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."
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.