During his address, Mr Welding spoke of the number of technical innovations in recent years which were of potential importance to the bus industry. These ranged from various types of guided or tracked vehicles, through computercontrolled taxis and minibuses to moving pavements.
"So far as the bus operator is concerned an air of mystique surrounds these new developments which are reported on almost weekly in the technical Press, and he has difficulty in knowing whether to take them seriously and try to get further information or not", he said. Something more than the glossy articles in the trade Press were required, he thought.
It had become very clear during the seminar that considerable duplication of effort had taken place—at least six independent exercises in scheduling buses and crews by computers were described, for example—and the lack of feed-back of information from transport studies had been echoed by the first speaker on Wednesday. It also became clear that the principle of using computers for scheduling buses and crews was now being acCepted by some leading psv operators, although some cynics still needed convincing that schedules produced by computers could equal the results from experienced clerks.
Some of the conclusions reached seemed a little naive, to say the least. One example was the recognition of the unpredictable behaviour of potential passengers, and another that the traffic congestion pattern was repeatable and, once established, could be fed into a computer as a constant factor. The former conclusion brought forth the comment from Mr Derek L. Fytche, deputy general manager, Midland Red, that he was glad that somebody had remarked at last that it was virtually impossible to determine passenger behaviour.
Research One problem which puzzled the first speaker was that of what to do with money set aside for research. Mr G. G. Harding, director of operations, SELNEC PTE, whose subject was "Advancing Passenger Transport", suggested that the first project should be to decide on what research to undertake! "If you gave /3000 to a depot engineer, and instructed him to spend it on research, what would he do? He probably wouldn't know where to start", he claimed.
Research, he thought, could be split into two branches—practical and theoretical. Market research was something new in the psv industry, which fell half way between the two. Among studies briefly mentioned by Mr Harding were the effect of lowering fares, introducing multi-journey tickets, vehicle design, interchanges and the wheel-away power packs for rear-engined buses.
The speed of boarding one-man buses was important too, and Consideration had to be given to such items as width of doorways, step heights, and so on. Mr Harding invited comments on the best work-study ideas, and the optimum size of sampling exercises. Mr P. A. Vine (Kingston-upon-Hull) thought that the first research project should be stemming the steady loss of passengers. However, Mr M.
J. Russell (Reading Corporation Transport) reported that the trend of passenger decline had been reversed in Reading, since the• introduction of bus priorities.
Replying, Mr Harding thought that Reading's passenger gain might have arisen from the faster flow created by traffic engineering developments, speeding up all traffic. The problem of city centre congestion might be eased by paying passengers to ride on buses, although he did not expand on this idea. A lot depended on what sort of city one wanted, he added.
Frequent slip roads An excellent presentation by Professor W. S. Homburger of his paper "Bus routes on urban motorways" was a feature of the late evening session on Wednesday. Prof Homburger (University of California, Berkeley), whose paper was summarized in CM last week, drew attention to the fact that freeway interchanges were usually closer together than interchanges on British motorways.
Close to the central' business district (cbd), interchanges were spaced at intervals of about three per mile. Normally they were one per mile, and obviously the distance increased as one moved away from the towns or cities. The new freeways did not provide a faster run than .on the highways they replaced—the new frontage roads were slower! If the flow of buses exceeded 400 an hour, it was time to talk about rapid transit railways, he said.
Thursday's sessions were devoted mostly to the subject of scheduling buses and bus crews by computer. Computers are also used for planning transport networks, of course, and the first paper of the day was presented ' by Dr L. Fl. D. Reeves, who described recent developments in the OMNIBUS system of public transport planning. Dr Reeves admitted that OMNIBUS was perhaps an over-ambitious project, and was very costly. He claimed that the two most important elements in public transport were the fare and the time spent on the trip. The use of buses usually involved substantial walking and waiting and the cost associated with waiting was probably higher than that associated with walking or travelling.
One of two scheduling experiments in co-operation with Midland Red was described by Mr D. J. Bensted, systems engineer, International Computers Ltd. This was the Dataskil Bus Scheduling Program, employing ICL 1900 Series computers. After describing the historical background from the introduction of the STAMINA (Standing Time MINimization on Atlas) project in the 1960s, through LIMA (Link MAximization) to the MILO (Minimization of Lay-Over time), project, Mr Bensted reported results with the Midland Red exercise. This showed a saving of 2 per cent over manually compiled schedules at Nuneaton garage.
Perhaps the most important of the papers on scheduling by computer was one on bus scheduling using the VAMPIRES program, written by Mrs Barbara Mannington, research assistant, and Mr Anthony Wren, lecturer-in-charge, University of Leeds Operational Research Unit. and one on crew scheduling. by Miss Anna Weaver. also a research assistant at the University. Both of these papers dealt with research done by the University of Leeds' own OR team. including much work in conjunction with Leeds Corporation Transport, Midland Red, Yorkshire Traction, and Bristol Omnibus undertakings.
To supplement the papers. Mr P. C. Hunt, director and general manager of Yorkshire Traction, and Mr Derek L. Fytche, Midland Red, discussed the application of the programs to their own undertakings. Indeed, Mr Fytche went as far as to say that the manual crew schedules clerk will have disappeared in 10 years, and be replaced by the traffic technician, qualified in computer programming.
Mr Hunt described the South Yorkshire coalfield, in which his undertaking operates, as being an area of little development and a low standard of living. Car ownership was lower than average, and the population level constant, he said. The closure of collieries did not release extra buses because colliery services usually ran outside normal peak times. The application of the VAMPIRES program had reduced the number of double-deckers required at one garage from 41 to 31 buses.
Programming breakdowns When compiling bus schedules, it would be necessary to build in workshop time, to determine the available vehicle time, Mr Hunt believed. Mr Fytche remarked that Midland Red was looking at this problem very closely, but they were baulked by the refusal of buses to break down in the right order!
In reply to a question from Mr J. Tate (Aldershot and District), Mr Tony Wren stated that the service of the University of Leeds OR unit was now available to all psv operators through the Industrial Services department of the University. The costs of this service to prospective clients were currently being worked out.
Mr Fytche declared that he could give a qualified success story with regard to Midland Red's experiments with computer scheduling. In fact they were just one month too early—the experiments were due for completion very shortly. As suggested already, the company had used two entirely different programs—MILO on an ICL 1906 machine and VAMPIRES at Leeds University. The former program took eight minutes for a single run and the latter about 30 minutes for each run, although he felt it was "unfair to compare the two". The time for crew scheduling was about 10 minutes per run.
The results represented the "dream of the last five years now coming true", Mr Fytche continued. With respect to the cynics, who would say that the unions would never accept computer scheduling, the unions were concerned with the end product, rather than the method of producing it. His advice to operators wishing to establish computer programming was "Get the unions interested in computers well in advance of inception of the new methods." In this way, the unions' suspicions would be removed. and it should be possible to win their enthusiasm, he concluded.