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Voices of Remix Scheduling: David Bruffy

In a time of driver shortages and upended demand patterns, transit scheduling has never been more complicated. That’s why schedulers across the country are ditching pen and paper and leveraging modern tools. Hear from transit leaders at the innovative transit agencies who use Remix Scheduling to streamline their work and respond proactively to their communities’ needs.

Via Transportation •

Recommended reading:  Want to back up and meet some more innovative transit leaders? Read our “Voices of Via" series. Want to dig in and learn more about the Remix Scheduling product?  Check out our Remix Scheduling overview.

Spotlight on: David Bruffy, CEO of Mountain Line Transit Authority in Morgantown, West Virginia. Having been working in the agency for 25 years, Bruffy oversees the development, design and redesign of the city’s bus system, watching ridership grow more than 500%. He leads a senior management team that succeeded in earning public approval to secure a $9 million Excess Property Tax Levy on their first offering to the public.  Before Mountain Line Transit, he worked at the City of Morgantown for ten years overseeing several public services including transit projects planning and management, the Community and Economic Development Program and building inspections.

You’ve watched ridership at MLTA grow dramatically over your 25 years at the agency. How have you managed to keep up with demand and respond to your community’s changing needs over time? 

DB: When we first started, we were providing about 325,000 rides a year. And at our peak, we were at 1.3 million. And so the customer complaints, the customer interaction, the accidents… you know, the administrative burden just goes proportionally.   I had 14 - 18 drivers, three mechanics, and a receptionist — so the only way we were going to be able to grow was to use automation. That was obvious, we didn’t have the extra funds to be able to do anything else. At this point, we probably have three times as many devices and computers as we do people. Any time we could automate, that’s what I tried to push us to. 

What do you think helped you recognize technology as the way forward for your agency?

DB: Part of that’s my personality and my background. When I was in grad school, I took a job as a teaching assistant helping fellow students learn how to run statistical analysis software on the mainframe, to teach them how to use an IBM PC, and Apple — this was in 1985. And I was pretty much hooked at that point.  When I worked at the City of Morgantown for 10 years, in various departments, I started their first geographic information system, and built their first website, which was HTML code.  You know, so I used technology, so of course I wasn’t going to walk away from that when I moved into transit. 

What inspired you to make the move to transit? 

DB: I helped consolidate the Monongalia County Transit System and the City of Morgantown Transit System when I worked as Assistant Manager at the City of Morgantown. When the GM position again opened for Mountain Line, I applied and was selected as its second GM. As a new organization, I knew there would be an opportunity to grow and develop this vital community service. 

How have you seen transit planning and scheduling evolve over your time at MLTA?

DB: In the early pencil and paper days, a couple of more senior drivers reached out and thought they could come up with a better schedule. And I gave them a week to work on it and show me what they got. And after about three days, they were like, “I don't think we can do this”. And I was like, “yeah, it's not as easy as you think it is.” I think the biggest change or evolution in scheduling is being able to use software to go in and put in the headways, making sure that you have a full accounting for the system. We’ve been working with Remix since 2017, and using the software has been our biggest opportunity to improve our scheduling for our workforce: to make sure we allow time, through routing and runcutting, to be able to keep the service on time for the public and to really take the stress off of the administration.

What can you do with Remix that you couldn’t have done with pen and paper, or spreadsheet software? 

DB: Well during COVID, We used Remix to create a service schedule checklist, so we had service levels A through K. We published the service level, so the public could see what it was.

Did you create different schedules for each service level?

DB: Yes exactly. So when the shift supervisors came in, if they had five people who called off because they had been exposed to Covid or they tested positive, the shift supervisor knew that we're at service Level E. And they would broadcast that out. We had used remix to change our runcut based on the number of drivers that we would have available.  We tried to fill gaps in transit deserts. So on a route that we had 30 minutes service, we had two buses running every hour, we would be one of the first ones that we would cut four or five hours out of it for that day. We had those similar strategies so we were trying to minimize the impact on the community. We knew we couldn't keep from impact, but we could at least reduce the impact and try to make sure that everybody had a ride. If we were trying to do that manually and figure out those options, it would have taken forever.

Given kind of the complexity of what you're describing, how much of your time was like working on the rebid in the college town? Did you publish the rebid and then have to start working on the next one immediately? What was that timing?

DB: We've grown our service tremendously over 25 years, from an $800,000 operation to an eight-million-dollar operation now. The university contracts us to do a lot of services open to the public. But anytime they wanted to tweak a schedule like running the service an hour earlier or an hour later, that wrecked the whole world. We needed to start everything from scratch.  We would rebid just three times a year and those coincided with the fall semester, the spring semester in the summer schedule. Because the service levels in the spring are higher than they are in the summer, we don't run for instance our late-night service.

How long do you estimate it takes to finish a bid with the Remix tool, compared to before?

DB: Typically, it would take us at least a month to put together the driver schedules, and now it's less than 40 hours. This product secures better job satisfaction for our employees and takes us to a different level of transit planning.

Sounds like your agency has been really resilient…

DB: Well, we had to be. (pointing to the window behind him in the office) It's where I can look down over the transfer station and really see transit riders. You would see people in McDonald's outfits, people in scrubs, senior couples, and single parents with their kids with grocery bags. We knew who we were serving and we knew they needed this service. So we considered ourselves a vital part of getting through it the pandemic. And really, the Remix tool was a big part of letting us do that much better than we could have. 

How does Remix Scheduling help improve your work efficiency? Any Remix functions that have really helped you with your job?

DB: I think that the thing that's been most impressive about the Remix team is that when we've asked them for specific kinds of output or changes or development on the software, they've always been receptive. And we've got support and guidance not only from their in-house transportation planners, but from engineers as well, who are interested in our feedback and truly understand what we were trying to do from a transit perspective. It's just been a really good partnership for us. I recommend and refer the tool to transit systems all over the place. I also like the runcutting function, which enables us to come up with the most efficient, driver-friendly, and operator-friendly solution, and the presentation feature, which helps us easily show people how the service will look versus the way it is now after route changes. We also use the comment function for better public engagement.  I think some of the new calendaring features that we're exploring now are going to make a huge difference with GTFS feed and being able to just automatically toss that over to Google, and more also exploring other back-end software, options, and solutions for live tracking. 

And the Jane visualizer function helps us better analyze all of the demographic data. When we increase the frequency of these two routes across, we can quickly figure out how many more people will be provided transit options. Before introducing Remix, I was the only person that had the ability to use the GIS system, but now with the user-friendly interface of Remix, half a dozen people on staff can use this tool and do their work.

And Remix is still growing and adding new products. Once we subscribe to them, they're updated, and everything they didn't charge us additionally.

There are many government executives out there who recognize efficient, and easy transit planning is a problem in their community but feel strapped for resources. Given your experience, what advice would you give them?

DB: You can spend the same amount of money to do planning manually and have very little chance to improve it, or you can make the investment to improve over the long term to save money with a more efficient and effective service. I would advise anyone, even a medium-sized system or rural system to really seriously consider using Remix. I think that it could be a very beneficial tool. So there's an opportunity cost when you fail to change or you fail or use technology. It’s an investment in the future.