In 1982, London Underground and Hamburg Hochbahn agreed to carry out a benchmarking exercise to compare their two railways in depth, with additional data for 24 other metro railways. The metros were very different in size, organisational structure and accounting practices, so figures were difficult to compare. Even so, the project led to highly successful productivity improvement programmes and the innovative use of key performance indicators (KPIs).
In Hong Kong, the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR) also used KPIs successfully, showing a regular year-on-year improvement in their selected indicators. In 1994, MTR felt that it would be of value to exchange performance data and investigate best practice amongst similar heavy metros. They proposed to metros in London (LUL), Paris (RATP), New York (NYCT) and Berlin (BVG) to form a benchmarking consortium, which became known as the “Group of Five”.
Growth into the Community of Metros
The issues of control and cost for the group were addressed by using the Transport Strategy Centre (TSC) at Imperial College London. The centre facilitates the benchmarking programme but the group is owned and steered by the members of the Community of Metros. This model enabled the participants to direct efforts towards the areas which they felt would produce the greatest benefits, both short-term (“hot topics”) and long-term. Examples included exploring reductions in maintenance cost and their relationship with reliability levels, or the impact of fare regulation on metro performance.
The first tasks – forming the foundation of the Transport Strategy Centre and the Community of Metros’ work – were to design and select a system of KPIs. At the same time, case studies exploring detailed performance and practices were completed – including identifying best practice in line capacity, investment effectiveness and maintenance. The line capacity study showed that one of the best ways to increase capacity was by the control of the “dwell time” in stations. NYCT used findings from this study to launch a pilot project in New York entitled “Step Aside – Speed Your Ride”, which produced an immediate 4.5% improvement in capacity on one of the subway’s busiest lines, with about 17% considered as achievable. This was done with minimal investment, merely some markings to tell people where to stand and some departure clocks to allow the drivers to standardise their “dwell time”.
As news of the group’s progress filtered out, Mexico City STC, São Paulo Metro and Tokyo Metro decided to join in 1996. With eight members onboard, the group became known as the Community of Metros (CoMET). Over time, the group has grown and responded to the tremendous growth of metro systems around the world, including the construction of many new systems in Asia.
Nova, CoMET’s Sister Group
The Community of Metros was expanded in 1998 when the Nova Group of Metros was formed. Nova was originally comprised of seven small to medium-sized metro systems: Glasgow Subway (SPT), Kowloon-Canton Railway Company (KCRC – Hong Kong), Metropolitano de Lisboa, Metro de Madrid, Tyne & Wear Metro (Newcastle), Oslo Metro (Sporveien) and Singapore SMRT. Nova used the same benchmarking principles developed and proven in CoMET. Over time, Nova also grew significantly in response to the growing importance of metros and the creation of new metros in cities around the world.
Moving Forward – COMET
In 2021, the Community of Metros became known as one group called COMET (replacing the previous CoMET and Nova group names). COMET is the world’s metro benchmarking community, comprising 45 metro systems in 41 cities around the world (see details of current members). The group is governed by a Steering Committee comprised of a diverse group of members, and membership revolves every 2-3 years. Throughout the benchmarking, it is clear that each metro tends to have some areas in which it excels, but other areas where it can learn from other participants. In many cases, the more informal contacts between the metros have been as positive and productive as the formal programme, with increasing numbers of bilateral visits and technical collaboration.
Based on the principles and successful benchmarking model of the Community of Metros, the International Bus Benchmarking Group (IBBG) was established in 2004, the International Suburban Railway Benchmarking Group (ISBeRG) was established in 2010, the American Bus Benchmarking Group (ABBG) was established in 2011, the Group of North American Light Rail Systems (GOAL) was established in 2016; the International Mainline Benchmarking Group (IMRBG) was established in 2016, the Railway Infrastructure Asset Management Group (RIAMBiG) was established in 2016, and the Airport Benchmarking Group was established in 2017.