Scheduling and Operations software applications allow an agency to provide more reliable dependable and efficient fixed route service. These software systems are used for transit service route planning, monitoring and control of transit operations, and for providing more accurate information of transit demand and ridership trends. When linked with AVLs, operational software systems can provide real-time dispatching, faster response to service disruptions, and improved coordination of service of various transit modes. When linked with AVLs and other onboard communication technologies, operational software systems are being used to reduce the amount of voice communications as well as prioritize voice and digital messages from vehicles to the control center.
Most every transit agency now has some form of scheduling and operational software. Depending on the type of software; there are various characteristics, functionalities, hardware requirements, and degrees of compatibility with other APTS applications. CAD software can be grouped into four levels of functionality with each higher level capable of more functions. The four levels consist of:
- Level 1 - Off the shelf software (word processing, spreadsheets, and database programs)
- Level 2 - Custom database applications (off-the-shelf software programmed specifically for agency)
- Level 3 - Semi-automated CADS software (commercial products for zone-to-zone transit operations),
- Level 4 - Fully automated CADS software (commercial products with greater APTS compatibilities, and full GIS compatibility)
Off the shelf software has no pre-programmed scheduling and dispatching functionality. Local transit staff applies standard spreadsheet and database programs that are readily available such as Excel, Access, and FoxPro. Some applications may be supplied by state agencies or other transit operators. This type of software is generally only useful for agencies with fewer than 10 vehicles in their fleet and less than 200 subscription trips per day.
Custom database applications are customized spreadsheet or database programs often developed by a consultant hired by the transit agency. These programs offer more functionality than Level 1 software with functions such as detailed passenger databases, trip request tables, and record keeping or billing functions. They typically cost between $1,000 and $10,000 and are recommended for agencies that have between 10 and 30 vehicles in their fleet.
Semi-automated CADS software are commercial products that cost anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 and require training of staff to use them. Typically there are additional costs for training and software maintenance. There are two types of semi-automated CADS software: slot schedulers and schedule-assist programs. Slot schedule products (such as Trip Management System) are not capable of automatically placing passenger trips on vehicles. They simply keep track of the vehicle on which the scheduler has placed a particular passenger. Schedule-assist products (such as CTS, Multisystems Dispatch-a-Ride, and Trapeze Mini-Pass) have the capacity to suggest vehicles on which to place riders. They accomplish this function by defining zones and listing the street address ranges within that zone. These products have a database of zonal travel times that are accessed when suggesting vehicle assignments. Some of these products are capable of upgrade to the next level by adding additional program modules. There are a host of software products available from several different vendors.
Fully automated CADS software programs are commercial products that fully automate the scheduling and dispatch functions of a transit system using geocoded origins and destinations. The scheduler or dispatcher still has override capabilities to change any trip assignments as desired. This software can be very expensive with costs ranging from $4,000 upwards to $1M depending on the size of the fleet plus any training and maintenance expenses. These software products have the greatest APTS compatibility and enable advanced GIS capabilities.