Barclays London Cycle Hire (LCH) - run by international service company Serco - has been running for nearly three-and-a-half years, operating through 17 square miles in the city across a coverage area which roughly matches Zone One of the London Underground.
Since its introduction, the scheme has grown in scale from 5,700 to 9,000 bikes and from 315 to 570 docking stations, with over 20m journeys made to date.
Users can pick up and drop off bikes at any of the docking stations, and so ensuring there is an adequate supply of not only bikes, but also empty racks for returning customers, was always vital to the scheme's success, with staff moving bikes from the busiest stations to the emptiest by vehicle.
Maintaining the network and supply of bikes required a dedicated team to keep the bikes and the docking stations they are hired from in good repair, and to ensure that the supply of bikes is regulated to meet customer demand.
In anticipation of the 2012 Olympics, and the extension of the cycle hire scheme into east London that, LCH needed a way of helping to optimise and dispatch field operatives to make sure that the supply of bikes to the right locations was accurately managed. It also needed to achieve this with the same size dispatch team, despite the extension of the scheme meaning that the number of docking stations was to be increased to 570 and the number of bikes to 9,000.
It was the significant increase in the scale of the project that meant a new and more efficient approach was needed to the systems put in place when the scheme originally launched in 2010, but crucially, without the need for large numbers of additional field staff.
Previous work practices involved significant 'phone time' - this essentially displayed the state of the docking stations on a big screen, from which control room staff used the visual overview to raise jobs by the expedient of calling the on-street team to tell them what needed doing.
Once a job had been communicated, there was no feedback, status update etc., other than the change to the main display - and changes could have just as easily been driven by a large group of tourists arriving at a docking station as by the redistribution driver.
To compound the challenge, managing the bike supply requires dispatchers to manage a constantly changing work list where jobs are frequently raised, re-prioritised, and withdrawn as customers hire and return bikes, and to be able to do this in a consistent manner.
One of the KPIs which Serco must meet is to make sure that docking stations have spare spaces for bikes to be returned, but also bikes available for hire, with points accumulated as the clock ticks when stations are full or empty, and a financial penalty resulting if the agreed timeframe is exceeded.
The scheduling system must be intricate enough to account for a sudden change in the status of a docking station. For example, a full docking station will cause a job to be created to remove some of the bikes, allowing for returns. However, a group of tourists could empty rack before the operatives arrive, changing the job from removing to delivering bikes, which need to be sourced from another location.
This ebb and flow of bicycle hiring demands a near real-time automated system to ensure that the system runs smoothly.
In addition, maintenance work, although more predictable, still required the implementation of automated processes to arrange collection of bikes for workshop repair.
LCH had also identified the need to capture the level of use bikes were receiving as maintenance work was carried out, and to record histories of work carried out on the bikes and the docking stations, requirements that were, at best, only partially supported by the existing solution.
In September 2011, LCH chose workforce optimisation specialist Leadent Solutions to design and implement a better way of supporting these requirements. Leadent Solutions is a company which specialises in workforce optimisation, applying its expertise to clients such as Thames Water, British Gas and Vodafone to help manage their workforces more effectively and thereby provide improved customer service to customers.
Leadent Solutions used ClickSoftware to deliver the core schedule automation and controls together with a mobile technology application to process work.
The solution centres on an integrated data feed from each of the 14,000 docking points which updates every three minutes. This live data is fed automatically into ClickSchedule software which compares the data to defined agreed targets. When it finds a docking station that has passed its limits for hiring or returning availability, a job is created in near real-time, based on priority, skills and geography.
Jobs are withdrawn if the station naturally falls back within tolerance and the system also prioritises jobs according to pre-defined rules.
The Leadent Solutions system uses a dynamic prioritisation engine, which considers a station's grading, the time it has been in breach of availability targets and other factors, to ensure urgent work is prioritised over less critical or a routine maintenance task.
With all of these actions being automated and the on-street operatives being updated by bespoke mobile devices, there is no need for the frequent phone calls which the control centre team previously had to make to field operatives to give instructions and receive updates. This mitigates the risk of missing stations which the manual system allowed for, threatening KPI compliance.
The mobile solution also allows operatives to record task activity and report inventory consumed, thereby building a history of asset maintenance.
Leadent Solutions has been involved from the early design stages; and has been supporting LCH in rolling out the solution during 2012, ensuring the implementation runs smoothly.
Using Leadent Solutions' rapid deployment methodology, and working collaboratively with LCH, the new solution has:
- Provided near real-time visibility of the state of the LCH network at any point in time, allowing managers to get a clear overview of what the status quo is for current work and work in progress and enabling easier management of field operatives
- Provided near real-time task creation, prioritisation and dispatch to help LCH proactively manage KPIs agreed with TfL
- Provided a clearer picture of which bikes and locations are being used the most, providing customers with the best possible service and availability.
- Provided the systems to deliver streamlined, automated business operations through automated scheduling and mobile solutions
- Provided a more efficient way to manage employee breaks and to standardise working practices through automated processes
- Demonstrated the value of automated scheduling in delivering more efficient use of resources, better management of work, and, in turn, improved responses on KPIs
In business terms, this has contributed to:
- A 40% expansion of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme with minimal additional control centre staff costs
- Helping Serco achieve agreed KPIs
- Near elimination of voice interchanges between field and control, saving both time and money
- Delivering a marked improvement in resource utilisation and field engineer productivity through efficient and effective scheduling, dispatch and reporting of work
- Improving the quality of operational performance data, by being able to capture real world actual performance at a higher level of detail than previously possible
- Allowing a sustained improvement in operational performance and efficiency, allowing the Scheme to grow, but managed by the same control team that had previously managed a much smaller operation.
The cycle hire operation now delivers:
- Circa 180,000 registered members
- 570 docking stations & 14,000 docking points
- Circa 9000 cycles available for hire
- Maintains of 250 bikes every day and on street triage of 400 bikes a day
- Up to 27 vehicles move on average 4,000 bikes per day
- Over 23 million hires to date
- A record breaking 47,102 hires on 10 August 2012
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