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Extending the Quality of Public Transport

Objective

The objective of the Extending the Quality of Public Transport (EQUIP) project was to develop a toolbox in the form of a Handbook for the self-assessment of internal quality performance by local passenger transport operators and to ensure, by means of awareness raising activities and liaison activities, that potential users are aware of its existence.
The major, and most tangible, output of EQUIP has been a Handbook for the self-assessment of internal quality performance by land-based local public transport operators. This Handbook has dealt with all aspects of the service as provided by the public transport operator as well as relevant aspects of transport system operation. It has used the main indicators developed by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN)1 as the starting point and covers all modes of local surface-based public transport (bus, trolley bus, tram/light rail, Metro and local heavy rail). In this way EQUIP has provided an in-depth and mode based analysis (the 'vertical' dimension) in contrast to the 1998/99 Pilot benchmarking of local transport systems which worked at an urban transport systems level (the 'horizontal' dimension).

Whilst the principal focus of the EQUIP project has been on the internal performance of the local public transport operator it must be remembered that service provision, or supply, will naturally be influenced by what is demanded by the consumer. For local public transport there are two groups of consumers: the first group is the travelling public and the second is the procurers of local public transport on behalf of the travelling public (in most cases this is the local authority). As a result, EQUIP has investigated which supply related indicators are relevant.

TECHNICAL DESCRIPTION:

Two key activities took place during the first 12 months of the project (1/1/99 to 31/12/99): the development of benchmarking indicators and the creation of the EQUIP Network to be used for piloting the EQUIP Handbook for self-assessment of performance.

Deliverable D2, Awareness Raising, Publicity and Dissemination Plans, established an Implementation Plan, which gave a set of actions to be completed during the last 12 months of the project (1/7/99 to 30/9/00). Section 5. Of this report for details these dissemination and exploitation activities. In order to establish the EQUIP Network an EQUIP fact sheet was distributed to a list of contacts generated by the Consortium. All the resulting Network members (99 by the end of the project) signed a Confidentiality Agreement and completed a company profile form.

The nature of existing information in other projects and sources involved in benchmarking quality in local public transport was established in Deliverable D3, State-of-the-Art in Benchmarking of Quality in Public Transport. This information also covered non-transport sources of quality benchmarking literature and activities in order to take account of the widespread experience of benchmarking that exists in other sectors. Initially, over 400 indicators were identified. This was reduced to a manageable set of 111 indicators for Deliverable D3, and for presentation to the operators at the first round of workshops held for the EQUIP Network. These workshops, attended by most members of the Network, were conducted in the Consortium member countries during the autumn of 1999.

The draft Handbook was developed during late 1999. It utilised the quality indicators and methodologies identified in Deliverable D3 and the output from the first round of EQUIP Network workshops. The draft Handbook consisted of two parts, which included all that was necessary for self-assessment to take place. Part I, Method, described the methodology of benchmarking and particularly addressed sampling issues. Part II, The Indicators, was a book of spreadsheets containing a set of 81 indicators in 12 clusters that measured the internal performance and service quality of the local transport operator. A Guide to Completion of the Handbook accompanied Part II; it contained a practical guide to measuring the indicators, so that the final content of the Handbook met the requirements of operators. The Guide was bound separately, in order to be easily referred to when completing the indicators.

During the last 6 months of the project (1/1/00 to 30/6/00) the draft Handbook was translated for use with the non-English speaking Network. This was distributed to the EQUIP Network for piloting. Feedback Forms for the operators completing the draft Handbook and authorities providing expert opinions were completed and returned to the Consortium prior to a second round of national EQUIP Network workshops held in the spring of 2000.

The draft Handbook was refined during late spring 2000, leading to the final Handbook, which broadly followed the same format as the draft version. In Part II, The Indicators, the number of indicators was increased to 91 as a result of recommendations from the EQUIP Network. The definitions of some indicators were also revised. Section 4. Of this report describes the Handbook. The final Handbook and a description of the processes involved in its development were submitted in Deliverable D4, The Benchmarking Handbook, which was completed in the summer of 2000.

In accordance with Deliverable D2, concurrent dissemination activities included the development of the Website and continued targeting of conferences and external publications. In particular, a newsletter was distributed to an updated list of contacts in order to inform the audience of progress in the EQUIP project and to issue an invitation to an International Workshop in Vienna at which the Handbook was presented (see Section 5. of this report).

Other outputs from EQUIP relate to specific activities. R4.01, Report on Database of Benchmarking Results, details three datasets that have been generated by EQUIP (the literature review, the benchmarking indicators and the resulting database generated by self-assessment). R4.02, Review of the Awareness Raising and other External Activities, demonstrates the fulfilment of dissemination and exploitation activities throughout the course of the project. The final required output from the EQUIP project is Deliverable D5, The Final Report, which summarises the objectives, processes, outputs and recommendations from EQUIP. An additional report not required by the Technical Annex is the Recommendations and Conclusions, which was developed in response to the need to identify a clear and desirable path for the institutionalisation and evolution of benchmarking local public transport by national associations such as public transport associations and chambers of commerce.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS:

The foundations for the EQUIP methodology are based upon the role of the Continuous Improvement Process2 - the search for business best practice leading to an improvement in performance. Benchmarking is a cyclical process that has three identifiable levels. At Level 1 internal benchmarking is carried out by repeating measurements regularly and making internal comparisons. Level 2 compares the indicator measurements with a centralised database giving an external standard to aim for, whilst Level 3 goes on to direct interaction with other businesses who are benchmarking - this is full benchmarking and provides maximum benefits. The scope of EQUIP was to enable operators to achieve Level 1, but the project has developed so that data comparisons between users are possible using an anonymous, centralised database and that output is a basis for full benchmarking.

The EQUIP Handbook has two parts. Part I, Method, describes the rationale for the Handbook, how it can be used for improvement and addresses sampling issues - measurement methodologies, data sources and sample size. The Guide to Completion of the Handbook (Part II) is a separate document which clarifies sampling issues and describes the process of completing the Handbook, including worked examples of indicators and the methodology for calculating weighted averages for the opinion surveys. A questionnaire proforma for the opinion surveys is supplied.

The 91 indicators in Part II, The Indicators, are collated in 11 clusters of similar indicators covering all five modes3. The first two clusters, Company Profile and External Influences on the Operator, enable the user to position itself in relation to others, when comparing data. The remaining clusters are either straightforward measures of performance or elicit opinions about performance. The Handbook provides EQUIP system definitions to be adhered to by the user and comprehensive definitions for the indicators enable - and emphasise - the collection of compatible data, making the Handbook suitable for internal, national and international benchmarking. The identification of elements of indicators used more than once in the Handbook reduces the workload and minimises errors for the user. The colour-coded format of the indicators is an additional aid to completion. Interpretation of data is assisted by the user specifying the date to which the data refers and the measurement and sampling methods employed from the methods recommended for each indicator. This information provides a powerful tool for making on going internal comparisons, as well as explaining unusual differences between companies. A commentary is added to each indicator, which contains cross-references to other relevant indicators and suggests how the indicator could be looked at in greater depth.

In order to maximise the speed of self-assessment, separate compatible versions of the Handbook are available in electronic and paper versions for each mode. All quantitative indicators in the electronic version are calculated automatically, including the weighted averages for passenger and employee opinion questionnaires. Feedback concerning the lack of resources to carry out benchmarking within companies led to the key development of a set of 27 "super indicators" which provide an entry level to benchmarking. Whilst the EQUIP Handbook supplies the foundations for the achievement of best practice and improved competitiveness in local public transport, it is designed to identify where performance could be improved - the actual improvements will only take place in a fully supported environment.

COLLABORATION SOUGHT

Collaboration was sought in three main areas: the providers and procurers of the public transport industry, national and international associations representing the industry.

The EQUIP project established the EQUIP Network so as to allow direct contact, input and feedback from the passenger transport industry. This was primarily designed to assist in the process of developing and validating the indicator set and the benchmarking Handbook. In the first instance there were 13 operators and 4 users (authorities, procurers of transport) from 7 countries. This number expanded substantially when the EQUIP national workshops were organised in autumn 1999. At the end of the project the Network consisted of 45 transport operators and 54 users from 9 countries. As well as the primary function of industry participation in the development of the benchmarking Handbook, the Network provided a key awareness raising and dissemination opportunity, particularly as the Network included operators from leading European cities (Rome, Vienna, Rotterdam, Newcastle).

Most European countries have national transport operator associations. The EQUIP project believed that these associations had a very high potential to assist in reaching the large number of European passenger transport operators. They have the mechanisms already in place for dissemination, consensus forming, collective action within the industry, organising meetings and workshops, and implementing training and support for new procedures and methods, including best practice. Furthermore, they have a substantial membership base covering most operators within their country and the respect and trust of the collective of national and local operators (who may be strong competitors of each other and not willing to participate in any other collective action). Lastly, many of their members do not participate in any other association and do not have any other significant channel to external developments and advances in the transport sector.

The UITP is a long-established international organisation based in Brussels and is the most representative worldwide body dealing with public passenger transport. The UITP has a strong interest in the improvement of the passenger transport sector, promotion of best practice, and stimulating interaction and exchange of experience within the industry. It also has an extensive dissemination structure, database, bi-monthly publication, and regular conferences. It was considered that collaboration with the UITP offered the potential to reach a very substantial audience. Furthermore, since the UITP holds a strong position within the industry, then the audience would be more likely to examine EQUIP materials seriously if the UITP promoted or disseminated them (after that, of course, they are accepted or not on their own merits). Finally, the UITP offered the potential of a stable continuity mechanism for the EQUIP tools beyond the lifetime of the current project.

EQUIP attempted to build up contact with the UITP. A meeting was held to present the EQUIP materials and to identify potential future directions for benchmarking. Whilst discussions took place, the organisational structure of the UITP and differences in the timescale between the EQUIP project and the UITP Commissions militated against formal progression during the timescale of EQUIP. This lack of mobilisation by industry leaders led to a revision of the way forward, which is discussed in the next section.

EXPLOITATION AND DISSEMINATION PLANS:

Deliverable D2, Awareness Raising, Publicity and Dissemination Plans, published in June 1999, prescribed activities which were required in order to ensure that the parallel work within the project - developing the benchmarking Handbook - would be of the highest quality, and so that the future development of benchmarking for public transport would be built upon sound foundations. The execution of the Implementation Plan outlined in Deliverable D2 was validated in one of the final publications of the EQUIP project, the Dissemination and Exploitation Report.

Five main audiences were prioritised by the EQUIP project: operators, transport associations, transport service procuring agencies, projects within the CEC research programme and implementation programmes. A range of external channels were used to achieve this contact. The EQUIP Website (http://www.europrojects.ie/equip) developed from establishing a presence in the early stages, when it contained project information, a primer on benchmarking, reference materials, links to related projects and activities, overviews of other projects and the project brochure. Informative material was added later, such as the EQUIP methodology, case studies, early findings, deliverables, and performance indicators. In the latter stages, the EQUIP Handbook was added together with later deliverables. A brochure and newsletter concerning the EQUIP project were sent to a targeted contact list of more than 1400 operators, authorities and interests groups throughout the European Union. The newsletter not only outlined the objectives and progress of the report, but also informed the audience of the EQUIP International Workshop held in Vienna (June 2000). This workshop was designed to present the EQUIP Handbook and issues relating to its development and to discuss the way forward in institutionalising benchmarking for local public transport. 37 people attended the workshop from the EU and Accession countries. 20 conferences and presentations were attended/made and seven publications were targeted. Direct channels were developed in order to provide direct input into the project. The EQUIP Network (see Section 4.) was composed of 99 members, gave feedback on indicators and methodology and also became a means of dissemination in its own right. Contact with the International Union of Public Transport (UITP) was regarded as a means of ensuring continuity and the institutionalisation of benchmarking in the public transport sector.

The EQUIP project produced fourteen identifiable products that are available for exploitation. The major products - the EQUIP Handbook, training tools, the methodology and the database - were categorised in a register in order to assist with their exploitation. Eight possible exploitation scenarios were identified, including the material being unused, given away, or exploited by the Consortium or another organisation, with or without the agreement of all interested parties. The preferred outcome for the EQUIP Consortium was that a trusted party within the industry sector acts as the holder of the agreements and data, and promotes the concepts. The EQUIP partners could then exploit the outputs both collectively by collaboration with the trusted party, and individually at local level. Lastly, it is essential that the means to continue the research dimension be found, developing the later stages of the Continuous Improvement Model.

The institutionalisation of benchmarking is seen as the key to progression. Five possible routes can be used to achieve this. The EQUIP project recommends that the most desirable method is for national associations to take the lead by developing a benchmarking network. This requires the support of an international organisation, such as the EC, in order to retain the benefits of the EQUIP Handbook, which is currently compatible for international benchmarking.

In conclusion, the EQUIP Project recommends that:

* The National Associations are brought together to discuss the harmonisation of benchmarking activities.
As a trans-national entry point, the "super indicator" set developed in EQUIP could be implemented.
* Operators could be encouraged to develop their datasets with training and support provided by the National Associations, thus recognising that true added value is only realised by achieving real improvements.
* As a matter of urgency, the CEC is urged to fund a Workshop of National Associations. This is a short term response to ensure the impetus created by EQUIP is not lost but does not negate the need for longer term planning to address the issues in this document and in other EQUIP Deliverables.

1 CEN recommendations on Public Transport Quality.
2 Hanman, S (1997) Benchmarking your firm's performance with best practice. International Journal of Logistics Management, Volume 8(2), pp1-8.
3 Bus, trolley bus, tram/light rail, Metro and local heavy rail.
The EQUIP project has focused primarily on the provision of local public transport. The concepts and principles are likely to be equally applicable to the provision of planned or procured inter-urban services as well as in the wider total passenger transport system although the reference values are likely to be different.

Achievement of higher quality and consistency in passenger transport requires the operator to implement systems of continuous improvement based on measuring performance, setting targets, developing strategies and implementation plans, and monitoring their implementation. The use of benchmarking is an invaluable tool to guide operators towards achievable high-quality objectives.

Funding Scheme

STU - Study contracts, assessment contracts

Coordinator

University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Address

NE1 7RU Newcastle Upon Tyne
United Kingdom

Participants (5)

ASM BRESCIA SPA
Italy
Address
Via Lamarmora, 230
Brescia
ERASMUS UNIVERSITY ROTTERDAM
Netherlands
Address
Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3062 PA Rotterdam
EUROPEAN TRANSPORT AND TELEMATICS SYSTEMS LTD.
Ireland
Address
55,Main Street
14 Rathfarnham
UNIVERSITAT FUR BODENKULTUR WIEN
Austria
Address
Peter Jordan Strasse 82
1190 Vienna
VIATEK LTD
Finland
Address
Aleksanterinkatu 21 A
33100 Tampere