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Center Identification Number:  77907   

Project Title:  Best Practices in Fixed-Route Bus Transit Dispatch – Management and Function

Principal Investigators:

William P. Morris, Senior Research Associate
Phone: 813-974-6804

Christopher P. DeAnnuntis, Senior Research Associate
Phone: 813-974-8942


Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida
Fax: 813-974-5168

External Project Contact:     

Elizabeth Stutts
Florida Department of Transportation Grants Program Administrator
(850) 414-4530

I.  Start and End Dates

Start Date:  February 2009               Expected End Date: August 2010

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 fixed-route bus dispatch function, but extraboard management is but one of the many aspects of operating a transit system managed by Fixed-route bus 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 both within Florida and around the country.

The primary essential functions of fixed-route bus dispatch that are common among transit systems are known and are categorized as two-way radio communications between dispatchers and bus operators, assignment of bus coaches to bus operators, ensure that all bus runs are filled to maintain scheduled service, and incident/accident management.  However, very little is known about the differences between transit agencies in terms of the manner in which fixed-route bus dispatch is structured, the operational practices and procedures that dispatchers follow, and a catalogue of all of the functions of fixed-route bus dispatch.  This NCTR project will investigate best practices, standard operating procedures and uses of technology in dispatch for small, medium, and large transit agencies.  Specifically, a survey of the transit agencies will be conducted to gain, at a minimum, the following:

  1. Catalogue the functions of fixed-route bus dispatch

  2. Investigate interface of dispatch with other organizational functions

  3. Summarize standard operating policies, procedures and responsibilities of dispatch

  4. Identify best practices, including processes and technology

  5. Assess impacts of new technologies on dispatch efficiency and management

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

II.  Project Abstract

The function of fixed-route bus 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 in the service area 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.

Fixed-route bus dispatch can be a high paced, fast moving and multi-faceted function wherein each day presents new challenges than the day before.  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 deal with transit dispatch but only tangentially addressing the impacts of new technologies such as new communications systems and Computer-Aided –Dispatch (CAD) /Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) packages.

III.  Objectives/Tasks

The proposed scope of services for this project consists of the following tasks:

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 seek to obtain standard operating procedure manuals and training manuals from transit systems or management companies as a means of developing and refining a survey of transit agencies.  Further review of literature will continue throughout most of the research process to supplement any new findings. 

Task 2:  Survey Transit Agencies Regarding Current Practices and Functions of Fixed-Route Bus 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 distribute the survey instrument to the Florida Operations Network (FON) and the TRB Bus Transit Systems Committee (AP050) prior to wide distribution.  The survey may be divided into one survey for dispatchers and one survey for operations managers. 

With involvement through the Florida Operations Network, CUTR anticipates conducting interviews with local transit agencies as well as transit agencies outside the state of Florida. 

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 three transit agencies (one small, one medium and one large) will be selected for in-depth case study including interviews and field observations. Field observations of actual dispatch environments are a critical component to gain understanding of the similarities, but more importantly, the differences in dispatch functions between transit agencies. To the extent feasible, Florida transit systems will be utilized for such observations, but there could be out-of-state systems that are critical to the conduct of this research. Field observations will consist of a time component analysis to determine the percentage of time dispatchers spend on different functions. A report will be produced that will summarize the data gathered from each case study.

Task 4: Model Standard Operating Procedure

The final 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 attempt to 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 or employ minimal computerized functions.

Task 5:  Final Report

The final task of the research will be to give practitioners and other transportation professionals a resource to greater understanding fixed-route bus dispatch, identify future research opportunities, 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.

IV. Deliverables

Deliverables for this project will include the following:

Quarterly Progress Reports – These will be provided to FDOT Project Manager and Research Office.  Reports will include the following sections:

1.      Work done in quarter being reported

2.      Work to be done in next quarter

3.      Requested modifications to Scope, Budget, or Schedule, as appropriate

4.      An updated schedule 

Technical Memorandum 1 – Literature Review and Survey Results

Technical Memorandum 2 – Case Studies

Technical Memorandum 3 – Model Standard Operating Procedure

Final Report

NOTE:  All written deliverables will be submitted in electronic format to the Research Center for processing.  Electronic reports will be e-mailed to Sandra Bell at  Hard copies will be sent to the following address:                  

Sandra Bell, Research Contracts Administrator

Florida Department of Transportation

605 Suwannee Street, MS 30

                Tallahassee, FL 32399-0450

V.  Project Schedule


























VI.  Project Budget

Salaries and Fringe                                        83,809.12

Fixed Price Sub Total                                      83,809.12

Indirect Cost (fixed price subtotal x 10%)    8,380.91

Total Fixed Price Amount                             92,190.03


Total Lump Sum Amount (Salaries and Benefits)                92,190.03

Expenses                                                                                         1,900.00

Travel                                                                                                 5,200.00

Cost Reimbursable (Subtotal)                                                     7,100.00

Indirect Costs (cost reimbursable subtotal x 10%)                     710.00  

Total Project Cost                                                                         100,000.03      

VII. Equipment

The acquisition of a license to Surveymonkey tm   will be required to conduct this study.

VIII. Travel

This NCTR project is fortunate that the Florida Transit Operations Network will meet at the annual Florida Public Transportation Association meeting in Jacksonville in October 2009.  This conference is funded from other sources and will not require NCTR travel funds.  As noted earlier, field observations of transit bus dispatch operations are a critical component to gain understanding of this topic.  Travel expenses will be incurred to conduct field observations of case studies identified during the conduct of the research, both in and out of state.  i

IX. Implementation

This research project is intended as an application tool to the transit industry. 

X. Student Involvement

No graduate student involvement is anticipated in this study.

XI. Relationship to Other Research Projects

This project will draw on the experience and knowledge gained through discussions with representatives of transit agencies and other secondary research related to important issues in dispatch.

XII. Technology Transfer Activities/Peer Review

The results of this analysis will be provided to the FDOT through a series of technical memoranda and a final report. The final report will be contained on the CUTR and NCTR web sites, with final reports to the FDOT, and USDOT Office of Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA).

XIII. Potential Benefits of the Project

Transit agencies that do not have standardized operating procedures for the dispatch function will have a report describing examples of the best practices in dispatch to assist them. Other transit and transportation professionals will have a much more detailed and thorough understanding of fixed-route bus dispatch functions.

XIV. TRB Keywords

Dispatch, bus operator, transit operations.

National Center for Transit Research · at the Center For Urban Transportation Research · University of South Florida · 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 · Tampa, FL 33620-5375 · (813) 974-3120 · (813) 974-5168 · · Comments: