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.

Research: COVID-19 Microstudy on Restoring Demand

During the early stages of COVID-19, metro ridership fell rapidly as lockdowns were implemented and governments urged people to avoid public transport. As restrictions begin to lift, metros face the challenge of encouraging customers back to the metro to support recovery. The Restoring Demand During COVID-19 Microstudy reviewed the actions that metros are taking to develop customer confidence, including public messaging and communication tools.

There is a wide range of forecasts for ridership recovery. Asia/Pacific metros are most optimistic about recovery. In contrast, North American metros are typically estimating ridership levels of just 60-70% of pre-COVID levels by 2022.

Bar chart of average current and estimated future ridership by region as a percentage of pre COVID-19 levels

54% of metros have conducted new COVID-19 customer surveys to understand what they expect in order to feel confident using the metro. Typically, surveys suggest that 8-15% of customers will not return to the metro even when the pandemic is over. However, the vast majority of customers expect to return when there is a low risk of infection, when vaccines have been made widely available or when they return to work.

60% of COMET metros now have formal recovery plans in place. In the short term, metros have been reassuring customers through evidence-based and enforced policies, backed up by clear and direct communication.

Examples of the posters for promoting public transports welcoming passengers to come back to the systems

In the longer term, metros will be actively promoting and normalising metro travel, stimulating non-essential demand through marketing, fares promotions and stakeholder partnerships.

Research: COVID-19 Microstudy on Cost Optimisation

The significant impact of COVID-19 on metros has greatly increased the need for cost optimisation strategies, particularly for the short term. It is expected that metros’ financial gaps are growing larger due to demand recovering more slowly than initially thought. The Cost Optimisation During COVID-19 Microstudy reviewed how metros carry out cost optimisation within their organisations because of the pandemic.

The 2021 revenue outlook is generally lower than what was assumed earlier in the pandemic, with the growing realisation that it will likely take several years for revenues to return to the pre-pandemic levels. In response, metros set up cost reduction targets and cost optimisation measures for 2021, consisting of approaches for cost reduction and for cost avoidance.

The cost optimisation measures used by metros during COVID-19 separating into corst reduction measures and cost avoidance measures

The most effective measures reported by metros relate to service reductions and control of labour costs. Managing labour costs is a common approach given that it accounts for the majority of metros’ expenditures and metros can mostly take actions relating to labour costs by themselves.

The COVID-19 situation may present opportunities for metros to directly face and handle issues related to high labour costs and low labour productivity. As a result, metros can hopefully reset strategies relating to human resources and cost management to ensure they are well positioned to succeed after the pandemic.

Research: COMET Preventing Human Failures in Train Operations and the OCC

There are multiple reasons why metros are particularly affected by human failures, including operations and/or maintenance occurring 24-hours a day, human judgement involved in multiple safety critical situations, and the potential for unpredictable overtime. Across COMET metros, human failure caused the majority of collisions and derailments. Miscommunications and multi-tasking are considered the top two most influential factors on human failures.

The study focused on active human failures that directly lead to incidents. Active failures are categorised into errors and violations, which can be further sub-categorised by the underlying motive, intention, and/or frequency. Understanding active failure types supports greater understanding of the root causes of failure.

Figure to show categorises of active failure consisting of error and violation

The study reviewed strategies for preventing human failure including process, environment, and people-based solutions. One example for preventing human error is assessing fitness for duty among train drivers. Half of metros reported use of a checklist or declaration, with some metros use technology to address fatigue including monitoring attentiveness and encouraging sufficient rest for employees before their shift. While many of these measures are focused on train drivers, increasing automation within metros means that such measures are becoming just as important for OCC staff. Opportunity areas for metros to reduce operational risk of human failures are discussed, supported by good practices and future initiatives conducted by COMET metros.

Research: COVID-19 Microstudy on Staff Availability

The COVID-19 pandemic had significant potential to impact staff availability. The Staff Availability During COVID-19 Microstudy analysed staff availability levels and metro actions to manage them. The region with the most significant downturn and continued lower levels of availability is Latin America, where metros had experienced a deeper impact (about 20% below normal) since May 2020.

Line graph of average staff availability by region between January to August 2020

The study further looked at staff availability by role i.e. train drivers, station staff, and maintenance staff, as well as absence policies and management. Metros reported various strategies for better supporting employees and preventing absence during the pandemic. Continuing support for employees is important to ensure readiness for future increases in customer demand.