Home > Forums
Topic Title: Lean in public transportation
Topic Summary: How can lean be applied to this sector? which areas are sensitive to its application?
Created On: 04/14/2010 11:16 AM
Linear : Threading
Send to a Friend Send to a Friend
Search Topic Search Topic
Topic Tools Topic Tools
View similar topics View similar topics
View topic in raw text format. Print this topic.
04/14/2010 11:51 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Luis Noel Dorta

Hi everybody,

I am a former of Industrial Management student who is developing his graduate thesis. The title is "Lean Manufacturing applied to public transportation" and I am suppose to develop a case of study in the Budapest local transportation company.

Even thou at the beginning of the development I was enthusiastic it, now I feel cautious and critic about the usefulness of this approach to this sector. Concepts like value identification or flow are interesting from the passenger point of view but I have found difficult to go forward at the operative level.

So my question is do you think public transportation can benefit from a lean approach? Why? Why not? And if so, which business areas do you find more sensitive to its implementation?

I know this is a wide question, even reaching a philosophical level. But i need some criticism and fresh ideas as my time to decide if continue with this project or drop it is getting close. Also I do not have the experience some of you may have and I am looking forward enriching with it.

Thanks in advance and congratulations for this great source of information.

PD: I can post later some details of the theoretical development I have made, but, I found more interesting at this point getting some raw opinions.
04/15/2010 10:25 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Mark Rosenthal

Any human activity can benefit from a process of systematically examining what works, what does not work, and why. Ultimately that is what the "lean approach" does. From operations issues such as safety, equipment reliability, and maintaining schedule to the back office things that any enterprise, even public transportation, has to do, there are benefits to adopting the thinking behind the "lean approach."

There is nothing special or unique about public transportation that would say "They are as good as they can get."
04/16/2010 08:48 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
John Podlasek

The problem as you state with public transportation is that it is not customer focused. You said it yourself.
"Concepts like value identification or flow are interesting from the passenger point of view but I have found difficult to go forward at the operative level."
So of course public transportation can improve. It has to. How are we ever going to achieve the Star Trek world if we continue to grasp onto outdated technologies and systems.
So if you want to understand why lean is not successful in this area or any other its because the customer is not the focus of all activities. Every govt intstitution is sensitive to lean, since it requires change and competion. Public transportation is a govt controlled monopoly.

Turn over public transportation to the free market and watch lean work. In a free market as defined by Ludwig von Mises and FA Hayek, and as defined by lean, the customer is always the main focus of all activities.

04/16/2010 03:21 PM
Print this message

Author Icon
Matthew Spielman

Having driven in the evening Budapest rush hour, I can believe there are improvements needed to the public transportation system! Also, I very much agree with Mark: anything can use improvement, and we all have unique experiences and talents to identify them. I see things all the time with my "lean eyes," outside of work, and I think to myself, "Here is an obvious area for improvement."

That was your fundamental question, but I am sure you have more. This may or may not help, but I can imagine a lot scenarios to review:

Customer Value
The first question for any lean problem. What customer problem are you trying to solve?

You will need to ask customers directly, of course. Also, don't forget to ask potential customers who choose the "competitor"--their own personal cars! Again, having experienced Budapest rush hour, I think an efficient public transportation system would have a lot to offer. There will always be people who feel prestige at owning a car. There will also always be destinations that are not yet served. But there are probably other reasons, too.

For the purposes of discussion, let me propose some customer needs:

Speed: To arrive at their destination quickly.
Convenience: To not have to walk far to get to the station, particularly in times of bad weather. (cold and rain) Also, to not have long to wait for a train at the station.
Comfort: To have a comfortable seat waiting on a train. They probably have a preference for sitting rather than standing, particularly over a long distance. They also will want to avoid being crowded on the station and on the train.

Once you identify your customers' needs, you can judge how well you meet each. Areas where you are not meeting customer needs will then become priorities for improvement. What you do next depends on this, but I can imagine some specific questions that may drive improvements:

At the platform:
Do people face standard work to get on the train? Do they get tickets in a common way? Are connections convenient for people, both in terms of coordinated time and short distance?

Do the trains meet takt time? How are peak demand periods met? Do the platforms fill with people between trains? (this is WIP) Could trains be more frequent to reduce crowding on the platform, and discomfort for people?

Is taking the train slower than driving by car? If so, why? Where are people starting and ending their rides? If these are far apart, would an express option be advisable? I see this last question as being similar to airlines, with the hub-and-spoke vs. point-to-point argument.

Although I have asked a few possible questions, it is important that you ask the actual customers: otherwise you are solving an imaginary problem! (or, your own ideas of a problem--too narrow of an audience) If you follow that, any process can be improved: a coffee shop, an automobile dealership, an airline, a help desk--anything!

Good luck; I am very interested to hear your progress.
04/19/2010 09:14 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Joe Schriever

You've already received some great suggestions on lean public transportation from the customer's point of view. Now take a look at the underlying structure of public transportation. If you look at the maintenance functions that support the trains and buses (the rolling stock) you will find such things as huge parts inventories wile vehicles sit waiting for parts, vehicles waiting for unscheduled maintenance because of a "run to failure" maintenance program, and maintenance shops that are fail the 5S test. All of this adds cost in the form of extra vehicle requirements (because of long down-times), obsolete and overstock inventories, additional tools and equipment requirements because of poor planning and scheduling of maintenance work, and lost time as craftsmen look for parts and tools.

This part of the infrastructure supporting public transportation is a major cost center that could be a good opportunity for you to apply lean concepts. I think it may be easier than trying to rearrange bus schedules to move customers from train stations to their end destinations.

04/21/2010 10:42 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Matthew Spielman

I agree with you that internal processes are likely the easiest place to start. What I see, however, is that unless there is a clear goal in mind, you lose a lot of benefit. There will certainly be too many opportunities to address them all simultaneously. Without the overall goal, the actions taken tend to be prioritized by coincidence (e.g. because the lean evangelist is in that department) or in a disjointed manner, which does not end up having a noticable impact on your custsomer. (the whole is less than the sum of the parts) I also think it would be hard to get the entire leadership team to support the effort without a specific, customer-focused goal.

To illustrate, let me elaborate on my example:

Say your customer information comes back that there is too much congestion during rush hour. This could come from a number of data points:
The stations could be above their safe capacity for emergency evacuation
Average wait time could balloon because trains pull into the station already full, and customers have to wait for the next train
Customer satisfaction could be noticably worse at rush hour than at other times, or at "downstream" stations vs. upstream ones.

Say that you have 750 cars active during rush hour, which is currently your peak capacity. (I have no idea what such a number would really be) In order to address peak capacity, you calculate that you would need 1,000 active cars.

The director says "But we can't afford to buy more cars! And don't we actually already own 1,050 cars anyway!?!"

You investigate the difference between active cars and total cars and discover that most of the remaining cars are in the maintenance shop undergoing corrective maintenance. As Joe surmises, it turns out that there is little preventive maintenance to keep cars predictably in service.

Priority 1: Institute a preventive maintenance program, focused on achieving peak capacity.

After the pm program is instituted, you measure your available capacity. You are now up to 850 cars available. Not at the goal, but much improved. (and hopefully in more, shorter trains rather than just on longer ones) You investigate the pm program, and find that it is not consistently executed. Working with the maintenance team, you discover that they run out of the spare parts they need to complete their maintenance. This is despite a large inventory of parts, some of which are rarely or ever used now, since the pm has reduced breakage of durable parts.

Priority 2: Institute inventory control, with regular deliveries to coincide with the pm schedule and a reduced stock of spares for corrective maintenance, to reflect the new breakage pattern.

...and so on. The power of the stories in The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager was that they showed that improvements come in a sequence, one after the other. And, the sequence is unique, depending on where you are and where you want to go. The customer problem points you to where your next issue is, and keeps you from being distracted by valid issues that don't contribute to the goal. It helps you prioritize and keeps you from being overwhelmed.
04/28/2010 09:19 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Tesa Patton


I think this is a noble effort and an excellent arena to bring Lean (Continuous Improvement) thinking. You have already gotten a lot of good feedback, so the only other thing that I can offer is to include the taxpayer as "customer" in your scenario. Continuous Imrprovement thinking has something to offer anyone within any organization. Some will understand the value of looking at the operation to improve safety and efficiency. Others will deeply feel the customer as "riders" and will be able to focus their efforts there. In our current economy, with as many budgetary cuts as most municipalities are dealing with, adding in the element of how the service is paid for and how the cost can be reduced while increasing service offering is something that taxpayers would be interested in seeing and could be something that decision makers could get a good response from talking about.
04/28/2010 09:19 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Shankar Vardaraj

Lean can be applied to any human activity. For Government Transportation sector, Lean can be applied to, but not limited to, supply chain areas, service activities, routes it serves people, etc.
04/28/2010 09:19 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Anthonie Jakobs

Luis, you have tackled a huge task. For me clearly to big to handle as these for your study. So, as some already replied, you better pick a subtask out of this field. Like the maintenance issue, although that is a pretty big task by itself. More in general I would ask your attention for the task of outlining your atsk: what belongs to it, and what not. This is not easy to do up front - it requires a pre-study at least. I do not know your tutors advice of course, but some guidance here would help you.
As for applying lean philosophy to such as public transport: of course it works. Having said that, in production you can make big steps without touching upper management too much. In public transport (or comparable fields) you get quickly to questions to management. That is pretty challenging anyway, leave alone for a student.
So again, try to confine yourself to a smaller field within public transport in Budapest. Here management can help you to define one. They will have a long list of topics to improve. When you succeed in bringing a well defined project to a good end, you will learn more then from a too big project - that probably ends up in frustration.
Still I welcome your idea of this thesis, and I wish you good luck.
04/28/2010 10:49 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Jim Fry

Luis - thanks for sharing and asking for help! Your openness helps others through this forum. Use "purpose-base" thinking to guide your case study. Are you "selling" lean thinking to the transporation industry or government? Then you have to show how it can powerfully add value and bring improvement. Are you showing how lean-methods can improve a transportation company's product or service (and therefore profit or cost)? Then you would focus your case study differently (within a specific operation). Here are some thoughts that may help:
* Transportation (good or bad) will affect a local economy, community safety, and quality of life. Using lean principles, transit systems can be optimized. Governments can apply them for growth plans, road layouts, traffic patterns, oversight methods (signs, lights, costs, etc.).
*Transportation company's provide services & products that will be bad, good, better, or best. Lean methods will bring improvement.

I hope this help! ...Jim Fry
04/28/2010 04:49 PM
Print this message

Author Icon
Dave Nicholls


All very good advice but I will give you all a word of warning. Dont over complicate everything!!!!

This is why a lot of improvements never get off the ground because we (People), over complicate everything and it falls over.
Try just starting out with 5s, leading and managing change and team work, and use PDCA on all improvements.

Also dont get too hung up on solving all the problems yourself.....Identify what the customers needs are, and the solutions will fall out of that.

Good luck.

04/29/2010 09:51 PM
Print this message

Author Icon
Steven Johnson

A different perspective.

Perhaps public transport just isn't lean.
It causes people to be batched into train, tram or bus sized loads,
We have lots of human inventory standing around waiting to be processed by the transport mode,
We get rework at every turn, indirect journeys, and transfer between modes.

Perhaps the car is the lean alternative, it goes where we want, when we want it with minimal inventory (except the vehicle) and it generally goes directly to the destination.
Perhaps applying lean to public transport would be better used to solve the problems of road congestion?
06/16/2010 09:45 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Luis Noel Dorta

Hi everybody,
Thanks for your insights and support, it really makes me feel better after so much thinking about it. It is a surprise to have so many replies, I thought I was going to get emails alerting me but it was not the case...

Sadly I was not able to develop a practical case, I have contacted the local supplier and it was not possible because some different issues (like language, I am Spanish, they speak Hungarian ? ); so, I ended up developing a theoretical work.

There have been written so many interesting ideas here, I particularly loved the one of seeing the tax payers as customers; in the cities where the public transportation depends from the government they usually forget this fact.
I think I also read people talking about maintenance of vehicles and spare parts requirements so I want to share that I had the chance to visit a depot which have 350 buses, from them only 290 were running fine, the rest had different degrees of failure; the interesting thing is that the service require 301 buses (yes, some of them go out with problems).

This same depot had to go through a 3 weeks delay of bureaucracy, and 1 week of waiting to be able to get a spare part. This of course means more buses broken waiting for time to be fixed, and the most incredible thing is that the head of the depot could not do anything about it. I could see real life that improving maintenance through lean and improving process with lean services could be invaluable.

For me it was difficult to adapt the lean principles to the movement of people, at the end I thought in the way passengers travel from one point to another and the "wastes" they encounter, finally I coined the concept of "flow of passengers" as a way of improving quality.

This flow of passengers could be achieved through integration of infrastructure, routes and services. So the passenger see the service as a connected whole. Another critical characteristic would be the usability of the service, the access and availability of information. The more integrated and easier to use the service is the more quality and best flow of passengers the system will provide.

I am interested on your thoughts about this concept, I believe that public transportation should be seen as a whole and apply lean in the whole structure, anyway it is really difficult (and complicated) as there are so many factors involved.

The thesis is finished and if anybody is interested it will be a pleasure to provide it; I would appreciate any feedback as I was proposed to write a paper by me teacher.

Thanks again and have a good day!

Click for full image
Click for larger image

Click for full image
Click for larger image

06/17/2010 04:27 PM
Print this message

Author Icon
Matthew Spielman

I'm sorry you couldn't get to a practical application of your ideas; maybe Madrid or Barcelona would be interested!

I think you have the right idea regarding the the flow of passengers; for many service businesses, people are the product. You can see similar ideas in the book Lean Solutions, where Womack calls airport passengers "self-sorting human cargo." There is a similar paradigm for dentistry in Follow the Learner.

I am very interested to see your ideas. I currently work in a service business (IT) and I am very interested in lean applications to other service areas. For example, I see a lot of applications for me from all the attention given to lean healthcare right now. My email is reeshau@yahoo.com.
06/18/2010 10:31 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Mac Murillo

Hi, Luis I speak spanish and Hungarian if you need some help, "con gusto te puedo ayudar con algunas dudas si lo requieres, no participo mucho en los foros pero si en algo te puedo servir con mucho gusto estoy para servirte". My work is rail road desing.

Mac Arturo macarturo@costaricense.cr
06/25/2012 12:35 PM
Print this message

Author Icon
Ali Mazhar

Hi Luis,
Now I'm trying to apply lean principles to Toronto public transport system for my course project and seems that it is so close to yours. I would be appreciated if provide me your findings so we can discuss about it later on.
My e-mail address: kayvan.mazhar@gmail.com
06/26/2012 11:37 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Pramod Tol


Please pass on to me too the steps for applying lean in public transport.
09/03/2013 06:59 AM
Print this message

Author Icon
Chinu B

I am a lean specialist and currently working in a public transport organization in transit maintenance. I spent my precious 3.5 years of applying lean tools. I will say proudly that I was able to apply some lean tools and showed some success together with teams.
On the other hand the changes I have made together with teams in this public transport organization in 3.5 years, in a JAPANESE manufacturing plant theses changes could have been achieved in 6 months to 1 year. I will not say that the difficulty is in getting buy in from the associates doing the real leg work like Technicians or clerks. The problem lies in the vision of the top management or missing KPI's. Management will take LEAN principles as threat to their way of "OLD STYLE MANAGEMENT". To apply lean you need to work HARD and you need to CHANGE ground principles and at the pace these organizations runs, the challenge is that how long a LEAN specialist who are passionate will hold our fort against the MASS RESISTANCE or POLITICS.

I am trying hard to get the buy in from the seniors, ground level associates are ready because the technicians or associates are like your KIDS. Kids will check your limits and will perform accordingly. If management does not guide or set expectations, you cannot blame the kids. (THIS IS MY BELIEF and I stand by it proudly)

Just for knowledge I had 15 years of Lean manufacturing experience with Japanese manufacturing companies before I joined Government.

I would wish you best of luck.
Note: These forums are moderated by the Lean Enterprise Institute. All posts are reviewed within 24-48 hours prior to appearing on the site. Views expressed in these forums do not necessarily represent the views of the Lean Enterprise Institute.