Photo by Ryan Thornton
Tuesday, June 16, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

Capital Metro audit finds fault in on-time performance system

A recent review by the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Internal Audit Department has discovered a number of inconsistencies in the agency’s process for reporting service delays and recording on-time performance.

The review found that dispatchers at MV Transportation almost always send prompt service delay notices when a bus or train is running behind schedule, but the agency’s official tool for tracking vehicle location and notifying dispatchers currently lacks the flexibility and precision necessary to respond to all delays.

Jeannette Lepe, project lead with Internal Audit, said OrbCAD, the computer-aided dispatch system by Orbital Sciences Corporation, hasn’t been set up to calculate delay times consistent with the agency’s performance targets or catch delays that don’t correspond with a set of common causes like heavy traffic or mechanical troubles.

Capital Metro’s on-time performance target is for 83 percent of trips to depart no more than five minutes late. The OrbCAD system, however, considers a vehicle on-time if it departs within six minutes of the scheduled time. In addition, OrbCAD does not accommodate Capital Metro’s requirement to automatically report incidents within 15 minutes from the start of the delay.

The agency plans to address many of the issues this year in an OrbCAD report studying all incidents that did not meet the 15-minute requirement and that were never recorded due to lack of a service delay code or other reason. The audit also recommends either reprogramming the OrbCAD system or editing Capital Metro’s definition of on-time trips to resolve the difference in performance standards and expectations from dispatchers.

In the long term, Dottie Watkins, chief operating officer, said Capital Metro plans to monitor on-time performance using more accurate location technology by Swiftly, the transit tech company that already provides real-time bus location data for customers using the Capital Metro app.

Swiftly uses cell routers to update vehicle location every 10 seconds compared to OrbCAD’s 30-second updates from radio communications. Watkins said the agency prefers the Swiftly location data, but needs new software to allow the agency to report that data without dumping it into spreadsheets. For now, Watkins said the OrbCAD system offers dispatching tools and incident management services that Swiftly’s product cannot currently provide.

The technological differences between Swiftly and OrbCAD reveal small discrepancies in performance data from December 2019 to January, but the data sets agree that the agency’s high-frequency bus routes are late in 14.2 percent of departures. They also agree that MetroRapid routes 801 and 803 are the most likely routes to run behind schedule, with the 801 departing late in over 37 percent of trips.

In that same period, the top three cited causes of delay were lost-and-found item, operator error and traffic. Given the frequency of those issues, Lepe said it’s her opinion “that we’re really on a tight schedule, that we don’t give ourselves enough room.”

CEO Randy Clarke said the agency prefers to set the bar high and miss the mark due to unexpected delays than to decrease services in order to achieve higher on-time performance.

“It’s a Catch-22; we could have 100 percent on-time performance every day of the week,” Clarke said. “On the other hand, it’s really horrible service because it’s too long and the buses will stop all the time.”

“Right now, our on-time performance is the best we’ve ever had, because traffic is pretty nonexistent, especially during rush hour,” he added. “What we need the most are dedicated right-of-ways and controlling the signals.”

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Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

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