When considering whether to make an exception in your bus operator training program to provide "extra training" (beyond what the training program offers) to a trainee who may have been close to qualifying but failed to, be warned that this can open the door to a flood of others who were terminated now demanding the same courtesy applied to them. Would you be prepared to have them all return for extra training? Perhaps, hundreds of others who were dismissed based on an unsatisfactory evaluation at the completion of their training within the prescribed set of training days would have qualified if they were trained until they got it. Extended training does not produce better operators.
Bus operator training programs should contain a well-balanced spread of properly placed skill sets, which spoon-feed a new trainee to enable him or her to demonstrate their qualification for passenger service. This should be accomplished within — not beyond — the established amount of available training days. I am against additional training that would be given beyond the final day within the prescribed training period. "Train them until they get it" is a dangerous concept that leads to an overall rise in collisions and places a trainee in an environment (passenger service) unprepared for the challenges ahead. If the student cannot perform according to the standards of the authority within the set amount of training days, they must be released. Final is final.
It has been my experience that a required minimum of eight hours and 45 minutes per trainee of uninterrupted, basic skill live-bus training produced the cream of the crop of operators, while the maximum amount of training did not exceed 12 hours and 30 minutes. Late to qualify from the training bus can result in early first incidents. Check the probationary period, and see if those who required the maximum amount of training days to qualify were involved in incidents sooner than those who qualified within the minimum amount of required training days. Don't be surprised if you determine that trainees who qualified the earliest performed incident free for a longer period than those who required all of the available training days before qualifying. Stay fair, stay balanced. If a trainee has not earned a satisfactory evaluation after completing the final day of training, then they should be released from the program. No exceptions, it's over.
To provide better focus with regard to behind-the-wheel skills, hold off on the classroom portion of training until those who are able to satisfactorily operate the authority's vehicle according to authority standards are identified. Only after successfully qualifying on the basic-skill driving portion first, should a trainee move on to a now meaningful classroom environment. Classroom topics will now have meaning and purpose. Placing them in a classroom before determining if they can operate the vehicle can be a waste of time, money and resources. Being consistently fair and balanced with your training and curriculum will also clearly reveal to trainees, who are facing dismissal, those deficiencies that prevented them from advancing in the program.
I can tell you the most reassuring words confirming that you are running a fair and balanced program come from the trainee who failed to earn a satisfactory evaluation and is facing termination, but saying, "thank you for the opportunity, your program is fair to all, your instructors were fair and it was obvious I lacked the basic skills to succeed."
In a profession where serious and sometimes fatal injuries can be inflicted at the blink of an eye, a fair and balanced training program is not a choice but a standard to which all should adhere.
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "OCTA CEO: Maintaining customer service as paratransit grows" 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.