Are the delays on the Tyne & Wear Metro all that bad? Yes, they really are.

Delays feel so commonplace, but is that really the case or are operators DB Regio getting a bad press? We decided to find out.

If you live in Tyne & Wear, there’s a reasonably good chance your daily commute or your nights on the town depend on travelling by Metro, the region’s light rail transit system.

And, if you’re a regular commuter on the Metro, you’ll likely feel that the service is a total shambles.

You could say without fear of reprisal that the operators, DB Regio, are the textbook definition of incompetent. Last year they were fined after the train punctuality dropped to 64% — that’s more than 1 in 3 trains arriving late. The management tried to hide their shoddy work from their own bosses, Metro owners Nexus, who accused DE Regio of “deliberately misleading” them and others.

It’s not uncommon to seek comfort in the misery of others, so commuters will often find themselves searching Twitter to see who else has been hung out to dry by the seemingly constant delays and cancellations. That’s what I was doing when I found this tweet:

It’s a really interesting question — delays feel commonplace these days, but is that really the case? Exactly how often does DB Regio get through a week without having to say sorry for unexpected problems? We decided to find out.

Answering the question isn’t so straight-forward, because the only people aware of unexpected delays are those in the control room, those driving the trains and those stood on an affected platform. There’s still no API provided by the Tyne & Wear Metro to provide real-time information, so nobody outside the system can take a birds-eye view of the situation (the same reason you currently can’t download an app that uses real-time travel info to help you on your commute).

The only official statistic (singular) relating to performance is published as part of the Passenger Charter. Here’s that figure for the four weeks up to 27th February:

That’s it. So with no other data available, is there another way?

Actually, there is. Twitter.

Whenever there’s a problem with the service, Metro usually publishes details on Twitter. Now, for any given account, only the last 3,200 tweets are publicly available — that means we can only see Metro’s tweets published as far back as last July. Still, that provides seven full months of data, and lets us see if DB Regio can get through a week without hurting livelihoods and breaking promises.

A very basic script scraped their timeline and compared the tweets to keywords that suggested there was an issue, a dozen phrases like “delays of up to”, “withdrawn from service”, “technical fault” and so on, while double-checking the tweets weren’t referring to planned maintenance work.

(Thanks to Craig Cooper for rustling up the script over the weekend!)

The first pass at the data shows how many days per month the Metro operated without unexpected problems causing delays. The yellow shows “good” days when Metro reported no problems on Twitter, and the red shows “bad” days —days where there was at least one issue causing significant delays:

Out of a total of 211 days of operation, there were only 56 days when DB Regio operated a service without any problems — in other words, on average there’s significant disruption to service on 3 out of every 4 days.

In October, November and February, DB Regio couldn’t manage more than five days without an issue. It’s likely management can blame leaves on the line and “low rail adhesion” in the Autumn months, but that excuse doesn’t really stick for February.

Also, compare the data above to the official information included in the passenger’s charter report detailing disruptions to service in February:

The question, however, is when was the last time the Metro went a week without a serious delay? We broke the data down by calendar weeks, from Monday 3rd August to Sunday 13th March, or 32 weeks in total:

The length of the yellow bar represents the number of days in a calendar week that Metro reported delays. You’ll notice no gaps in the graph.

As far as the data lets us state, the Metro operators have never gone a whole week without having to apologise for their service. Even if we want to stretch the definition of a week to any seven consecutive days, it doesn’t help — there is a single five day stretch without issue last August, but that’s as close as we get. In comparison, the longest stretch of delays is a whopping 14 days at the end of November.

Two final points about the data worth noting:

  • Our data shows if there was at least one issue on any given day, but not if there were multiple issues— and it’s certainly not unusual for numerous problems to affect service in a single day:
  • By using Twitter as our source of our data, we’re assuming that Metro reports every significant delay to service. And of course, anyone who’s travelled the Metro on a regular basis knows they absolutely don’t:

After several months of intense pressure from the city, the media and commuters, yesterday it was announced that DB Regio will not operate the Metro after the current license ends in March 2017. Whether the Metro will serve passengers more effectively as a publicly-operated service is unknown right now, but the data says they’ll have to make a considerable effort to do worse than DB Regio.

NB — edited Tuesday 15/3 to amend data for weeks 1 & 2 in weekly graph