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: Innovations to Optimise Overnight Maintenance

Having short overnight maintenance windows is a common challenge for metros globally. Overnight maintenance hours have reduced in 39% of COMET metros over the last five years and over half of them expected to face further pressure to increase service hours over the next five years. During overnight maintenance hours, metros typically spend less than 70% of the period on productive tasks (time-on-tools), which is normally between 2 and 3.5 hours each night.

The study reviews how metros measure performance regarding effectiveness and efficiency of overnight maintenance work, as well as barriers to overnight maintenance hours. Many metros have established procedures for identifying opportunities for innovations to address the barriers. The examples of innovations that have been used by metros to optimise different phases of overnight period include those relating to better advanced planning, changing maintenance philosophy, digitalisation of work orders, optimising staff travel and equipment deliveries, etc.

Research: Customer Experience in Stations

Customer Experience is the sum of feelings and perceptions along the entire customer journey. Metros are striving to provide more than basic service driven by rising customer expectations and opportunities of new technologies. The study explored how metros define and measure customer experience, as well as looked in detail at six dimensions as the most important ways in which stations contribute to overall customer experience: trip planning, fare payment, wayfinding, providing customer help, cleanliness, and amenities in stations.

Metros can adopt multiple strategies to improve customer experience in stations. Considering the pros and cons of the following strategies would help to identify suitable initiatives.

Due to the impacts of COVID-19, metros have made the substantial changes to how they operate their systems and manage customer experience in stations, i.e. shifting to contactless payment, requiring face coverings, enhancing cleaning, providing real-time crowding information, etc.

Research: Noise and Vibration

Noise and vibration are byproducts of urban rail systems, exacerbated by siting metro infrastructure near to sources of demand. This study was carried out as a follow-up to previous work that has been carried out in CoMET and Nova on the topic and examined practices to reduce and mitigate noise and vibration from 27 CoMET and Nova metros.

The research covers a number of areas including benchmarking of metro networks, benchmarking of noise and vibration levels, key issues causing noise and vibration across metros, relevant regulation, targets, and importantly initiatives to reduce and mitigate noise and vibration. The study identifies the key actions that metros can undertake during planning, design and operations, as well as proactive and reactive measures that metros can take once the system is already operating and established. The widest and likely most effective range of actions can be taken early in design and planning, but there are a number of options across operations and maintenance that can help to manage and reduce noise and vibration. The challenge is for metro operators will be to continue to mitigate, manage and reduce noise and vibration impacts alongside rising expectations for liveability in cities, regulatory requirements, and the long-term nature of infrastructure design.

Research: Real-time Information

Real-time information is rapidly becoming a baseline expectation for customers using metro systems. Metros have a wide array of operational and asset data sources, and a multitude of options to present this information to customers. This study brought together practices from 27 CoMET and Nova metros to understand how they provide accurate real-time information to customers by exploring their back-end management of data and front-end presentation of real-time information.

Data relating to train operations are most commonly available across metros, relying on signalling systems for example. Less commonly available are data to do with passenger movements (increasingly important to manage passenger flow in stations and trains). Generally, real-time information in stations becomes more focused on train running the closer the passenger gets to the train, to ensure that customers receive the most relevant information they need to support their journey. Metros are also recognising that digital/remote availability of real-time information is also increasingly important to customers, but so far these are not a substitute for good quality real-time information in stations and trains.

Multimodal operators have an additional opportunity to integrate their real-time information across modes, but integration with other modes and through third party interfaces is an opportunity to present real-time information seamlessly to the customer. Lastly, the study explored the innovations and trends that metros are investing in to improve their real-time information to customers, including greater personalisation and targeting of information and greater accuracy of data.

Research: Station Staffing Models

Changes to metro station staffing models are being driven by several factors, such as customers’ increasing expectations in stations and opportunities to use staff for the highest value-adding activities. This Station Staffing Models study identified key drivers behind the decisions and policies governing staffing models and the key enablers for effective station staff deployment.

There are primarily four station staffing models that metros use. Staffed stations with primarily multifunctional staff and/or specialist staff are the most common station staffing models.

Over half of responding metros reported significant changes to staffing models in recent years. The study therefore discussed optimal staffing model in metros based on passenger volumes, station types, roster patterns, level of automation, and digitalisation initiatives, etc. Further changes in staffing models are expected to increase as customer needs, station facilities and cost structures evolve in the future.

Research: Signage in Stations and Trains

Signage is designed to convey information primarily to assist passengers with decision-making, therefore factors such as clarity, visibility, safety, accessibility, applicability and style are important elements to take into account in signage design. Good signage communicates with passengers effectively by using clear messages, appropriate shape and size, recognisable symbols and infographics, legible typefaces/fonts and clearly contrasting colours.

Selected factors involved in signage design

The study gathers information from 28 CoMET and Nova metros and looks into their guidelines for signage design, as well as good examples that have been implemented by metros. These examples are presented by exploring six key objectives: signage for clarity, signage for branding and identity, signage for safety and security, signage for wayfinding and navigation, signage for accessibility, and signage to encourage good behaviour. The enhancements carried out by metros to improve clarity, visibility and legibility of signage are also discussed in the report. Currently, metros are exploring various approaches to complement their static signage with new types of dynamic information to encourage greater passenger awareness and decision-making. This includes dynamic information for crowd control, passenger flow, and incident response, leading to an increasing use of digital signage, and other mobile applications.