Public Transport: The Cost of Delays

One of the things you get told about authors is that the majority of us work at least two jobs: writing, and something else that pays the bills. As an indie author just starting out, that certainly applies to me. So each weekday, I haul myself out of bed, ignore the enticements of my computer and head into the city to work, along with a large chunk of the state’s population. And like a fair number of those people, I take the train.

Anyone following me on Twitter will see the daily fun I get with the amount of delays our service provider, Metro Trains throws my way. To be fair, Metro have inherited an aged system that is in dire need of upgrading and a fairly non-functional ticketing system mess (as well as a culture of fare evasion), but at the same time, there is a rather…large…variability in their actual running times which can make planning your run into work a complete pain. On my particular line, the run time can be anywhere from fifteen minutes without delays, to twenty five or thirty minutes, with the train sitting idle on the track waiting for another to clear a platform, sneak in ahead on a different line, or for some other reason that is rarely explained. The upshot of which is I can be made late for work. Which is something I can only assume affects other people as well, and this lost productivity time must be worth something, right? So I set out to see if I can calculate how much this would be.

Without any clear numbers (that I could find) as to how many people travel during morning peak (defined by the government as between 7:00 and 9:30 AM), I decided to calculate train capacity and work off that. Across all lines, Metro runs 514 services that start between those times, according to the timetibles on the public transport victoria website. According to their fleet information, they also have enough trains to run 36 Siemens 6 carriage trains (max capacity 1584), 93 Comeng 6 carriage trains (max capacity1526), 7 Hitachi 6 carriage trains (Seated capacity of 1072), and 59 X’Trapolis trains (capacity of 794). These are official capacity numbers, which should suffice for calculations, as this should average out, despite the knowledge that as of October 2011, 15.9% of trains in the morning peak hours were overcrowded. This information also presumes that Metro uses all its trains equally and preferences trains with higher capacity rather than lower capacity, giving us a daily total of 697876 passengers across 514 train trips (3 trips for each of the Siemens trains and most of the Comeng trains, and 2 trips for all the others).

Assuming that every passenger is, on average, delayed by five minutes as I was this morning, how much does that cost in lost productivity?

There’s a couple of ways to calculate this. Assuming that about 60% of train passengers are city workers, as opposed to students or people braving the peak hour crush for some strange reason, that’s 418737.6 people (on average) being delayed each day. With the average Victorian salary being $65,608, this means that I am massively underpaid and that on average, a Victorian worker earns $0.0525705 per minute, and $2.628526 in that five minute delay (going on a 52 week working year 5 days a week and an 8 hour work day). This is a cost of $1,100,662.52 in lost productivity across the train travelling population each day.

But wait, the critics say, not everyone is earning $60K a year, and most of those high earners aren’t going to be taking the train, let’s be honest. Okay, let’s try this another way. Say that all of the 697876 daily passengers are losing 5 minutes of their time a day, how much is that time worth? Well, if they all went out and got a minimum wage job, they’d be paid $15.51 per hour, or $1.2925 per five minutes. Of course, you may say your time is worth more than $15.51 per hour, but we’re being conservative here. So this means that the cost is $902,030.58.

This means, given my fairly conservative estimates, a five minute delay across the peak hour trains is costing Victoria between $900,000 and $1.1 Million each day in lost productivity, whether that’s time that could be spent working, sleeping, eating, staying healthy or doing any number of those things that we do to keep ourselves sane. So hello Metrotrains. That’s what you’re doing to Victoria. Please fix it. I ask you every day but as yet I’m not gettin any responses. Maybe one day you’ll tweet back. Maybe one day pigs will fly. Or maybe one day, Melbourne’s trains will run on time. When will that be? Well, that’s literally the million dollar question.