Marin Transit used Optibus to ramp up quickly and improve internal collaboration, work better with PTOs, and manage its transit data in one place.
Marin Transit is a small to midsize transit agency serving Marin County, in California’s San Francisco Bay area. Headquartered in San Rafael California, Marin Transit has 65 fixed route vehicles (consisting of six vehicle types), and works with several private transit operators. It operates nine depots.
From a scheduling point of view, Marin Transit is responsible for the planning and blocking of its vehicles, and the operators it contracts with are responsible for runcutting and rostering.
The Expertise Challenge
Marin Transit has just one person on the team with extensive scheduling experience, and doesn’t have in-house IT resources. The agency needed software that everyone would be able to pick up quickly, that didn’t strain its resources through extensive installation or set-up time, and that would help Marin invest in its team and its long-term sustainability by making expertise available to everyone.
“At the time of procurement, I was the only one at the agency that had any historical experience in scheduling and with our former platform, so that speaks to why we were looking for something that was intuitive to use, to allow that onboarding and training process to be a bit more streamlined,” says Robert Betts, director of planning and operations at Marin Transit.
Within a month of getting started with Optibus, the Marin team had their data loaded onto the cloud-native SaaS platform, and staff members were able to start working on it individually and collaboratively – no installation, no on-premise servers and no IT maintenance required.
Staff members no longer have to rely on files saved on the server, or to have to deal with version control or editing privileges.
“I think the fact that it’s web-based and that multiple members of our team can access the same data in the same application, and be able to collaborate on a timetable or a project, that’s invaluable,” says Betts.
In addition to enabling collaboration, the intuitive interface made it possible for team members with different levels of experience to ramp up quickly.
“It’s a very approachable interface,” says Betts. “I think it’s well-designed and well-thought-out, and it allows a wide range of skill sets on our team at a small agency to be able to at least go in and view the data and to get some basic analytics.”
Since Marin focuses on planning and blocking, the planning module, which includes the timetable and map view, is particularly important for the agency.
“The ease and the simplicity of that timetable view, coupled with the map interface and the bus stop database – that’s really the foundation for everything else. It’s in an easy-to-use format, it’s intuitive, it’s easy to update. That’s really important for us because everything else then gets built off of that platform.”
The PTO Collaboration Challenge
Marin Transit works with five private transit operators (three of which operate fixed-route service), and operates nine depots. The agency wants its partnerships with its contractors to be smooth and efficient for both sides, and to ensure that efficiency metrics for the operators are optimal from both the vehicle and crew side.
“For a small agency, there’s quite a bit of complexity to our system because of multiple contractors and multiple yards,” says Betts.
Marin provides vehicle schedules to PTOs with little insight into how the blocking would affect the runcutting or rostering.
Marin uses Optibus to improve its blocking capabilities, and plans to collaborate with the operators to find ways to generate efficiencies for them as well.
“What we’re really saying to our contractors,” says Betts, “is: ‘Hey, we have this tool, and it’s pretty powerful. Would you consider changing your crew schedules based on what the system’s able to show in terms of either better shifts or less pay or any other metric important to your operation?’”
Marin has an interest in assisting the operators it works with, says Betts.
“I think if it makes our contractors more sustainable and more profitable, that helps us because they become more stable. We view all our contracts as partnerships, and to the extent that we can help each other, that’s what we’re looking at right now,” he says. “The ability to directly share data between contractor and agency – an agency develops the schedule and then simply by sharing that Optibus file back to the contractor, they can easily move that into a crew scheduling environment – that’s potentially a win-win for both.”
The Data Management Challenge
Marin Transit needed to support multiple third-party data exports, and is seeing such requirements increasing. The agency was managing the data on multiple systems, and was looking to move toward a single platform that would support all the data formats.
“Right before we pivoted into the Optibus system, the biggest challenge was that we had to support the data across multiple platforms in order to get the exports that were requested,” says Betts. “Having it all in one place clearly makes the process easier.”
“I’m of the mindset that our No.1 goal as a transit agency should be making sure that data is accurate and making sure it’s in the format that’s needed, so others can plug that data into their own applications to create great tools for our riders.”
Marin Transit solved its data management problem by using Optibus to manage all its data exports in one place. Unlike legacy scheduling software, says Betts, Optibus is “nimble and dynamic enough to support some of that newer information and the new formatting that was being requested.”
“What we really saw value in with the Optibus product is the ability to work with those various formats, to be able to integrate with very little friction, and to take on the mentality of supporting those integrations and other future integration needs,” says Betts. “This tool allows us to bring all of that integration into one place and have more or less a single-click export that supports all these feed types.”
Marin has been using Optibus to analyze efficiency metrics such as revenue time, blocks, platform time and pull-outs/pull-ins, and plans to dig even deeper into the data.
Just by looking at pull-outs, Marin was able to spot an opportunity to save excess pull-outs that left the agency with more spare equipment, fewer deadhead miles and lower fuel costs.
“We are looking at our data in a different way now, which is improving our analytic capabilities,” says Betts.