The digitalisation of bus depot daily routines

The daily routines in a depot can in many cases be improved by digitalisation. By digitalisation we man that manual labor is performed by machines and computers. This should not be considered to be a threat to existing bus maintenance personnel. But instead as an opportunity to work with the right things. The benefits of this digitalisation as you will see below is substantial. As a role of thumb the potential is a saving of 100,000 € a year on a fleet of 100 buses.


The actors in this domain consists of both vehicle manufacturers, but what is special about the bus domain is that there are a lot of third party systems mounted in a bus after it has been delivered by the vehicle manufacturer. As a rule of thumb these systems constitue 10% of the total costs of the bus. And in many cases these systems are not integrated with the bus nor with each other. Since all these individual systems have their own diagnostics and on top of that you have the individual systems coming on the bus – such as the AC systems it becomes a big mess for the end customer. The personnel who need to solve the “everyday problems” have different diagnostics interfaces for different systems. If you on top of this add the fact that most depots have vehicle supply from different vehicle vendors. It really becomes a big problem to have the skill of personell to handle all of these different systems.

But one of the most basic components is a connection to the bus containing basic information on the IT-health of the bus. The bus manufacturers have done an excellent job in developing this interface. Please read about this interface in the following blog-post “Tips on how to specify BUS-FMS when purchasing new buses”.

The connection of CAN data emanating from the BUS-FMS interface gives you a linkage to signals in the bus witch, with the right tools gives you an instrument to avoid errors, save engines, save manual labour hours and ease administration work. If you are interested in BUS-FMS, please go to the BusFMS forum.
15_1285788544-1The maintenance work dealing with a big fleet of vehicles can be a turbulent job marked by unexpected events. As the depot manager you carry on great responsibilities when functioning buses is a cornerstone for a smooth public transport operation. There is clearly a drive from the depot manager to have a vehicle reserve in order to maintain a smooth operation. But this is heavily contradicted by the overall economy of running a bus-fleet. The reason is that spare buses constitute a pure cost. It is particularly important to work proactively to avoid failures, and also to keep track of where and how often they occur.
We have divided the activities in a number of different phases where each phase is a special way of working.

  1. Proactive work
  2. Reactive work
  3. Administration work
  4. Predictive work

The first phase is the proactive work that deals with the prevention of potential events. This can include things like having the right temperature in the buses before use. In Sweden, for example, there are union rules that say it must not be colder than + 7 ° where the driver sits. Authorities make unannounced controls and issue high penalties if it is found that drivers work in buses that are colder than + 7 °. It can be difficult to keep track of the temperature in the bus even though the buses are connected with heat coming from a ramp or in some cases specific diesel heaters. A common saying is that buses have a K-value as a tent – it is simply not isolated and if the bus is heated – it loses energy very quickly and thus the cost of heating a bus in a depot are high.
Another frequent problem is batteries losing power. The reason can be manifold, cold temperature or worn out batteries that no longer accepts charges. Another big reason is that there are many auxiliary systems nowadays that are connected to the same energy source. We have seen examples of auxiliary systems that uses more power than a normal charger can produce!!! The result is that the bus does not start when the driver tern the key, which often leads to a situation where there has to be more spare buses that really is necessary. There are as you understand huge benefits in reducing the vehicle reserve. The vehicle reserve vary from below 8% up to more than 14%. It is easy to calculate what that difference means to a customer.

The second phase is the reactive work in a depot. Things happen for no reason. Buses break down and how the organisation reacts on this makes a real difference. The events that happen are in some cases catastrophic, it can for example include engine failures in form of overheating or the loss if oil pressure. By connecting to the CAN-bus network the depot personell  get access to signals which concern the engine status. This makes it possible to monitor the fleet during the usage.Despite indications of engine failure on the control panel, it happens all too often that the driver does not stop the bus. It may be due to inattention, stress or neglect. The result can lead to engine damage with major economic consequences. A new engine and spare parts costs high sums of money as well as the bus is taken out of service and can be in repair for weeks. With notifications to the computer or cellphone, selected personnel have the chance to call the driver as the event occurs, and stop the bus before it breaks down.

The third phase is the administration work. The administration process involves the collection of statistics and reports on a periodic basis, e.g. once a day or once a month. Collection of odometer data (distance) and emptying of the tachograph are some examples. The bus business has been characterized by manual handlings of data but is now moving into digital paradigm shift where old process get automated. With a connected fleet, and with compiled reports, it is easy to collect data automatically and create KPI reports both for the depot personell and for the fleet managers. The daily work also depend on the input coming from the driver. The driver normally has to report if something is wrong with a vehicle. This is in general done by filling in a manual report and leaving it to the workshop. This task can be digitized by instead giving the driver a user interface, for example an Android based tablet where they can fill in reports on what is wrong with a bus. This is a huge improvement compare to previously where this information was lost, duplicated and not treated in an efficient way.

The fourth phase is the predictive maintenance. By collecting large amount of information and cross-referencing this information with info about when workshop activities are carried through, the depots can perform intelligent analysis and regression analysis on the data material. This means that conclusions can be drawn about when it is necessary or rather ADVISABLE to take a vehicle out of service. E.g. a door is starting to open more slowly or a battery is slowly loosing power. This is a really interesting domain in order to improve operation, but it is not easy due to the complexity of the on-board systems.

For further references, please see the following resources