Introduction to Bus Scheduling

Introduction to Bus Scheduling

Bus Scheduling is a series of processes and complex mathematical equations that brings together critical bus planning elements including bus stops, routes, timetables, vehicle blocks and driver shifts in an efficient, contract compliant and cost-effective manner that meets customer needs. Tricky to write and every harder to get right in practice.

In this article we breakdown the key steps required to produce a bus schedule to ensure your next transport plan goes off without a hitch.  

So where do we start? From the ground up, of course.

Network Plan – If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This adage is particularly true in the bus scheduling work. So with this in mind, let’s start with the network. A network plan is the process of determining the route paths a bus service will follow including where a bus service start, end and stop in between. This step is sometimes referred to as the task of making lines on a map. Google Maps is your friend with this exercise. At this point, it’s important to consider the customer - will the decisions you make at the network plan stage improve the chances of delivering a great customer experience. Ask yourself -  is the route direct, are travel times realistic and are the bus stops in the right location?

Timetables – in other words, this is where you create the start times for each service and include the time it takes to travel from stop to stop. This is referred to as a travel time and these should be tailored to the typical travel time by times of the day. Travel times are almost always different throughout the day and by day type, weekday, Saturday, and Sunday. This task is critical in ensuring you build a bus schedule you can actually deliver in the field. Always remember, a bad timetable or timetables cannot be fixed by any of the following tasks. Get it wrong here and you’re in a world of pain.

Interlining – is where you select to allow a bus to operate multiple routes, usually with a common origin or destination. Interlining can also be referred to as interworking. Where you do not allow interlining, you will create a schedule that has buses doing the same route only, which is often referred to as a standalone route or schedule. In general, interline can limit the efficiency of a scheduling outcome.

Dead Running Matrix – this is where you identify all the possible origin and destination options for a bus to travel special or run dead. This activity allows you to identify trips you can link, and also highlights all the “from depot” scenarios (Pull Out) and “return to depot” scenarios (Pull In). Once all these options have been identified, the scheduler will allocate the time it takes to travel between these locations. This is also usually done by time of day based on the underlying traffic conditions.

Rules – is about nominating things such as the maximum shift hours, minimum and maximum break times, any specific shift arrangements such as a broken shift, any specific recovery/layover time between trips and several others.  These are the elements bespoke to your transport operation – the more specific your rules, the more accurate your schedule.

Vehicle Shifts – vehicle shifts can also be referred to as vehicle blocks and is the process of linking all the timetable trips together in the most efficient manner, considering the interlining rules. The rules are also important to make sure sufficient time is allowed between the end of one trip to the start of the next trip. The process should also consider if it is more efficient to send a vehicle back to the depot when there is no efficient trip connection.

Runcutting – is the process of breaking up the vehicle shifts/blocks into segments of work that can be used to create driver shifts or a crew schedule. This process also refers to the rules that you have created. The golden rule of runcutting it is to never increase the number of buses required (peak vehicles) to operate all the trips. In simple terms, do not create meal breaks during the peak, minimise dead running at peak times especially in the peak demand direction.

Driver Roster – is the final step in the scheduling process where the driver shifts are allocated to create a roster. A roster shows all of the work each driver is required to perform over a specific period of time. The duration of a roster can vary, but typically, in my experience a roster is four-week block of shifts. Again, local rules need to be considered, for example: the maximum number of shifts a driver can work consecutive, the number of days off a drive must have, the minimum time between the end of one shift to the start of the next shift.

Take a deep breath. You’ve made it. But before you hit send on the schedule. Double check your work and ensure it meets the needs of your transport operation.


Although the above steps have been simplified to provide a general overview of the scheduling task they represent a logical best practice approach to scheduling.

A key consideration for each step is efficiency - are you creating a route path, a rule, a trip link or a roster that increases the overall cost of the scheduling outcomes?

In future articles we will explain in more detail some of the important considerations in each of the steps to create a bus schedule.

How can we help?

Bus scheduling is hard. Do you need a hand or want more information on any of the steps to create a schedule? Check out our range of easy to use digital tools that take the hard work out of transport planning, saving you time and money.

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