Technology: Bus operations made easy

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


After decades in the IT industry, Ian Mitchell transferred his skills to buses by developing an automated system to aid operators’ day-to-day dealings

Technology: Bus operations made easy
ToursBW founder Ian Mitchell says the ToursBW interface is easy to use and makes it simple to keep track of costs

 

The job of a bus operations manager is all-embracing – from planning, directing and coordinating bus operations to supervising staff and knowing the whereabouts of a single student.

That’s why Ian Mitchell created his own bus operations software system.

He discovered that smaller bus operators have even more problems, so he developed a ‘paperless office’ to ensure all aspects of the business were as automated as possible.

Having driven school buses in Brisbane for three years to earn extra cash while retired, Mitchell soon realised the constraints a bus operations manager faced on a daily basis.

Not only did everyone within the company depend on the manager’s knowledge, but that person became increasingly irreplaceable. The smaller companies faced an even greater challenge because the owner/manager had to do it all on their own.

Mitchell, 76, who’s been involved in the IT industry since its early days, took it upon himself to rewrite the major system – which was started in 2003 – and create a simplified, web-based software system that would take away the challenges a small bus company faced.

This has led to a ‘paperless online system’ called ToursBW (www.toursbw.net).
The paperless online system can be run on any computer device which has a browser, including smartphones, and maintains a list of customers, addresses, vehicles and drivers, with all the data stored securely on the website.

Customers are offered a free 60-day trial, with the ongoing cost being $50 a month.

"When I was working at a bus company, I realised the chaos that resulted whenever the schedules were disrupted by some crises or other," Mitchell says.

"The operations manager had to do everything; essentially they were the crisis manager.
"When you’ve got 40 buses on the road, there is always a crisis. When you have one or

two buses on the road, especially when they may be subcontracted, there are still crises. The manager had to make decisions based on their knowledge of where the bus was, as well as any related issues such as a parent who needs to take their kid off the bus.

"They would have to address all these issues from experience because there was nothing else available except in spreadsheets that helped them control which bus was going where," he adds.

"Many decisions I’m sure cost the company a hell lot of money because no one is perfect, certainly not under those stressful circumstances.

"Also, if they weren’t there, it often didn’t get sorted out at all.

 

Simple yet efficient

Designed for small operators, ToursBW offers 24/7 customer assistance.
"My personal belief is that I’ve created software which is a service to the industry," Mitchell says.

"The cheapest competitors, with similar functionality, are $150 per month. They probably are a lot fancier than mine and certainly flashier.

"Mine is a bit pedestrian because it ensures that all the bases are covered, so it’s much more effective and efficient.

"The discipline of using my software makes your business totally sound. If you make use of all the features, you have a complete business."

Because the system has been developed making use of open source software, ToursBW’s overheads are minimal, which makes it affordable.

 

User friendly

Even those who have never used a computer can easily get the hang of ToursBW, Mitchell says.

There are many videos on the ToursBW website that explain the system in detail. These are available with a click or two of the mouse.

"It’s really intended for charters and tour people so it completely handles all the office work they need to do," he says.

"A customer can make a booking by going to the owner’s website, which is linked into ToursBW, and entering the required details. The owner can then call or email the customer with a quote. 

"The customer contact is intentional, so that the customer then feels that they are dealing with real people: customer service.

"The booking entry in the system enables the owner to send the customer quotes or invoices or any other relevant document. 

"When the booking is confirmed, the system automatically prepares the jobs required for the worksheet, which is effectively the daily diary for the business."

While ToursBW has only been live for six months, it continues to grow.

"It’s ideal for operators with as few as one to five buses," Mitchell says. "And this price
will only increase when the fleet grows beyond six buses."
Mitchell, who’s been in the computer industry since 1963, says he’s passionate about the bus industry because, for some, it’s a "real battle" out there.

"The guy that’s running his single bus has got a lot of paperwork to keep check of; he has to run a diary, have a couple of books and usually needs an assistant," Mitchell says.
"He needs somebody to be able to look after the system while he’s not there."
There is one bus company currently using the system and Mitchell hopes to see the number of customers grow soon.

Making use of 50 years’ experience in computers, he has designed ToursBW with its own security, independent of any other security systems.

 

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