Saskatoon Transit undergoes a culture change, while automating, optimizing its payroll process

It is no surprise that transit agencies are constantly evaluating where they can shift from manual to automated processes,saving time, money and ultimately improving their transit service for a better customer experience.

But what happens when you have implemented a technology but do not stay up-to-date on upgrades, leverage new features, or teach new staff the tips and tricks to work efficiently?

That is what happened at Saskatoon Transit – which provides over 9 million annual rides in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and employs more than 400 operators, dispatch and other staff. They first purchased Trapeze’s workforce management system (OPS) back in 2006, and they intended to use it to automatically calculate operator pay based on operator assignments, including runs and other work assignments; extra pay records, accounting for delays and special premiums; and absences; all as recorded by the agency’s operations system.

As time passed, the agency’s business processes grew more complex; its accounting rules changed, and the abilities of the pay calculation system improved. Agency management noticed that many aspects of their pay process were not being captured by the automated system. Staff were completing many processes manually, adding extra tasks to employees who were already taking on multiple responsibilities. The manual process added further possibility for errors – which resulted in payroll staff spending more time double checking calculations and it had a ripple effect on employees’ confidence in management.

“When we bought the Trapeze package in 2006, we didn’t realize how to get maximum value out of the operation system,” said James McDonald, director of Saskatoon Transit. “The system was in use, but we still had staff using paper and pencil for some processes. We were not utilizing, or hadn’t fully developed, many of the system’s back-end configurations – so our payroll involved a lot of manual checks to make sure our information was correct.”

“To compound that issue,” added Michael Moellenbeck, operations manager for Saskatoon Transit, “the agency had staff turnover at the supervisory level which managed the system, and turnover within the clerical level who utilized the system. Because of that turnover, we were stuck in a loop: ‘This is how we do payroll. If we change our process, we won’t be able to teach the system to new staff.’”

Optimizing the workforce management system

Saskatoon has a strong desire to constantly improve their organization and they knew there had to be a better way. They made the effort of investigating these processes, seeking to automate as much of the manual payroll as possible. The agency reached out to Trapeze Group, when management felt that the agency was capable of the task, to assist in optimizing Trapeze OPS beyond its base recordkeeping abilities. The agency was aware of the system’s capabilities and was ready to utilize them.

Working with Trapeze, Saskatoon set out on a project to document, thoroughly test and implement new system pay rules that automated these processes. This included implementing system rules to properly capture situations such as employee trades, instructor premiums and situations where work is grouped together as one assignment.

“Anytime our team sees a pay process that that is not automated, we zero in and find out how we can make it simpler for the agency,” said Simon Minelli, industry solutions manager at Trapeze Group. “With Saskatoon, it was a matter of sitting down, reviewing the agency’s manual processes to understand their current situation, then setting rules and customizing the system to fit the city’s needs.”

Thanks to Trapeze’s post-purchase value program, customizations are always possible, which appealed to Saskatoon.

“There are a couple things in our collective agreements that I don’t believe are anywhere else in North America, so we had to put into place a couple workarounds that couldn’t have been foreseen by Trapeze,” McDonald said.

Overall, the project looked at approximately 20 situational improvements. One such improvement came in the payroll process for employees’ partial absences. If an employee worked less than a full shift, the system would automatically log them for an absence and deduct eight hours from his or her pay. Agency staff would cross reference dispatch logs manually correct the employee’s absence to a partial absence, and then adjust the employee’s pay accordingly.

Another example was spread pay.

“It would take about an hour per day for payroll staff to look at every operator that had a break in their work, and calculate if their spread pay was correct,” Moellenbeck said. “After taking full advantage of the system, spread pay is calculated automatically and correctly in nearly every instance. This builds trust with people using the software – that it will provide the correct answer.”

The process involved thorough testing, which Trapeze said is true with all automated systems which affect sensitive items like employee pay. At the end of the process, Saskatoon saw a significant increase in automation, leading to significant time savings and a measured reduction in errors during the pay calculation process.

“This process showed us the value of the automated system beyond our initial investment,” Moellenbeck said. “As our processes changed and available technology became more complex, Saskatoon got real value out of reinvesting and ensuring our payroll was optimized to reflect those changes. When you prove it works, employees start using it and they actually trust it.”