The heart of Lothian Buses continues to beat

Posted: 22 January 2013 | Alan Black, Operational Control Room Manager, Lothian Buses | No comments yet

In operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the control room is the hub of Lothian Buses – supporting our depots and 650-strong fleet of buses that cover 55 routes in Edinburgh, Midlothian and East Lothian…

Looking after the daily transportation of over 350,000 users, putting customers first, and further enhancing their travel experience is our priority.

Lothian Buses has one of the youngest bus fleets in the UK and, since 2000, has invested over £130 million in new state-of-the-art vehicles, becoming entirely easy access low-floor eight years ahead of the government mandated deadline. As part of our on-going investment, we refurbished the heart of our day-to-day operations at an investment of £1 million, to create our new control room.

The objective of the 20-strong team in the control room is to maintain the smooth operation of Lothian Buses via radio communi – cation, Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system and updating our website’s live service status board and Twitter feed. It has also enabled us to develop our information services to include phone apps and digital information boards at bus stops. 

Launched in April 2012, the new control room has been a long time coming; we had been discussing the plans for a couple of years. First, we had to make space for the new control room at our Central Depot, and then consider the logistics of making best use of the available space while improving the working environ – ment for the operator staff manning the facility 24 hours a day.

Part of the project was to renew our radio communications equipment; we are using a Tait trunked radio system with four external high site transmitters covering our bus operating area of Edinburgh, East Lothian and Midlothian. This is essential to keep our control room in touch with buses at all times. Given the calibre of events in Scotland’s capital city, it was decided that the control room should be a joint operation between Lothian Buses and the City of Edinburgh Council’s traffic signals department. This joint approach is especially useful when we’re working together on large scale events such as the Six Nations rugby games or celebratory parades through Edinburgh, like the Olympians parade in September 2012.

The extra control room space was also needed to increase the available operator positions, as from 2012 all Edinburgh tour buses have been added to the Real-Time Information system or AVL system. We’ve been using AVL to manage our main bus fleet for over eight years; it allows the control operators to monitor an individual bus, a specific bus route or an overview of the whole bus fleet, thus allowing them to manage a large number of vehicles at one time giving them the required information to carry out intervention when required in order to maintain service schedule. During this time it has been developed and improved and has allowed for new services including the ‘Edinburgh By Bus’ app which helps our customers get the most out of our bus service.

When the refurbishment began in August 2011 we were temporarily housed in portacabins to ensure the control room’s 24/7 functionality wasn’t affected. The entire control room refurbishment was completed by Intech Solutions who specialise in command and control centres while we selected Siemens to integrate both our internal depot and Travelshops security CCTV and the viewing access we have to the City of Edinburgh Council’s city-wide street CCTV.

Investing in technology

The largest single investment of the £1 million refurbishment was in our radio equipment. All vehicles in our fleet were fitted with new Tait TM8254 radios and specially designed low profile roof antenna to combine the radio receiver and GPS receiver. This is vital as it is the radio equipment that also transmits back the real-time data used to feed the AVL system. A proportion of the investment also went into the control hardware with higher specification PC processing power and each operator desk consisting of three 21” monitors (two to view the Ineo Real-Time software leaving one for all other required software programmes). Access to the CEC city CCTV is also a vital tool for the control staff as it is used to monitor the city-wide trafficflow and is displayed in front of all the controllers via six 46” large flat screen monitors.

All equipment was specially selected with the number one aim to facilitate the smooth running of bus services at all times, allowing the control room team to be pro-active in managing the many and varied situations they are faced with on a daily basis. If we see congestion on the roads then we can work around it to keep our services moving. The AVL system is the crux of the newly refurbished control room and this is our most pioneering technological develop – ment. The system was supplied by the French company INEO Saetr with whom we continue to work with to develop this system to fit into our ever-changing operational needs.

Lothian Buses is an innovative company, making the most of our control room and AVL capabilities. Not only do we use AVL to locate our vehicles, but the same live real-time information is used to ensure our customers can view live bus arrival times via the digital information boards at bus stops that the City of Edinburgh Council manages, and also via our new Edinburgh By Bus app. The information services that we offer the public allows them to make best use of their time. If they use the Edinburgh By Bus app to see that they’ve got another 10 minutes until their bus arrives, then they know they’ve got enough time to do something else.

Technology is only part of what makes Lothian Buses’ operations tick. The real life blood is the staff; the guys and girls that oversee all of this information and work tirelessly 24 hours a day as frontline support to our 1,400 driving staff. This support is available via radio contact with the control room to on-street supervisors and/or mobile supervisors; we have mobile patrol support vehicles that can be dispatched by the control operator to contact any of our bus fleet to give the driver support and assistance dealing with any operational problems or to carry out minor vehicle repairs.

At the heart of the city

The control room is situated next to the customer service department which ensures we can keep in touch easily, and the department also has access to our Real-Time Information systems, which means they can handle enquiries instantly. This set up comes into its own when we have harsh winter weather conditions and the schools close; people can keep up-to-date via the website, app, 24 hour telephone enquiries or through the customer services department, allowing the customer to make their decision and still get around, even during a severely disrupted period.

Community benefits are a big consideration for us so it’s important we work closely with both customer services and local radio stations. The control room is in daily communication with the travel teams of the local radio stations to assist with traffic flow information to keep listeners informed. It’s great to share our intelligence and benefit others, and advise our customers if they need to use alternative routes in good time to reach their destination. Last winter, when Penicuik in Midlothian was affected by snow, we worked with their local stations to inform people of the up-to-theminute bus route situation.

And, of course, Lothian Buses is in contact with the emergency services on a regular basis on a community level – we are currently working with Midlothian and East Lothian police on our winter safety preparation. We don’t share the control room as a resource at all with the emergency services, but we do keep in touch with them regularly when we are working together on large events and parades in the city. We support each other to make sure we keep the city moving.

What’s next for Lothian Buses?

We’re about to embark on another, smaller project to ensure we have a contingency plan in place for major crisis situations. We will be building a back-up control room for our Marine Depot in Seafield (on the outskirts of Edinburgh). It will have enough room for two operators and will take approximately 2-3 weeks to build. It’s not the fitting of the control rooms themselves that is the largest part of these projects – it’s the ICT behind the technology that takes the time to connect up. This is mainly done off-site with the network operators.


About the author

Alan Black has worked at Lothian Buses for 30 years – more than 12 of which have been spent in the control room. Alan joined the company as a bus driver and after two and a half years went on to work as a Ticket Inspector in 1985 before working in various supervisory positions until being made Operational Control Manager in 2002. Prior to working with Lothian Buses, Alan worked in mechanical engineering. Alan considers Lothian Buses a forward-thinking and innovative employer and a great company to work for.