'Driver, can you drive faster?' 'Why are you driving so slowly?' 'The traffic signal is green, why are you staying in this bus stop?'
Have you ever made any of these statements to a bus operator? Although to some it's hard to believe, bus operators have a schedule that they must safely adhere to, to the best of their ability.
Schedule follows Safety and Service in the 3 S's of Transportation. They are not, as some may feel, able to drive up and down the road at their own leisure and drive as fast as they like to get everyone to their destination as quickly as possible. Getting there safely precedes getting there quickly.
I remember when I was at the receiving end of some of those comments. I don't think I did much for customer relations when I politely responded with, 'if you're in that much of a hurry, you should have either taken a taxi or planned on taking an earlier bus.' In the center of all of this are 'timepoints and headways.'
A 'timepoint' is a given location along the bus route that bus operators attempt to arrive at safely, on or near their scheduled arrival time. There are several along the route, and some are locations that supervision are positioned at. It is permissible to arrive legitimately late at timepoints, but never early. There are several reasons to arrive late (traffic, weather, interaction between driver/customer, etc.).
Arriving early is not tolerated and can be grounds for a written schedule violation. Operators arriving ahead of schedule at their timepoints could result in customers/passengers missing their scheduled bus, which results in customers waiting longer than the scheduled 'headway' for the next bus. For example: If the scheduled headway (time interval between two successive buses, moving in the same direction on the same route) is 10 minutes, and the first bus arrives 5 minutes ahead of schedule, there will now be a 15-minute gap (or headway) before the next bus arrives. This means the second bus will receive more passengers than normal, which can cause this bus, and following buses, to begin to fall behind schedule, causing bunching.
An operator does not always encounter the same volume of traffic. Due to this unpredictable traffic volume, operators have to constantly adjust their driving to stay as close to schedule as possible and not arrive ahead of schedule at their timepoints. As I said earlier, arriving early is not tolerated by members of supervision. The exception would be if the operator was instructed by supervision due to a missing bus on route caused by either a bus breakdown or lack of a reporting operator. In order for the operator to avoid a written schedule violation, they must stall a bit to prevent them from arriving at the timepoint 'ahead' of schedule.
When finding themselves ahead of schedule, some ways to delay their arrival at the timepoint and avoid a schedule violation are:
- Remaining at the previous bus stop for an extra minute or two and allowing a green traffic signal to recycle from green to red and then green again.
- Reducing their customary normal safe speed, which would increase the time it takes to arrive at their timepoint location.
Sometimes the supervisor at the timepoint location will hold the operator in place until the scheduled departure time. Do not verbally abuse the operator or shout out statements that would only encourage others to do the same. Again, there's always a taxi, or just leave earlier! Ouch!!! Did I say that?
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "'Training is for the dogs" here.
Operating a fixed-route bus in today’s distracted world requires high levels of focus and concentration. The brain must continually sift through loads of information during bus operation to determine what things can be ignored and what things pose a potential threat to our safety and well-being. Once the brain detects a potential hazard or threat, a specific response must occur to keep us from harm’s way. When our brains are forced to sustain this level of effort for long periods of time a great deal of energy is required.
It’s no secret that I am a firm believer in bus simulator training. I enjoyed the benefits of utilizing simulators as a supplemental training tool during my days at New York City Transit. The simulators helped us produce outstanding results by targeting specific outcomes. If your simulator training is not producing what you expected it to deliver, the answer is plain and simple: something is wrong!
One agency decided to conduct a “safety blitz” to determine whether mirrors were being set correctly and discovered, much to their surprise, that a growing number of operators were leaving the yard in a mad rush to avoid being late — deciding to adjust their mirrors at their first available opportunity. What they learned was that many of these operators left the yard with every intention of setting their mirrors correctly. However, once these operators began servicing their routes — the task appeared to "slip their minds."
In most organizations, 80% to 95% of all bus operators are found to be safe, reliable and courteous, but often, they don’t know it because nobody tells them. If safe bus operation represents a core value for your property, what are you leaders doing to encourage and reinforce the desired behaviors among your bus operators?
Those of you who take a few minutes each month to follow my blogs, or have attended one of my past presentations at transit events, first let me thank you. These blogs and presentations, in combination, have been promoting surface transit standards in a form of a standardized curriculum for over 10 years now. I ask you, are we not long overdue in getting transit specific standards a done deal? By the time of this posting, I would have again stood before a group of transit professionals at a recently attended transit function in Orlando, Fla., speaking on this exact topic.