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  • Writer's pictureRob Macey

Melbourne's Train Contracts - Lead up to Refranchising - Passenger and Operations


One of the more significant aspects of the current franchise is the State’s desire to improve passenger experience across the network (particularly during a time of intense capital investment works and the tendency for these works to contribute to disruption and changes in travel patterns). The plans required of the franchisee are all focused on ensuring that it deals with potential disruption, information provision and communication to passengers in a proactive way.

Passenger experience

In an earlier series we discussed some of the plans the franchisee is required to submit and perform against. The passenger experience plan is one of these, requiring the franchisee to articulate how it will comply with passenger experience obligations and outline the actions/initiatives it will perform to meet expectations noted in PTV’s Passenger Experience Standards.

Frontline staff

Reflecting the renewed focus on passenger education/ticket readiness and greater visibility of staff at stations and on platforms, this plan emphasizes the combined roles of all frontline staff including authorized officers, station assistants and other station staff. It also deals with the training of rail staff with an emphasis on passenger service skills, ticketing and fare education, network information and crowd/disruption management.

The passenger experience regime

PXR is a suite of 85 metrics across customer related areas, reflecting a desire for increased passenger amenity. The 85 metrics are divided into 3 categories: Fleet, Station and Information. Across these categories are performance (mystery shopping) and compliance (self-reporting) metrics. The regime is an abatement regime on a quarterly basis. As part of the regime, PTV developed a mystery shop program to measure the franchisee’s performance against some of the PXR metrics. Mystery shoppers conduct “on network” performance surveys and score the franchisee’s performance across the metrics.

Rail operations

Given the capital investment in the network, the emphasis on minimising passenger disruptions and the new train performance targets, the operations module requires a focus on network readiness. You’d expect this from any seasoned franchisee. The Network Readiness Plan is the cornerstone of operational planning by the franchisee for PTV and other stakeholders. It’s an annual plan and is required to set out the operator’s tactical and strategic direction for the year. Not surprisingly, there a close links between it and the passenger experience plan, and both plans are required to address and mitigate where possible the external impacts likely to be experienced over the franchise term. Hand in glove.

King of rail KPIs

Since franchising began, the performance of train services has generally been measured having regard to delivery of services and punctuality of those services. From a hierarchy of needs perspective, delivery and punctuality are the kings of rail KPIs. In almost any passenger satisfaction survey in the public transport space, the most highly rated requirement is for timetabled services to run and be on time (with safety also ranking highly of course). If an operator can nail this, it can then move to offering further improvements to enhance passenger experience. But it’s not an easy task and tremendous planning and energy goes into making every minute count.

The operational performance regime under the current arrangements is complicated given the nature of rail, however, in simple terms, it’s an all-in-one measure which assesses punctuality and delivery at monitoring points along the route for each service in the timetable. It then awards credits for each stop delivered by each service, and for arriving and departing punctually. Train punctuality is measured at 68 points across the Melbourne network. The performance regime keeps the bonus and penalty concept from previous franchises; however, it is calibrated now to reward only very good performance (rather than expected performance based on new targets); and penalises poor performance.

Mitigation for external events

An open rail network means that external factors such as trespass, the operations of other authorities, road accidents impacting the rail network or passenger behaviours will all impact timetabled services. The delivery of projects will also impact. The contracts provide mitigation to the franchisee for disruption events that are deemed to be outside of the franchisee’s control. Project delivery impacts are also mitigated to a degree and provided the franchisee has taken all reasonable steps to mitigate these of its own accord.

Hang on a minute..

Interestingly, the current contract regime allows the State to require the franchisee to cease any operational practice designed to improve operational performance, but which has or could have negative impacts on passenger experience. This is a big stick potentially. But the thinking here is to provide the State with some ability to have a conversation with the franchisee about such practices. Particularly if they erode confidence in the system, or anything else that irks the passenger.

Next time, on the home stretch, we look at the evolution of asset management.

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