Performance metrics – supporting Service Delivery?

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Performance metrics are often established as a mechanism to establish the effectiveness of a business and the delivery of its services. Who, however are the metrics designed to assist.

Over the last three months I have been an active user of mixed-mode public transport in order to attend my distant workplace. The daily commute is long and encompasses the use of buses, metropolitan and regional train services. Over a period of time I have been able to garner first hand a strong impression of the level of performance delivered.

The public transport authority responsible for regulation of each service publishes a set of performance metrics which, if they are met, result in an incentive payment made to each operator. A penalty is imposed on failure to deliver.

The main metric used relates to what is called ‘on-time’ performance. This describes the parameters within which a Service is regarded as ‘on time’

  • 77% of Metropolitan trains must arrive at its final destination no more than 59 seconds early or 4 minutes 59 seconds late.
  • 92% of Regional, short haul trains must arrive no more than 5 minutes 59 seconds late.
  • Buses must arrive at their final destination no more than 2 minutes early or 5 minutes late and with no timetable service operating early at any point of their route and 90% of services running on time.

Whilst each of these are well defined metrics providing each operator with a statistical target to achieve in order to receive an incentive what do that actually mean to the paying customer.

Experience has shown me that in the three months of travel that the bus and metropolitan trains generally meet their ‘on-time targets’ although the frustration experienced in seeing a bus running 1 minute 45 seconds early when I am on the other side of the road is significant. It may have been ‘on-time’ but without me on it may as well have been 20 minutes late, being the wait for the next service.

I also have issues with a service which, on some lines where there is a frequency between trains of less than 5 minutes, at certain times of the day, allowing as acceptable the targets set. A ‘late’ train on such a service seems indistinguishable from a cancellation.

I am also yet to meet the member of the travelling public who actually finds it acceptable to have 23% of their metropolitan train services not run ‘on time’. The business impact of a public transport travelling workforce being late for work at least once per week is likely to be significant.

The Regional train I use is mixed in its service delivery. I have been able to rely on it delivering me to work on time in the morning reliably. Going home however I have yet to arrive at my destination ‘on time’. Consequently my experience of the Regional Service is no better than 50%. But of course from the operator’s perspective it is the statistical figure over the entire transport network that is important.

The performance metrics set seem designed to support the cash flow of the operators. Setting the thresholds low maximises operator’s profits.

The operator is likely engaged in applying a typical saddlepoint analysis strategy. Setting the threshold low enough that they can earn the maximum incentive from the regulator yet not so low that they will drive away their customer, the travelling public, thus optimising profit.

What, however was the original purpose of establishing these performance metrics?

Were they designed as an aspirational target through which service delivery to travellers could be improved or was it set purely for financial purposes?

In this instance I will maintain my cynicism.

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