Best Practices in Bus Dispatch

(Center Identification Number: 77930)

This study will investigate best practices, standard operating procedures and uses of technology in dispatch for small, medium, and large transit agencies.

Principal Investigators:

Christopher DeAnnuntis

Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida

Phone: 813-974-8942
Fax: 813-974-5168


William Morris

Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida

Phone: 813-974-6804
E-mail: wpmorris@cutr.usf.ed
Fax: 813-974-5168

External Project Contact:

Victor B. Wiley
Florida Department of Transportation
Transit Safety Programs Manager, CPM

I.  Project Objective/Problem Statement

In 2006 and 2007, the National Center for Transit Research sponsored a study to examine best practices in extraboard operator management. In most transit agencies, extraboard manpower is managed by the Dispatch function, but extraboard management is only one of the many aspects of operating a transit system managed by Dispatch. The study for extraboard management yielded a need to have a greater understanding of operational functions within transit systems and to share optimal practices among transit operations personnel within Florida. This effort is intended to study only fixed-route bus dispatch operations and excludes other forms such as rail, paratransit, and traffic management centers (TMCs).

The function of Dispatch within a transit environment is the control center of operations, without which there would be no consistent transit service on the street each day. Dispatchers have the responsibility to ensure that there is sufficient labor and equipment to meet the day’s scheduled service, act as the primary source of direction for bus operators via radio communications, coordinate the response and resolution for all incidents that occur in the field, and ensure the safety, security, and performance of the bus system.

Dispatch can be a high paced, fast moving and multi-faceted function wherein each day presents new challenges from the previous day. The manner in which individual dispatch offices are structured to function is determined by historical influences, longevity of personnel, the management philosophy of operations managers, and in some cases collective bargaining agreements.

However, while the similarities of dispatch functions across all transit agencies are well known, the differences in operating policies, procedures, and functions of dispatch have not been well researched or documented. In a scan of research on this topic, there is a great deal of research for dispatch in EMS, traffic management, trucking and even milk delivery. A few address bus transit dispatch, but only tangently by addressing the impacts of new technologies such as new communications systems and Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)/Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) packages on dispatch functions. Very little is known about the differences between transit agencies in terms of the manner in which Dispatch is structured, the operational practices and procedures that dispatchers follow, and a catalogue of all of the functions of Dispatch.

II. Objectives/Tasks

This study will investigate best practices, standard operating procedures and uses of technology in dispatch for small, medium, and large transit agencies. Specifically, a survey of all Florida transit agencies and out-of-state transit agencies will be conducted to do, at a minimum, the following:

• Catalogue the functions of dispatch

• Investigate interface of dispatch with other organizational functions

• Summarize standard operating policies, procedures and responsibilities of dispatch

• Identify best practices, including processes and technology

• Assess impacts of new technologies on dispatch efficiency and management

• Identify essential job skills and examine the future of the profession.

Task 1. Literature Review

CUTR will conduct a literature review to identify methodologies and findings, if any, from past studies to serve as a starting point for the research. This will help refine specific gaps and deficiencies in the existing body of knowledge. In addition, CUTR will obtain standard operating procedure manuals and training manuals (as available) from transit systems or management companies as a means of developing and refining a survey of transit agencies. The Florida Operations Network (FON) will be polled to supply all of their materials. Further review of literature will continue throughout most of the research process to identify and include any new findings.

Task 2. Survey Transit Agencies Regarding Current Practices and Functions of Dispatch

Consistent with the Extraboard study, CUTR will survey small (<50 buses), medium (>50 and <250 buses) and large size (>250 bus) transit agencies to catalogue the functions of dispatch, investigate interface of dispatch with other organizational functions, summarize standard operating policies, procedures and responsibilities of dispatch, identify best practices, including processes and technology, and assess impacts of new technologies on dispatch efficiency and management. The survey will utilize a web-based survey instrument called “surveymonkey tm.” Surveymonkey tm has proven, in other research efforts, to be an effective tool for surveying because the recipient receives a link via e-mail, the link then takes the respondent to a web site where the survey is completed by clicking on responses. In addition, Surveymonkey tm performs tasks that previously had to be done manually by collecting all raw data (no manual data input required) and then generates frequency reports from the raw data. CUTR will draft the survey instrument for approval by the FDOT project manager. Following that approval, CUTR will distribute the survey instrument to the Florida Operations Network (FON) and other systems nationally based on results of the literature review. The survey may be divided into one survey for dispatchers and one survey for operations managers. With the active involvement of the Florida Operations Network, CUTR anticipates and will do everything possible to ensure a 100% response rate from all Florida transit agencies and will survey other targeted out-of-state transit agencies as identified in the literature review. CUTR will collect and summarize data regarding dispatch functions and operations.

Task 3. Case Studies

Findings from the literature review, surveys and standard operating procedures will be analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively to determine the manner in which agencies currently conduct dispatch functions. A minimum of four transit agencies (two small, one medium and one large) will be selected for in-depth case study including field observations. The field observations of actual live dispatch environments will consist of a matrix in which researchers can record what the dispatcher is doing, the time required to complete the task, and the nature of the task (e.g. incident management). This would yield a comparative data set between different dispatch functions in terms of an overall breakdown of time/task distribution. Standard operating procedures (SOP) and training materials alone cannot provide detailed data on the actual operations of a dispatch office. In many cases, there could be upgrades to technology, which are not reflected nor updated in a SOP. Without field observations, it would be impossible to understand the relationships between different functions in dispatch as well as interface with other agency departments, and there would be no mechanism by which to compare time spent, effort and efficiency of the following:

• Operator check-in • Coach assignments to blocks/runs • Radio communications • Coach availability/interface with Maintenance • Technology integration (including AVL/CAD) • Extraboard management • Reliefs • Incident management • Road supervision • Other functions as identified by the survey

It is well known that VOTRAN in Daytona Beach, FL has made significant investments in technology integration to improve the management and efficiency of a multitude of agency functions, including Dispatch. Dispatchers are now able to use a mix of voice and data communications in the overall management of service operations. While it is likely that VOTRAN will be a very good case study, the team believes that another small transit system should be selected that uses the more traditional forms of voice communications.

Since dispatch offices operate very early in the morning (between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. based on time of the first scheduled bus pull-out), the team is suggesting a need for one overnight stay for two researchers for each of the four case studies with the understanding that there are eight transit systems within 60 miles of CUTR that could be selected for case study. Observations will take between six and eight hours during the a.m. peak and mid-day periods on weekdays and/or weekends. Two researchers are required because one will observe the dispatch window and the other radio communications, often not co-located, but each with unique operating characteristics. The budget for travel has been prepared based on this assumption.

Task 4. Model Standard Operating Procedure

This task of the research will be to summarize the results of the previous tasks and to produce a model standard operating procedure that small, medium and large transit agencies can utilize in training and implementation of standard operating procedures related to the dispatch functions. The model standard operating procedure will be a resource for practitioners that currently either do not have a written standard operating procedure or have a need to modify existing standard operating procedures. The model procedure will also delineate between those agencies that utilize computerized dispatch technology versus those that currently do not have computerized functions.

Task 5. Final Report

The final task of the research will be to give practitioners and other transportation professionals a resource to better understand bus dispatch, synthesize results of the previous tasks and produce a final report that small, medium and large transit agencies can utilize in training and implementation of standard operating procedures related to the dispatch functions.

Work not included in this scope of services is not to be performed and will not be subject to compensation by the Department.

III. Deliverables

Technical Memorandum 1 – Literature Review and Survey Results

Technical Memorandum 2 – Case Studies

Technical Memorandum 3 – Model Standard Operating Procedure

Project Kick-off Meeting

Draft Final Report

Close-out Meeting

Final Report

Project Kickoff Meeting

A kick-off meeting shall be scheduled to occur within the first 30 days of execution by the university. The preferred method for the kick-off meeting is via teleconference or video conference. As a minimum, the project manager and the principal investigator will attend. The Research Center staff must be advised of the meeting and given the option to attend. Other parties may be invited, as appropriate. The subject of the meeting will be to review and discuss the project’s tasks, schedule, milestones, deliverables, reporting requirements, and deployment plan. A summary of the kick-off meeting shall be included in the first progress report.

Progress Reports

The university will submit quarterly progress reports to the Research Center. The first report will cover the activity that occurred in the 90 days following the issuance of the task work order.

Reports should be submitted within 30 days of the end of the reporting period. Reports are due even if little or no progress has occurred (in which case, the report should explain delays and/or lack of progress). Progress reports should be sent in MS Word to Sandra Bell,

Progress reports must include the following information:

1. Contract number, task work order number, and title

2. Work performed during the period being reported

3. Work to be performed in the following period

4. Anticipated modifications (i.e., to funding, schedule, or scope). This section is for reporting/informational purposes, not for officially requesting an amendment.

Note: To request an amendment to a contract, the contractor must provide the project manager with the appropriate information (i.e., what is being requested with justification) in the required format. If the project manager concurs with the request, he/she shall forward it with his/her approval and commentary, as appropriate, to the Research Center for administrative review and processing (pending available funds, etc.)

5. A progress schedule updated to reflect activities for the period being reported.

Failure to submit progress reports in a timely manner may result in termination of the work order.

Draft Final Reports

The Draft Final Report is due 90 days prior to the end date of the task work order. The draft final report will be submitted to Sandra Bell, It should be edited for technical accuracy, grammar, clarity, organization, and format prior to submission to the Department for technical approval. The Research Center expects contractors to be able to provide well-written, high-quality reports that address the objectives defined by the scope of service. Draft final reports must be prepared in accordance with the “Guidelines for Preparing Draft Final and Final Reports” posted at This document provides information on all report requirements, including format, the technical report documentation form, disclaimer language, and so forth.

Closeout Meeting

A closeout meeting shall be conducted to review project performance, the deployment plan, and next steps. Attendees shall include, as a minimum, the project manager, the principal investigator, and the Research Center performance coordinator. This meeting is to occur prior to the expiration of the contract and subsequent to the approval of the draft final report (i.e., it should be scheduled for sometime during the final 30 days of the project).

Final Reports

Once the draft final report has been approved, the university shall prepare the final report. The university will deliver a minimum eight (8) copies on CD or DVD – seven (7) CDs should contain the final report in PDF format, one (1) CD should contain the final report in PDF format, MS Word format and a Summary of the Final Report.

The CD/DVDs should be labeled in a professional manner and include at a minimum the contract number, task work order number, project title and date.

The final report is due no later than the end date of the task work order and should be delivered to the following address:

The Florida Department of Transportation Research Center, MS 30 605 Suwannee Street Tallahassee, FL 32399-0450

IV. Project Schedule

Start Date:  December 2010               Expected End Date: March 2012

V. Project Budget

Total Lump Sum Amount            $99,431.01

Cost Reimbursable Subtotal      $2,088.00

Indirect Cost (subtotal x 10%)        $208.80

Total Project Cost                         $101,727.81

VI. Equipment

No equipment will required as part of this scope of services.

Reimbursement will only occur upon receipt of and only for the amount of the purchasing invoice for the subject equipment.

VII. Travel

Travel is anticipated and the nature of the travel has been described in Task 3 Case Studies section of this scope of services. One case study has been identified in advance, which is VOTRAN in Daytona Beach, FL. The remaining three case studies will be identified during the course of the research. CUTR will submit in writing the three case studies to the FDOT project manager for approval. Then, CUTR will estimate the cost for travel for each case study and submit in writing to the FDOT project manager for approval. No case study will be identified or performed without prior written authorization from the FDOT project manager.

All travel shall be in accordance with Section 112.061, Florida Statutes, FDOT employees may not travel on research contracts.

VIII. Use of Graduate Student(s) and Other Research Assistants

No graduate student(s) will be utilized as part of this scope of services.

IX. Budget Justification/Personnel Roles and Responsibilities

Christopher DeAnnuntis, Principal Investigator: Mr. DeAnnuntis has significant experience prior to CUTR working in Operations and Dispatch as the scheduler for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART). He was the Principal Investigator for the Best Practices in Extra board Management study, which led to the identification of the need for this study. He has extensive experience conducting on-board surveys for local transit agencies in which coordination with Dispatch is a critical function in successfully completing the survey. Mr. DeAnnuntis will serve as the overall manager of the project, directing staff in all activities. He will supervise the development of the literature review, be crucial in the development of the substantive nature of the web-based survey, will lead the conduct of case studies, and prepare draft and final reports.

William Morris, Co-Principal Investigator: Mr. Morris also has experience working in the Operations and Dispatch environment through experience as a planner in transit agencies. He has also conducted on-board surveys requiring coordination with Dispatch and has significant experience at CUTR in developing web-based surveys. Mr. Morris will assist the Research Support Specialist in identifying literature sources for the study, will be integral in designing the eventual web-based survey, will be one of three team members participating in case studies, and will assist the Principal Investigator in developing draft and final reports.

Justin Begley, Senior Research Associate: Mr. Begley has extensive experience in designing, procuring and implementing new technologies for the Dispatch environment in his previous experience at the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART). He also possesses expertise in the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). He will be integral in case studies involving assessment and uses of automated technologies in Dispatch as well as the development of the Model Standard Operating Procedure.

Melissa DeLeon, Research Support Specialist: Ms. DeLeon will have primary responsibility for preparing the literature review for the study with assistance from the research team. She will disseminate e-mail clusters to transit agencies participating in the survey, collect and analyze data from the survey, produce graphics, conduct document editing, and produce the draft and final deliverables.

1 Comment
  1. Looking for sample RFP for design/build transit operation control center

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