Research: Fare Evasion

Fare evasion is a highly complex and multfaceted issue faced by metros. Benchmarking of fare evasion rates is included in the annual COMET Key Performance Indicators work, but this is the first time the topic has been studied specifically since 2004. This study looked at fare evasion rates, causes and initiatives across 31 metros.

Summary of high level factors contributing to fare evasion at metros

The study is structured around three key aspects that are directly considered by a passenger when deciding to evade fare payment: how easy it is to breach the system, what the consequences are for getting caught, and the likelihood of getting caught. Increasingly since this topic was last studied, fare evasion is being more widely discussed in the context of social equity and proportionality, where it is seen as symptomatic of wider societal issues that need addressing rather than criminalising the evader themselves.

Research: Sustainable Fares and Funding

Ensuring that metro fare and funding structures are sustainable is vital to cover both short-term operating costs and to continue investment in the metro to maintain service quality for the longer term. The study brought together information from 33 metros to explore how metros set and review fares, to compare fare structures, fare levels and fare products across metros, and to understand how COVID-19 has impacted fares and funding arrangements.

Considerations for setting metro fares

Fare revenue is the largest and most important revenue source for metros. The study builds on previous work in COMET on fares and funding by particularly considering the sustainable element of metro revenue generation, considering important current factors such as rising inflation and prices, fare adjustment mechanisms, and concessionary fare offerings.

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.

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.

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.

Research: COVID-19 Study 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.