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: 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: Understanding and Using Service Performance Data

Service performance measurements are crucial for understanding how metro services are running, so obtaining and leveraging accurate data in the form of useful metrics is key to improving performance. This research project aimed to understand what metrics metros are using to manage their service performance, including their precise definitions, and what methods they use to obtain the required data.

Five categories of service performance measurements help to answer the most important management questions about service performance. A comprehensive system of KPIs needs to comprise a balanced set of service performance measurements covering all five categories.

What do metro managers need to know?
What do metro managers need to know?

There is a need to measure both the actual delay to train service and the impacts of train delays on customers. Too much emphasis on the measurement of train service production and train service performance can be at the expense of other elements of service quality and the actual customer experience. One achievable approach is to use headway-based measurements, which reflect the waiting time for customers on platforms. Another is to weight delay measurements by the number of customers on the train at the time.

There is a clear trend towards more customer-focused measures, which are more difficult to measure but better reflect the actual customer experience. This trend is being driven primarily by technology, such as modern signalling/train control systems and smartcards (i.e. tap-in / tap-out systems). These new data sources are making it easier for metros to collect the data required for more customer-focused metrics.

Trends in service performance data collection, management and analysis
Trends in service performance data collection, management and analysis

Research: Station Management and Mobile Technology

Modern technology offers significant opportunities to improve station operations and the customer experience. At the same time this new technology is changing the nature of communications between staff and passengers.

This study found six key trends in terms of station staff organisation and management across the Community of Metros:

  1. There is significant opportunity for many CoMET and Nova metros to rapidly and relatively cheaply improve customer information and assistance using remote and mobile technology.
  2. Remote monitoring of safety-critical systems (i.e. watching an escalator on CCTV) is currently preferred to remotely controlling the system (i.e. turning an escalator on or off), even when that capability exists.
  3. Some metros are beginning to use mobile applications to support staff operations, such as allowing staff to monitor and control CCTV, make public address announcements, or look up asset information from electronic manuals.
  4. The application of mobile devices in station asset management currently focuses around inspections rather than more direct forms of asset control.
  5. Metros are not creating overarching policies for the deployment of mobile technology, but instead choosing to focus on the end objective of improving customer experience and business productivity with whatever technology facilitates the task.
  6. There is significant variation across the group in terms of hardware, software and practical use of devices.

We also identified five key trends in terms of station staff organisation and management across the Community of Metros:

  1. Supported by electronic ticketing and self-service technology, ticketing staff roles are evolving to focus on broader customer assistance and increased visibility around stations.
  2. There is increasing use of multi-functional staff across the Community of Metros, as well as an increase in their capabilities and responsibilities.
  3. Metros are deploying increasing numbers of roaming staff, across a range of station operations.
  4. Metros are dividing their network into a higher number of station control zones that each contain fewer stations, with benefits for local knowledge, staff camaraderie and teamwork.
  5. Metros increasingly have one staff member per group performing a single coordinating role, responsible for both customer services and assets across a small group of stations.

Research: Rolling Stock Replacement vs. Refurbishment

This research project examined metros’ practices when making the decision of whether to replace or refurbish ageing rolling stock.  As annualised expenditure on rolling stock is typically about 20-25% of total operating costs, fleet investment decisions have significant impacts on overall metro costs.  The focus of the study was to identify key factors and criteria in deciding to replace or refurbish rolling stock at end of nominal life, including the risks and opportunities of life extension beyond initial design life; to identify best practices in design, specification and planning of refurbishments; and to advise metros on appraisal and business case development process, parameters and assumptions.

Metros have been gaining increasingly significant benefits through refurbishment, and many metros (especially newer ones) are now undertaking or planning refurbishments to ageing fleets that are approaching or past their initial design lives.  These refurbishment programmes are designed to extend initial design lives by as much as 15-20 years.

Cost saving opportunities of refurbishment
Cost saving opportunities of refurbishment

A key guiding principle is that refurbishment prolongs ‘more of the same’, as reliability following refurbishment tends to remain fairly similar. Therefore, only highly reliable fleets are usually worth refurbishing. A second principle is that most metros limit the extent of technology change attempted through refurbishment. So if significant upgrade is required, for example to enable unattended train operations, generally a new vehicle is preferred.

This case study has successfully assisted CoMET and Nova members in their decision-making. An Asian member needed to buy new trains when their 15-year-old line was extended and re-signalled. Findings from this report assisted with their decision to replace all the trains on the lines, instead of converting the older trains to work with newer signalling and then operating a mixed fleet. Conversely, Montréal STM used this research in support of a decision to refurbish their 40-year-old MR-73 cars and extend their life to 60 years. This is projected to save Quebec taxpayers nearly $500 million over the next 20 years. More information on Montréal’s decision can be found here.

Research: Initiatives for Increasing Primary Revenue from Passengers

For most metros, a steadily growing passenger demand and revenue is important for future sustainability. This 2014 Nova case study captured good practice initiatives that members have implemented in their metros to increase the revenue they receive. This study also looked at how the regulatory and political environment affects a metro’s ability to implement these strategies and what methods were being used to measure and forecast demand.

Several of the factors that influence metro demand and revenue are to some extent within a metro’s influence, such as the quality of service, the provision of amenities within stations, and price. However, external factors tend to have the largest impact on demand and there is little metros can do to influence these, at least in the short to medium term.

Factors (Within and Outside Metro Control) Influencing Metro Demand
Factors (Within and Outside Metro Control) Influencing Metro Demand

Members stated that fares policy, service frequency and capacity, infrastructure enhancements, and integration with other transport had the greatest impact on their demand and revenue. Yet, they also appear to be the factors that metro operators have the least control over. We argue that in the longer term, these factors can be strongly influenced by metros but clear and proactive engagement with all city actors such as the Transport Authority or Government is required.

Good practice metros undertake a detailed analysis of their market segments to understand both existing and potential customers. Separating out different customer segments and journey stages may enable operators to exploit previously un-tapped or poorly captured markets. Metro operators should conduct proper advance business case analysis to understand the overall expected revenue impacts and associated costs of proposed demand growth initiatives. Even if forecasting or modelling demand and revenue is done by the transport authority, metros can always benefit from having their own models. This enables metros to make a stronger case to the transport authority about the effects of a particular action.

The most effective strategies implemented by metros included:

  • Bus feeder and bus integration systems which complement metro services and improve access to the metro;
  • Short extensions, infill stations and station upgrades that provide strategic opportunities to improve access to new markets,
  • Increasing off-peak service provision (evening, weekend and inter-peak) at low marginal cost to open the metro up to new or underutilised markets;
  • Targeted fares products to encourage off-peak travel and fill underutilised capacity; and
  • Integrated ticketing platforms and joint promotion that attracts alternative markets.

Research: Planning for Major Events

Public transport is essential to the success and feasibility of major events, and most major cities with metros are likely to host at least one large-scale event over a 15-year horizon. A 2014 Nova case study captured members’ experience with hosting a wide range of events and covered the entire timeline of hosting a major event, as illustrated below.

Metro Timeline for Hosting a Major Event – from upfront activities to lessons learned
Metro Timeline for Hosting a Major Event – from upfront activities to lessons learned

The study found that early and active involvement in major event planning – which can include major capital projects – is very beneficial for metros, as is conducting their own demand forecasting. The long lead-time for most major events also allows for metros to learn from each other and visit metros hosting the same or similar events. Despite the short-term nature of most major events, metros gain the most value from retaining longer-term improvements, whether transformational or incremental.

The study demonstrated that while major events can present challenges to metros, many metros are using them successfully as opportunities to showcase their existing good practices, experiment with new ones, identify needs, and leverage funding.

Expert Workshop: Energy Saving Strategies

Experts from 19 urban railways met to discuss energy saving strategies at a workshop hosted by TMB Barcelona. Fifteen CoMET and Nova metros and four suburban railway operators were represented at the workshop, which built on the CoMET 2012 ‘Energy Saving Strategies’ research project.
Over two days, attendees investigated the measures taken by metros to improve energy efficiency and the factors affecting metro energy consumption; and sought to share good practice in management and procurement of energy.
The workshop brought together energy experts from metros and railways, in a confidential environment to allow experts to share new ideas and take away evidence of successful practices and lessons learnt elsewhere. The workshop also helps build a network of peer contacts to enable ongoing collaboration between energy experts.
In addition to brief energy introduction presentations from each participating operator, the workshop included detailed discussion of traction energy, non-traction energy, energy supply & monitoring, and carbon emissions; a presentation on the SEAM4US European research project, and technical visits to see Barcelona TMB’s high voltage substation.

Research: Asset Information Systems

A Nova research project examined how metros manage their asset information and what systems and applications are used to achieve this. The study identified eight key asset information management (AIM) ‘maturity factors’ adopted by good practice metros. These factors were used to compare the combined effects of each metro’s asset information management, systems and applications. The results were then analysed to begin to understand the reasons behind and paths toward maturity.

Asset information maturity factors
Management and control of asset information are more important than the system used

The study’s key finding is that a metro’s asset information system (AIS) cannot itself manage asset information – it should support a metro’s overall AIM strategy. An AIS itself and the associated technologies are secondary to the need to structure and manage asset information to match the requirements of the business and its users.

Some Nova and CoMET metros have forged ahead and are developing mature approaches that are using the new technology based on good information standards, with sound system management that is based around users and a culture of continuous improvement.

Metro News: Preventing fare evasion in Moscow

Moscow Metro has recently completed trial operation of devices that prevent jumping over turnstiles.  The devices are inexpensive triangular steel structures installed on top of the turnstile, which prevent fare evaders jumping over the turnstiles by leaning on the turnstile’s cover with their hands.

According to observations of metro workers since the trial began in Tsaritsyno station, incidents of jumping over the turnstiles has dramatically reduced, and revenues from the sale of tickets at cashier office had increased. If the full analysis shows positive results, these devices will be installed in other busy metro stations.

Fare evasion prevention pyramids
Pyramids prevent jumping over the barriers