Community of Metros News: COMET Reconnects Meeting in London, 25-27 May

The Transport Strategy Centre (TSC) is delighted to be hosting the first in person Community of Metros (COMET) meeting since 2019 that we’ve called “COMET Reconnects”, taking place from 25-27th May 2022 in London.

We are proud to be hosting the meeting across a number of Imperial College London venues during the week, including the South Kensington Campus and the brand new White City campus which is a world-class facility focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship, and multidisciplinary research. More about Imperial College London’s White City campus can be found here.

COMET is 44 metros in 40 cities worldwide participating in an annual programme of benchmarking and knowledge sharing across a number of dimensions fundamental to metro management and operations. 20 metros from the group are in London this week, visiting the Transport for London network including the brand new Elizabeth Line, and participating in meetings centred around strategic priorities and structured discussion. Our full virtual events programme for COMET members is running this year alongside this in-person meeting.

Follow the Transport Strategy Centre’s LinkedIn page here for more updates on COMET Reconnects and on the wider work of the TSC. More detail on the TSC can be found on our website here.

COMET Annual Customer Satisfaction Survey Goes Live

The annual COMET Customer Satisfaction Survey (CSS) has gone live! 24 COMET metros are surveying their customers from 28th March to 1st May on multiple service quality areas relevant to satisfaction with metro services. Metros will be publicising the survey using their own channels and platforms.

The extent to which organisations meet their customers’ expectations is an important indication of their success and sustainability, but customer satisfaction is traditionally difficult to benchmark and compare. The COMET Customer Satisfaction Survey does not directly compare overall satisfaction between organisations in different cities, but instead allows operators to understand their relative performance compared to other metros in meeting their own customer expectations in multiple service quality areas. The first Customer Satisfaction Survey took place in the International Bus Benchmarking Group (IBBG) in 2009 and was later introduced into three other benchmarking groups including COMET. An academic paper by Mark Trompet et al describes the CSS methodology in detail.

Community of Metros News: Latest Virtual Events

COMET has held two webinars in February and March 2022 on the topics of Efficient Maintenance and Inspections, and Sustainable Fares and Funding.

COMET originally aimed to study the efficiency of maintenance and inspections pre-pandemic in 2019. The aim of the study is to explore the resources metros spend on maintenance and inspections in more granular detail than has been previously possible, as well as the factors influencing their maintenance and inspection regimes. 40 metros attended the webinar with supporting presentations from Nanjing Metro and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco.

Extract from Efficient Maintenance and Inspections webinar

In March, the Sustainable Fares and Funding webinar took place with 32 metros in attendance. Financial benchmarking of metros, fares and funding continue to be longstanding areas of research and interest in COMET. Revenue from fares is the largest source of income for metros. Increasingly, uncertainty over demand caused by COVID-19 and cost pressures worldwide highlight the importance of a predictable, stable fare regime. The webinar included presentation and discussion of fare structures, fare levels, and concessionary fares, as well as long-term capital planning and funding considerations for metros.

Research: COVID-19 Update on Recovery

This express study compiled the latest information from 28 metros regarding their ongoing management of and recovery from the pandemic. This study aimed to understand new policies and practices regarding staff vaccination and testing, assess the impact of recent COVID-19 outbreaks on staff availability, update demand, revenue and cost forecasts for 2022 and share new cost reduction and revenue maximisation initiatives. Key findings included:

  • About a third of metros require some or all staff to conduct COVID testing for work, but most metros encourage regular testing using wider government or public health facilities.
  • Vaccine mandates for metro staff are not yet common with three metros reporting them in place. Metro staff typically have higher vaccination rates than the general public, with a few exceptions.
  • Frontline staff availability continues to remain lower than pre-pandemic, with station staff and train drivers particularly affected.
  • Ridership forecasts are generally being revised downwards from previous estimates as the length and severity of the pandemic continues to cause uncertainty.

COMET has been undertaking a number of short, targeted studies and workshops compiling the latest COVID response and recovery at metros. Other examples include Accommodating Returning Demand, Cost Optimisation, Staff Availability, and supporting the wider Transport Strategy Centre’s multimodal benchmarking review of recent activities.

Research: COVID-19 Accommodating Returning Demand

Metro demand has varied dramatically during the course of the pandemic, and is influenced by a wide range of societal and political factors as much as individual passenger behaviour. However, as cities, regions and countries recover from the most immediate impacts of the pandemic, metros are considering how to accommodate a safe and confident regrowth in demand from its lowest level. There are also new opportunities to respond to changing customer travel patterns and preferences, despite the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19. This study brought together information from 33 COMET metros to understand:

  • How metros plan to manage crowding particularly while the spread of COVID-19 is still a concern (including ongoing COVID-19 policies and event management) metros expect that customer attitudes to personal space will change even without formal social distancing requirements. Operational management (i.e. service and staff response in stations, at platforms and trains) will be important as well as supporting customers to choose their travel times.
  • What metros are doing to influence and encourage demand – metros are implementing or considering customer information tools, and fare changes and promotions to attract/reattract/influence customers.
  • Metros’ future service plans – metros are ensuring flexibility is built into service plans to allow for changes in customer demand, for example service frequencies and peak/off-peak adjustments.
Examples of customer information tools developed during the pandemic

Research: Infrastructure Diagnostics

Metro infrastructure is expensive, complex, intensively used, and critical for the safe and reliable provision of metro services. This study brings together information from 26 metros to identify technologies used by metros for automated monitoring of infrastructure (track, power and tunnels) and detection of pre-failure conditions that may enable a shift to condition-based maintenance.

Definitions of maturity in automated monitoring technology

There were four key benefits identified in the study that could be achieved through the
introduction of automated monitoring.

  1. Improved Reliability e.g. increased frequency of measurements, increased
    knowledge of assets and reduced rate of failures for equipment
  2. Changes to Existing Work Practices e.g. changing maintenance frequencies and
    procedures without impact on safety/effectiveness
  3. Labour Hour / Cost Savings e.g. changes to existing work practices leading to greater efficiency and/or productivity
  4. Improved Safety e.g. due to increased reliability; reduced time required in danger
    zone for track workers.

Community of Metros News: MRT Jakarta Joins COMET

MRT Jakarta joined COMET in September 2021 as the group’s newest member. Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia, the largest city in south-east Asia and among the most populated cities in the world. The organisation currently operates one line, the North South Line, comprising 15.7km and 13 stations.

The North South Line is part of the MRT’s first phase of development. All stations have Platform Screen Doors (PSDs): half-height doors at elevated stations and full-height doors at underground stations. The next stages of the metro’s development will be two extensions to the North South Line (adding 11km and 10 stations), as well as a second East West Line.

Research: Cleaning Efficiency and Practices

Cleaning has long been an integral part of metro operations, with a focus on manual and resource-intensive methods and following health and safety regulations. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, cleanliness of public transport quickly took on greater prominence, gaining significant political and public interest and becoming a key area for testing and innovation.

Benchmarking of metro cleaning practices offers significant scope for efficiency. Even before COVID-19, cleaning made up almost 5% of an average metro’s operating costs, and as metros begin to recover from the pandemic and attempt to maintain enhanced cleaning standards under constrained budgets, it is essential that metros manage these costs and maximise effectiveness as far as possible.

Factors preventing more effective and efficient cleaning at metros

This study brought together information from 30 metros to explore cleaning trends leading up to the pandemic, including benchmarking on contracts, cleaning hours, and cleaning costs. The study also examined how practices, frequencies and staffing have changed as metros manage COVID-19. Lastly, the study included examples of new techniques, products and practices that have been implemented and found to improve cleanliness outcomes during COVID-19.

Research: COVID-19 Discussion Paper – Impacts and Implications for Global Metros

The Transport Strategy Centre (TSC) at Imperial College London has closely monitored the impacts of COVID-19 on metro operators through the Community of Metros. This COVID-19 Discussion Paper (click to review the full paper) was published to document the main impacts that metros have faced and the key strategic implications for metro operators and their authorities for the future.

The  cover page of Community of Metros COVID-19 Discussion Paper

The paper summarises the primary and immediate impacts of the COVID-19 on metros, as well as the key future implications. Due to the pandemic, most metros, including those that did not previously require operational subsidies, are unlikely to be able to cover operating costs in 2021. The ongoing evolution of the pandemic makes it clear that the recovery period will be extended well beyond 2021 and some new travel patterns are likely to stay.

Even at much lower demand metros still provide critical urban mobility, and it is important to recognise that metros have high proportions of fixed costs and long-term impacts on economies of cities. Therefore, it is better to maximise benefits than to minimise costs. Additional government support and sustainable fares policies are critical for metros as part of a long-term strategy. Sustaining and even increasing investment programmes to modernise existing systems and build extensions would enable the best possible recovery, as well as support long-term work for generations to come.

Community of Metros News: Community of Metros CEO/COO Sessions

Following a ten-year tradition of including a CEO/COO Day as part of the Annual Meeting, this year’s sessions were held virtually due to COVID-19. All 41 member organisations joined the COMET CEO/COO Sessions on 25th March 2021. Metro executives discussed shared challenges and issues of strategic importance for metros with global peers during the two sessions for Eastern and Western time zones.

World map showing members of Community of Metros

Highlights of pre-COVID metro KPI performance and future implications were presented, along with two thematic discussions on Future Demand and Improving Resilience. Metro executives also heard highlight presentations from Hong Kong MTR and Berlin BVG sharing their perspectives and good practices in preparing for the new normal.

During the open discussion, metro executives exchanged experiences on key issues such as working with other stakeholders on policies supporting metros, opportunities to increase financial resiliency, competition between other public transport modes, etc.