“…is a set of rules designed to improve the comfort and safety of our customers. Many of the items in the Code of Conduct are designed to promote courtesy and respect so all of our passengers have an enjoyable ride. The idea is to raise awareness of acceptable, and unacceptable, behavior. The Code of Conduct rules extend to all users of our buses and facilities, including VIA staff.”
You would think that VIA’s buses would have been rife with trouble for them to implement such a strategy, but it was the exact opposite, an effort Parker says was necessary to further communicate the agency’s commitment to its riders.
Parker says part of the idea stemmed from a visit to the agency from a group of secret shoppers.
“They were the typical secret shoppers, they come in and put the wrong fare in to see if the driver will challenge them, they ask lots of almost silly questions to sort of get on the nerves of folks. They call in to our customer service reps to see how knowledgeable they were. They went and looked into all of our public bathrooms. They looked at the cleanliness of our shelters, top to bottom.
“And they monitored what the driver did. Was the driver safe? Was the bus clean? And all those things. And they came back saying that we were the highest customer service level they had seen and they had done over 100 different transit properties around the country.
“However, our public doesn’t know that.”
Parker says that the agency also did an internal assessment of its safety and security and found that it had far fewer instances of fights and unruly behavior than many other cities of San Antonio’s size.
“But again the public doesn’t know that. So part of the reason we did the riders Code of Conduct was to one, give some attention to it,” Parker says.
Parker admits that the agency does know it has a handful of “knuckleheads” who are repeat offenders for misbehaving on the bus. Previous to the Code of Conduct, the agency was limited to kicking the person off the bus for that day, but now repeat offenders will eventually be banned from the service to prevent them from scaring off other customers.
“One of the big deterrents for people from not riding service is a perception of fear,” Parker says.
“What we wanted to do with this code is eliminate that perception, so that I can go out and say, ‘M’am or sir if you happen to be on a bus and a person misbehaves, we’re going to get rid of that person and you never have to worry about them again.’”
Since the code was implemented, the handful of incidents VIA was seeing on a monthly bases has dropped dramatically and the vehicle cleanliness has improved because of the requirement of spill-proof or screw-top containers.
Parker says riders have been very appreciative of the new rules, “I have had a whole host of customers say that was a great idea, I always wanted to be able to say, hey, put that drink away or put that sandwich away without a fellow customer yelling at me or cursing at me or what have you.
“And now people feel empowered to do that. And what we find is overwhelming compliance to the rules. Overwhelming compliance.”
Parker says that the Code of Conduct killed two birds with its proverbial stone: removing a small percentage of problem customers and alleviating the perception that riding the bus wasn’t safe.
“Realistically when you look at it in context, being on a bus is a pretty safe place to be,” Parker says.
“But we just have to make sure we continue to tell the public that and remind them that riding on VIA is a very safe way to ride.”
As it is within his agency, Parker believes communication is essential for other directors looking for industry insight and just good tips.
“There are a lot of other good CEOs out there. Call on them,” Parker says.
“I am not shy about calling on people and asking how they’ve handled certain situations and what are some of the struggles there they’re dealing with.”
Parker also points to industry conferences and trade association meetings where people have a chance to sit down for a few minutes and see what is going on elsewhere in the industry. Of course, in the end he reminds others in his position to try and remain calm.
“Don’t ever let the days get you down too much or get you too high, because if you do, you are just going to be bouncing off the walls and ceilings and floors,” Parker says.