Management & Operations

How to open the lines of communication

Posted on July 1, 2002 by Walt Smothers, Transit Authority of River City

For those of us in the transit industry, communication with our customers and within our agencies is key to our success. At the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) in Louisville, Ky., we have taken steps to improve communication among all employees and with our customers. One of these steps is the initiation of the “team” concept by our executive director, J. Barry Barker. Launched in 1995, the concept began with the introduction of an open-door policy with the executive director. About two years ago, Mr. Barker began hosting regular “Talk About TARC” agency-wide get-togethers that discuss various TARC programs and services, giving operators and maintenance staff the chance to ask questions and communicate concerns to executive management. These sessions have been a lifesaver for TARC. In addition to fostering communication, they give operators the chance to voice customers’ concerns about policies or service, frequently helping management anticipate and address problems. E-mail empowerment Another step we’ve taken to “open the lines” in the TARC workplace is the recent installation of a new computer system that provides an e-mail address for every employee. This is not being used to its full potential yet by all employees, but I have noticed a change in some employees’ attitudes. They now feel like they’re part of the team. In time, as more employees use the new e-mail system, I expect to see even more changes in attitudes. Among the most crucial lines of communication are those between the transportation and maintenance departments. TARC’s director of transportation, Alyce French Johnson, and our maintenance director, Jimmy Buckner, are constantly working to make these lines of communication better. Two of the tools they rely on are the defect cards left on the coaches by operators, and the swapping off of coaches that break down while in service. When the Gillig low-floor coaches were first introduced at TARC in June 1995, operators were writing defect cards for “dragging brakes” when what they were really feeling was the start of the transmission retarder when the brakes were applied. With an open communication line between transportation, maintenance and operator training, this situation was resolved. Precision is important Swapping-off of coaches that break down while in service has been and occasionally remains a problem for us. Sometimes a misunderstanding or miscommunication occurs between the radio operator and the coach operator, resulting in the coach not being at the location where the mechanic has been dispatched to repair or swap-off the coach. We’ve worked hard to change that by reminding our operators to be as specific as possible about identifying their location, and staying there until help arrives. And our radio operators are also trained to ask for and get this information, and to remind the coach operator to stay put until help arrives. It’s the team concept in action when we help each other to communicate and do our job better. We’re working on getting even better at swap-offs, and with more training and better communication, I know we will. With communication, as with anything we do in life, there is always room for improvement. Here at TARC, we make a daily effort to improve on everything we do, with the main emphasis and effort geared to serving our customers. No pun intended, but it’s our “driving force.” As always, if you have any questions for me, e-mail them to

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