The average person driving by one of the City of Edmonton’s transit garages likely thinks of them as ‘bus barns’ – covered, heated parking lots for buses.
However, if they spent an hour just inside the entrance, in an office called the ‘booker shack’, they’d be mightily impressed as a Fleet Services employee called a ‘booker’ juggles dozens of critical factors in the 10 seconds before he or she determines the exact location that every incoming bus has to park in.
It has to be bang-on, as you’ll read further on, and it couldn’t happen so quickly without the help of a specialized computer program called ROB, which stands for Runs, Operators, Buses.
The basic reality of a transit garage is that everything must be arranged the night before so that in the morning, the first buses that leave the garage as early as 4:30 am are parked at the front of their parking lane. The next buses to leave – maybe just two or three minutes later – must be second in line, and so on.
That would be a cinch if all buses were identical. But they’re not.
As buses return to the garage after their morning or afternoon-evening runs, the booker must assign them to park in a lane that will facilitate a smooth exit on the next shift.
Some of the factors the booker must consider:
Some buses have Automated Passenger Counter programs in them, enabling transit planners to analyze passenger loads on specific routes. They need to be placed in lanes that allow them to be used on specific route numbers.
Some buses have video cameras and must be assigned to certain routes that run through ‘trouble areas’.
Some buses have specific highway certification allowing them to travel on routes to the airport, Spruce Grove, Namao, and Fort Saskatchewan.
GPS-equipped ‘smart buses’ must be assigned to specific routes.
Small neighbourhood buses and articulated 60-footers have to be assigned to specific routes.
If refueling wasn’t possible on its return from its last route assignment, a bus must be assigned to a short route the next shift.
Some buses require servicing or preventive maintenance inspections, so they must be parked in a way that makes them available to service technicians.
The ROB program, with was created by Fleet Services, ETS and the City’s IT branch seven years ago, is based on a map of the garage, with parking lanes – as many as 32 of them – identified. Garages can house up to 300 buses.
Several hundred times a day as buses return from their shifts, the booker enters their number, and is informed which kind of bus it is and whether it requires sidelining for service. The bus operator tells the booker if there are any safety or hygiene issues with the bus.
With ROB’s help, within seconds the booker assigns the bus to its next route and assigns it to a lane, ready for the overall minute-by-minute departure schedule for the next shift.
The program is tied right into Fleet Services’ M5 maintenance program, so when a technician has finished a repair or inspection on a bus, ROB knows instantly that the bus is once again available for deployment.
Fleet Services recently completed an upgrade to ROB that incorporates many suggestions made by staff in a consultation process.
The ETS fleet encompasses 932 buses. The daily ‘book-out’ involves 744 buses, many of which return to garages between morning and afternoon peak periods.