The adoption of eco-driver training, in conjunction with smart monitoring technologies and a proper incentives system, can be a potent combination of actions to address the fuel-economy and emissions issue for any agency’s urban fleet of buses writes Prashanth Kumar Bachu, Manager – Urban Transport at Embarq WRI India and Pawan Mulukutla, Manager –Urban Transport at Embarq India.
Managing a bus based public transport system is a complex exercise involving route planning, demand estimation, fleet requirement estimation, bus procurement, scheduling, driver and staff recruitment, training, bus operations and monitoring, financial planning, fare fixation, ticketing and cash collection, spare part management, fleet maintenance, fuel procurement and utilisation, infrastructure creation and maintenance, apart from other administrative tasks.
In this web of activity, it is easy to lose focus on human resource management and monitoring for improved fuel-efficiency that accounts for about 35% of the total expenditure of transit agencies. Further, due to multiplicity of variables that impact fuel-efficiency, such as vehicle technology, fuel type, age of the bus, road and traffic conditions on the route operated, etc., it becomes difficult for setting bench-marks for fuel efficiency and put in place training and incentive system to achieve the same.
For example, just a 10% improvement in fuel-efficiency across the fleet in Bangalore city could result in savings of INR 650 million for BMTC annually at current fuel prices. Even with limitations in funding and lack of availability of technology, bus companies in India are focusing on fuel-efficiency as a means to cut costs and reduce their carbon foot-print.
There are various factors that influence the fuel efficiency of buses and hence require a systematic framework to result in practical improvements to the fleet managers. The four key areas that lend improvement to fuel savings or fuel efficiency performance are:
Driving for fuel-efficiency is a combination of understanding of the vehicle that is being driven while also focusing on the external conditions in which the vehicle is being driven. It is well understood that bus drivers experience stressful conditions due to the urban environment in which they operate. Severe traffic congestion, bad road conditions, and impacts of weather, combined with the responsibility of managing passengers and their safety, while at the same time completing the trips as per the schedule. Hence, training to the drivers should be designed to address all the issues, the components of which are discussed here.
Most bus drivers come from the lower economic strata and do not have higher-education qualifications to be eligible for other jobs. It is highly unlikely that these bus drivers understand their responsibility and contribution to the society beyond functioning as a breadearner for their families. Hence, it is fundamental that eco-driving training to the drivers focuses on motivation and stress reduction techniques that include:
- Acknowledgement of the challenges faced by them on the road
- Understanding the importance of their roles for urban development
- Responsibility towards the safety and comfort of the passengers
- Impact of their work on the sustainability of the organization
- Contribution towards reducing air pollution and improving liveability in the cities
- Larger economic benefit to the country by reducing fuel-consumption
- This results in enhancing the selfrespect of the drivers and thus helps in overcoming the stress experienced by them as part of their job and continue to keep their focus on the responsibility they shoulder.
Over the past many decades, bus technologies/types have been changing rapidly. The differences could be significant depending on the type of fuel (Diesel or CNG), location of engine (front or rear), type of bus (air-conditioned or non-airconditioned), technology (mechanical or electronic), type of transmission (manual or automatic, number of gears, gear ratios), the manufacturer and the model, etc. While bus companies can purchase a wide variety of bus technologies/types that are available in the market, if drivers are unaware of how their driving habits influence environmental and economic sustainability, maximum fuel efficiency will not be realized.
Ecological, economical and safe driving (eco-driving) is aimed at reducing fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and accidents. The characteristics of eco-driving are generally defined and characterized as -they involve such things as accelerating moderately, anticipating traffic flow and signals, thereby avoiding sudden starts and stops; maintaining an even driving pace, driving at or safely below the speed limit; and eliminating excessive idling (Barkenbus, 2009).
It is important to note that due to the innate complexity of the task, drivers have to manage multiple goals (safety, fuel efficiency, timeliness, etc.) while driving and the importance of certain goals may vary from time to time leading to priority being given to different goals during different circumstances. At times, some of these goals even compete with each other, such as avoiding traffic violations while in a hurry to reach a destination on time. This could be more in the case of urban driving as opposed to inter-city or regional routes. Hence, training to drivers should incorporate appropriate techniques to improve their awareness of the external environment in order to improve drive quality, fuel efficiency and safety, thus in turn also reducing the wear-and-tear of the vehicles.
Driver training can result in phenomenal outcomes for transit agencies. However, experiments have shown that the impact of training can fade off very quickly and drivers may fall back into old-habits, thus resulting in very marginal benefits. Hence, it is essential to establish processes that facilitate in keeping focus on fuel-efficiency even while managing various other aspects of operating a transit company. These management processes result in continuous data collection to analyse and monitor the performance of the drivers. Process management for fuel efficiency involves the following steps:
- Fixing the drivers to the buses and buses to the route
- Re-fuelling the bus at the end of every day
- Bus malfunctions report
- Management Information System (MIS) Tools
- Continuous training program
Typically, the bus manufacturers provide a routine preventive maintenance schedule for each type of vehicle based on the known fault rates of individual parts. However, some bus agencies have established a much more stringent practice that include daily inspection, weekly check-up, minor monthly service, major service every quarter and then a comprehensive service annually that includes painting of bus exterior and refurbishing the interiors that may have deteriorated.
The daily malfunction report submitted by the drivers is attended to during the nights as part of the daily inspection, thus avoiding any breakdown of the vehicle while on its schedule and hence ensuring the maximum fleet utilisation. Regular checking of tyre pressure and changing of air-filters provide the best returns in fuel-efficiency. Apart from this, each depot of 100 buses employs a special Fuel-Economy Mechanic who specialises in tuning of the vehicles to achieve maximum efficiency for a given condition of driving environment.
Since vehicle maintenance is as essential for the best fuel-economy performance as that of the drivers, it is logical that the inventive program include benefits for the mechanical staff of the depot as well. This allows for a teamwork environment between the drivers and mechanics who otherwise could blame each-other for poor performance.
Drivers, at the end of the day are human beings and given the degree of stress levels coming from noise, air pollution and traffic congestion they have to endure, coupled with the pressures of performance (timeliness, fuel efficiency, safe driving, etc.), there is clearly a need to provide them training and motivation from time to time in order to help them handle these stressful work situations better and ensure their actions are aligned with the company’s vision and mission (i.e. they are eco-driving as a normal practice).
A well-designed monetary incentive program based on practical fuelefficiency targets is necessary in order to create a sense of ownership among employees. The various incentives can include: Revenue Sharing Incentive, Fuel-Efficiency Incentive and Spare Parts Incentive. The last one can help avoid the tendency of the depot staff to replace parts frequently in-order maximise their fuel-economy incentive, thus resulting in excess cost to the organization.
Given the number of components, the incentives need to be carefully calibrated so as to balance off each other such that staff does not attempt to maximize one at the cost of others. Incentives should also be coupled with strict disciplinary actions to be effective.
Disbursement of Incentives
While calibration of incentives could be a complex process, it is also important to strategie the disbursements to maximise psychological impacts of the incentives. Simply clubbing the incentives along with the salary may not be effective as the staff members may not understand how each of their action contributed. Agencies such as Andhra Pradesh Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) have pioneered this aspect over the years and implemented the following schedule:
- Revenue being the sustaining factor for the organization, this incentive is paid out to the drivers and conductors on a daily basis at the end of their shift.
- Fuel-efficiency incentive is accumulated and is paid to the drivers and mechanics on a monthly basis. However, it is paid separately in the middle of the month unlike their salary which is disbursed on the last day of the month.
- Incentives on spare parts are either accounted monthly or quarterly.
It is important to recognise that computation of incentives is a data intensive process and hence requires comprehensive MIS implementation to enable full transparency and consistency in the procedures.