Premier Alaska Tours began hand-selecting its top drivers from the summer and training them to drive during the icy winter conditions as its wintertime business began to expand.
There is no one-size-fits-all training program for operators in the motorcoach industry. However, the standard program for many operations includes 40 hours in the classroom coupled with 40 hours behind the wheel. Many operators, though, have had to expand their training programs past those typical parameters as they begin to either focus on customer service or hire drivers with no previous experience.
Rather than focusing on typical 40/40 training programs, METRO discussed training with operations who have added something a little different to their programs, either to further increase safety or to deal with unique challenges they face out on the road.
Eco-driving, online refreshers
Milton, Vt.-based Premier Coach Co. Inc. has a roster of about 96 full- and part-time drivers with a fleet of 65 coaches. In addition to 40 hours in class and 40 hours behind the wheel, the operation has annual refresher courses for all drivers using the Smith System — an on-road, hands-on safety education program for experienced drivers — and recently introduced online modules their drivers can access on their website at any time.
“We focus a lot on the hands-on training behind the wheel, especially with our veteran drivers, because we understand that when they get back out on the road, their old habits take over to some degree,” says Sean Geraghty, manager, safety and compliance, at Premier Coach. “We encourage drivers to use the online training programs, but the Smith System is a way to reinforce good driving behavior and safe practices, which are our goals here at Premier.”
The Smith System training Premier is using relies on some of the same principles as the eco-driving philosophy the operation also trains drivers with, adds Geraghty. Eco-driving is based on several key principles to improve both road safety and fuel efficiency — anticipating traffic flow, maintaining a steady speed, accelerating and braking smoothly, no idling, checking tire pressure regularly and curtailing usage of energy-drawing systems such as air conditioning and electrical equipment.
“It is all about space management — space for the vehicle, visibility for the driver and time to make decisions,” Geraghty says. “To some degree, as more and more drivers follow the eco-driving and Smith System guidelines, we certainly do see the benefits — reduced collisions, better fuel consumption, less vehicle maintenance and those types of things.”
He adds that in addition to the benefits to the operation, eco-driving techniques also enable Premier’s passengers to enjoy a better, smoother trip.