In consultation with GoMetro, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Shuttle transitioned their manual planning and scheduling processes to Optibus’ cloud-native, AI-powered software platform, resulting in faster timetables changes and better organization, with an easy onboarding process.
The University of Cape Town’s private bus shuttle service, known as the UCT Shuttle, provides transportation services across the university campus, free of charge, to 29,000 students and 5,000 staff members.
The UCT Shuttle is essential for students and staff to arrive on time at their lecture halls and offices, which are located on a private campus on the steep face of Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain and not served by the city’s public transportation network. UCT Shuttle transports riders between the campus and greater Cape Town at the base of the mountain, where riders live, work, and play.
With a fleet of 27 buses and 60 drivers, the UCT Shuttle operates 19 routes that run every day of the week (Sunday to Saturday) during the term, with special timetables for vacation and exam periods.
Challenges and Results
Moving from manual to digital processes
“The manual processes were quite tedious. Very, very tedious. Long and dull. Prone to human error,” said Unathi Mxatule, Operations Supervisor for the UCT Shuttle in the transportation department of the University of Cape Town. “Because, I mean, it’s not supported by any sort of technology.”
Unathi’s staff was used to “having to wade through tons of papers.”
UCT Shuttle sought a digital, automated solution in consultation with GoMetro, the technology arm of the GoAscendal global joint venture, which also offers transportation advisory services from the Ascendal group. Together, they selected Optibus’ Planning and Scheduling software platform.
The results with Optibus were “quite immediate”, according to Unathi.
“From doing things manually to now having this cutting-edge technology program that has everything in it from back office to the operation on the road, having to monitor everything that is happening on the road in real time. I mean, those are the things we longed to see for a very long time,” Unathi explained. “And voila, now they are right here in front of us. It didn’t take us long to see the results.”
“Optibus came as a blessing in disguise for us. We now have this one umbrella that synchronizes everything for us and it works wonders, I must say,” said Unathi.
An easy-to-learn technological solution
The UCT Shuttle team had years of expertise in traditional manual processes, but none in digital planning and scheduling systems. The goal was to transition the UCT Shuttle team to a more modern, advanced planning and scheduling solution.
“If you don’t take advantage of the technology that’s there, then what are you hoping for?,” said Unathi. “[Optibus] has assisted us a great deal so far in ensuring that we streamline things, and in ensuring that our service is optimized.”
Optibus’ intuitive, easy-to-use interface made it simple for the UCT Shuttle team to quickly transition to the platform.
“From my experience on the Optibus platform, it was really well developed and designed from a UX-UI point of view,” said Prian Reddy, Head of Fleet at GoMetro. “I especially appreciate the Optibus Academy and the way it was built and designed, which means it is very easy for me to share that with any new operators that we interact with through training and onboarding.”
Prian added that Optibus’ cloud-native, digital platform enabled GoMetro to continue training operators remotely during the time of COVID. “So, having access to those tutorial resources is very important. I think it’s really well explained, step-by-step and it is easy to grasp,” Prian explained.
“The tutorials are out of this world, I must say,” Unathi added. “Very easy to follow. It’s amazing.”
Leveraging GTFS for Data-Driven Transit Planning
On September 1, 2020, GoMetro and UCT Shuttle launched a real-time fleet management system, GoMetro Fleet, with 30 UCT Shuttle vehicles, and a passenger information and communication mobile app that enables riders to track buses’ live locations and access information about routes.
For the fleet management system and passenger app to work, GoMetro needed to digitize the UCT Shuttle’s timetables and schedules into General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) format.
“Previously, GoMetro had to do this on a spreadsheet, so we had to manually create those GTFS files. And we had no tool to create route profiles as well,” said Prian. “So the Optibus tool was very useful in terms of creating the route profiles and updating the stop timetables.”
Optibus “really cut down the turnaround time in GTFS creation,” said Prian.
Prian believes that the ability to frequently update the UCT Shuttle’s GTFS dataset greatly improves services. “It’s really important when using public transport that you have the latest timetables and schedules available to you.”
“Optibus and GoMetro make an excellent partnership in terms of having schedule, data, and real time data at the fingertips of the end user,” he added.
Changing Timetables, Faster
The UCT Shuttle changes its timetables three times a semester, for a total of six times a year, to match changes in university schedules: a core service timetable, exam timetable, and vacation timetable.
“Doing that manually normally takes a month or so. Using the Optibus tool allows us to do that in a matter of a few hours in a week,” said Prian.
Unathi said the amount of time his team saves by using Optibus is “unquantifiable.”
“We’ve managed to save quite a lot of time now because everything is just integrated,” he said. “You just feed the data and the system gives you what exactly it is that you need.”
“With the introduction of this platform, we have now been able to plan and organize our work in a much more effective and efficient manner,” Unathi added.