Staff retention problems continue to grow for almost every transit agency in the United States and Canada. According to the latest report from the American Public Transportation Association, more than 90% of all agencies surveyed faced transit operator shortages. And 84% of those agencies reported that staffing shortages were preventing them from providing full service.
Driving a bus has always been a challenging job. That’s only been made more so by worsening economic conditions, which have made it hard for public services to keep pace with inflation. But this report also found indications that, while those working within transit cite pay and scheduling as their biggest concerns, transit Operators who leave the field may be doing so because they are struggling with increasingly unpredictable “passenger interaction” challenges.
The issue of passenger interactions and the risk they pose to Bus Operators is such a serious issue that it has been addressed in last year’s Bi-partisan Infrastructure Law. The law requires Section 5307 recipients serving large urban areas to develop and add to the Agency Safety Plan (ASP) a risk reduction program or transit operations to improve safety by reducing the number and rates of accidents, injuries, and assaults on transit workers, based on data submitted to the National Transit Database.
It further requires transit agencies to update their comprehensive safety training programs to include maintenance personnel and to require de-escalation training for all covered employees, including operations, maintenance, and personnel directly responsible for safety
In recent years, Metro Detroit’s Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) has focused more intensely on supporting Operators and preparing them for passenger interactions. SMART has correspondingly had less difficulty maintaining staffing levels when compared to other transit agencies in Southeast Michigan.
As SMART Training and Development Coordinator Lafeyette Kelly previously noted in the past, “the day-to-day problems of passengers’ [interactions and] conflict resolution are the big ticket items for us. What gives [transit Operators] the most trouble, their most pressing concern, is if someone is upset … I’m on this bus by myself; what can I do?”
SMART worked with FAAC to create a simulation-based immersive interaction/communication tool for their training program. This tool allows drivers to “rehearse” a wide range of passenger interactions, from simple fare related issues to deescalating arguments, addressing medical emergencies, and more.
As Kelly explained, “We hope that, with the use of these different [branching simulation] scenarios, [that will] give [drivers] a . . . kind of tool belt they can use. ‘Oh I saw this before. When I see a person do this, I should say this.'”
Transit Response Trains Drivers to Cope with Challenging Passenger Interactions
FAAC has now released a version of that tool that any transit agency can use: Transit Response. This is the most advanced version of FAAC’s scenario-based immersive passenger interaction training tool and the only solution of its kind on the market today.
Based on similar “stress inoculation” communication/situational awareness tools FAAC has built for first responders and the military, Transit Response is integrated directly into the transit driving simulator system. This gives veteran Operators and trainees alike an opportunity to develop a balanced approach, applying their communication and passenger interaction skills while operating a large transit vehicle and following your agency’s established policies and procedures.
Jason Francisco is FAAC’s Transit Business Manager. He has worked closely with agencies deploying Transit Response as part of their programs.
“Having this passenger interaction training built right into the driving sim,” he notes, “that’s proven to be its most powerful feature. Because, whatever the situation, there’s a natural human inclination to stand up and ’take charge.’ But that’s the one thing a transit Operator cannot do. In Transit Response you are addressing whatever it is—a medical emergency, a fight, an agitated passenger, an accident—right from the Operator’s seat: assessing the situation, getting information from passengers or over the radio, relaying information, giving instructions, safely controlling the vehicle. All from that seat, with your eyes on the road, keeping a clear mind and making sure you cover every important item—Did I radio in? Did I secure the bus? Did I apply the parking brake?—while in the fray.”
Transit Response can be added to any FAAC Bus Simulator package. It comes standard with both a complete library of ready-to-run branching scenarios and the platform, tools, and support you need to make your own scenarios to match unique factors at play in your community. Contact FAAC’s expert simulation training team whenever you’re ready to learn more.