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April 3, 2014

Driver training: Avoid confusion between basic skills and route instruction

by Louie Maiello - Also by this author

The "Training Bus Instructor" (TBI) spends hours diligently working with a new hire candidate to provide basic skills training. Through this process, the required skills and knowledge successfully transfers to the student operator and they are released to a "Route Familiarization Operator" (RFO) that will help them learn the routes.

And then, the RFO compromises everything the student recently learned by saying, "Welcome to the real world, now watch me show you how to really drive a bus."

Does this sound like a familiar story? How do we prevent this from happening? By providing a clear distinction between who is teaching the student “how to drive” and who is teaching them “where to drive.”

First off, some agencies may identify RFO's using other titles, such as “Line Trainer,” “Line Instructor,” “Route Instructor” or whatever. I guess you can identify these individuals with whatever title you like, but you may want to start right there and leave any association with the term “instructor” to those that directly administer the basic skills on the training bus. These are the true instructors — the people responsible for teaching students the correct way to operate the bus. Put another way, how to operate a bus according to the agency’s standards.

The title of “Instructor” is well earned and brings great pride and honor, as not everyone can assume the role of an instructor. Instructors possess a unique set of skills, knowledge, experience and abilities needed to help others learn. TBIs should be held in high esteem for what they do, so it may help for them to be easily identified as someone who bears the responsibility for training.

Perhaps, a means of identification such as a jacket, cap, patch, or maybe even removing them from a “uniform” and putting them in the formal attire of a shirt and tie might be in order.

Let’s take a look at what should be taken under consideration when selecting RFOs:

  • Attendance Record - Do they come to work?
  • Passenger Complaints - How do they interact with customers?
  • Lateness - Are they reporting for duty on time?
  • Driving Record - number of collisions/incidents?
  • Would you want your loved one to be transported by this operator?
  • Can you ensure that the RFO is leading by example and promoting what the instructors have taught?
  • Are the RFOs familiar with the latest training methods being administered at the training center, so they are not surprised by the student’s actions?
  • Have the RFOs been observed on the road, or brought back to the training center, to ensure they are still at the top of their game?

Just as the Training Bus Instructors should be recognized for what they do, RFOs deserve the same treatment. How are they identified? Here are a few incentives/ideas:

  • An increase in hourly salary for time spent with a student.
  • A framed head shot photo placed in a designated RFO area of the operators swing room (This acknowledgment among peers may encourage others to want to be part of this team).
  • A jacket, shirt or patch with the operator being identified as an “official RFO.”

If a student is expected to be “trained “ in basic skills by an RFO — after they have been advanced from the Training Center, which should indicate that they have already met the required standard — then they should have been terminated at the completion of their basic skill development training. No additional skills training should be needed once a student is released from the training center to learn the various routes of the system.

The RFO must be assured that when they receive a student from a TBI, that the student already has demonstrated the ability to move into passenger service or they wouldn't have been assigned to them in the first place. Ensure both “Basic Skill Training Bus Instructors” and “Route Familiarization Operators” know and understand what message each are to give to new operators.

Being consistent with respect to their roles and messages are fundamental keys. Reserve the titles of instructor/trainer to those that are primarily conducting those functions.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Winter wreaks havoc, leaves transit weary."

Louie Maiello


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  • Robert Hofstatter[ April 4th, 2014 @ 11:56am ]

    Well spoken Louie, 'Instructors' are "the people responsible for teaching students the correct way to operate the bus... according to the agency’s standards." However, RFO's qualified to evaluate core skill performance play an important roll in identifying a student needing further instruction/evaluation. Yes, our job as instructors is teaching students HOW to drive, but we may also train 'Line Instructors' to be agency advocates of safe driving practices. Accepting extra pay after specialized training allows the Training Department to hold these bus operators accountable. Train according to company policy and keep the perks, if not, they still have the bus. Thank you for another great article, Bob Hofstatter, Training Instructor, Houston Metro.

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Author Bio

Joyce Rose

President/CEO, Operation Lifesaver Inc.

Joyce Rose is President and CEO of Operation Lifesaver Inc., a national, non-profit safety education group whose goal is to eliminate deaths and injuries at railroad crossings and along railroad rights-of-way.


Louie Maiello

Louie Maeillo is a Sr. Consultant (Transit Training & Simulation), L-3 / DPA Independent Consultant, Bus Talk Surface Transit Solutions


Jason Palmer

President, SmartDrive Systems

Palmer is the president of SmartDrive Systems, a leader in providing comprehensive, video-based operator performance and safety programs to help transit agencies achieve operational safety and efficiency, protect operators and the public, and lower costs overall.


Barak Israel

product manager

Barak Israel is product marketing manager for the security domain for NICE Systems Inc.


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