Zen and the Art of Bus Driving

Posted on August 9, 2016 by John Filippone - Also by this author

If we encourage our operators to treat operating a bus as a shift-long Zen moment, we may be able to reduce preventable crashes by a significant amount. The “Zen Operator,” who drives precisely at all times, is also less stressed. The Zen Operator flows through difficult, tight situations easily and their body language and vibe give passengers a sense of confidence. The operator whose passengers have a white-knuckle death grip on the back of the seat in front of them is not practicing “Zen Bus Operation.”

It is simpler to convince operator trainees that Zen is the easiest method for bus operation than veterans. We can put it to the beginner as a way to practice their newly-attained skills and make proper technique an instinct before bad habits become ingrained. Assuming the operator maintains the habit and does not get sloppy, we have created a Zen Operator.

How do we create a Zen Operator? The first task is to convince the operator that performing each specific move in exactly the same manner each and every time is critical to crash-free driving. The operator cannot be complacent one moment because there are no immediate hazards present and then knuckle down at the next moment because the situation gets tight. This fluctuation in concentration and use of skills is a prime cause of crashes and also causes stress to the operator who has not been practicing Zen Bus Operation.

Tips to finding Zen

  • Become one with your vehicle and be at peace with the traffic around you.
  • Develop an approach to an activity, skill or subject that emphasizes simplicity and intuition.
  • It is not what you do but the integrity and attention you bring to doing it.

To make each maneuver the same way every time, the operator needs to mentally project an image of the tightest possible situation during each maneuver and drive his vehicle into the space necessary to successfully negotiate the imagined tight situation. Precise driving every time a maneuver is performed is a form of practice, and eventually, it will become a habit. When precise driving becomes a habit, it will allow the operator to smoothly and professionally make the most difficult of maneuvers with little or no stress. There is no herky-jerky throttle to brake to throttle to brake, or frantic mirror checks as the operator performs the maneuver in fits and starts. The no-stress vibe of a Zen operator will eliminate the passenger with a white knuckle death grip on the seat in front of them and could actually help increase ridership.

Preach Precision, Precision, Precision — Eliminate the slop. Don’t be lazy.

If the operator commits to the Zen method of bus driving (it actually works in any vehicle) from the beginning of his or her career and stays with it all times, he or she will experience less crashes and less stress, which is a win-win for the operator and the company.

John Filippone is Safety and Training Manager for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in Aspen, Colo. 

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