We are delighted to announce that Tom Thomson has joined our team.
The number of local authorities realising significant benefits from QRoutes on their home-to-school transport planning is growing at an unprecedented rate. And to keep providing those customers with our trademark level of support, we need to keep expanding the team.
“Tom’s methodical approach and focus on exceeding customer expectations is an excellent match for us.” says Business Development Director, Jeff Duffell.
Tom adds, “I am delighted to be associated with the Team at QRoutes. There is no doubt that their Home to School Transport Routing and Scheduling solution is fast becoming the benchmark for School Transport planning within Councils and Unitary Authorities throughout the UK”.
Tom will be covering Scotland and parts of Northern England.
Jeff, our Business Development Director, recently completed a marathon! He did walk it (literally!) so you might think that’s not so difficult. But he recoups kudos because it was overnight.
He and his group set off on The Shine Walk at 9.30pm from Southwark Park and wending their way through Fleet Street, Pentonville Road, Park Lane, Knightsbridge, past Buckingham Palace, down The Mall, Strand, Whitehall, Birdcage Walk, along Millbank, past the Houses of Parliament and a scaffolded Big Ben, along the South Bank and over London Bridge just after 7am to finish. QRoutes could have found a more efficient route but in this case that wasn’t the point.
Sheffield City Council has turned to the latest mapping and routing technology to improve Special Educational Needs (SEN) transport. The council, which provides transport for 1000 children to around 35 schools, has deployed cloud-based software from QRoutes to work out the best routes and optimise resources. The SEN fleet comprises 160 passenger vehicles and there are 300 drivers and passenger assistants on hand to deliver the service.
Special Educational Needs transport is one of the primary services managed by Sheffield’s Transport and Facilities Management Department. Managing the service is particularly complex because of the varied requirements of passengers and the need to satisfy schools, parents and pupils, but within budget constraints dictated by the People/Schools Services Department.
Sheffield’s SEN fleet includes a range of minibuses, as well as large specialist wheelchair lift vehicles that carry up to 16 passengers. The council also relies on outsourced taxi services to meet the service needs of around 130 passengers that fall beyond the scope or reach of the council-run fleet.
In the past Sheffield had used AutoRoute to plan SEN routes but the software had become outdated and no longer supported. In 2016 the decision was made to find a replacement and an appraisal was carried out of available systems.
“We spent a long time trying to find software that could handle the complexities of Special Educational Needs transport. We just couldn’t find anything and the solutions on offer were very costly,” said Mike Keen, Sheffield’s Senior Transport Officer. “Then we heard that a new system was being developed specifically for SEN and that was QRoutes. Although it was still in development it was clear that the solution had tremendous potential and since working with them, the developers have been very receptive to developing the software to meet our needs.”
Sheffield trialled QRoutes during 2017 and started configuring the system to their requirements. The software is now being used and from June 2018 will be the department’s main routing system, planning and continually fine tuning approximately 145 routes. Its use is also being considered for areas such as social care and elections planning.
“The fact that it is web-based is a big benefit. Not only does it mean that we can access the system anywhere and anytime online, but it is very affordable and requires minimal IT support,” says Mike Keen. “The functionality is very good and the multi-layered mapping allows us to view as many routes as we want. It’s also very easy to use.”
“We can easily set different parameters such as maximum rides times at 40 and 50 minutes for a particular school. Revised plans can then be produced in seconds and we can switch and change parameters as much as we like to fine tune each plan. It takes about 30 seconds to run a plan and the system will give us an array of around 10 different solutions to consider – that would have taken days to do in the past” explains Keen.
“Delivering SEN services is not easy as there are so many conflicting interests at play and every day we are dealing with many different personal requirements. In the end QRoutes is a tool that saves us a lot of time simulating different potential options and that frees us up to deal with all those pressing service issues” adds Keen.
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.
Yes… it might look something like the diagram below
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.
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:
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?
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.”
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.
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
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
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