With transit agencies working to grow ridership, some marketing campaigns and public outreach programs that try and turn choice riders and non-riders into regular customers have been successful. But news reports of just one crime or accident can undo gains from the savviest marketing campaign instantaneously, with unconversant riders abandoning transit due to safety concerns, which can even push away the most experienced customers who feel unsafe.
Agencies are working to quell those concerns and pacify the system in order to keep riders safe and attract new ones. And in order to do so, they’re using all the tools they can to make sure systems are as safe as possible.
Back to basics
One of the base steps in making riders feel safer is making sure operators are properly trained to not only drive well, but to handle customer situations under all circumstances.
Shelly Hall, vice president of safety and security for Veolia Transportation said operators for that company undergo 120 hours of training to drive in a safe manner. It also does the “Going for Green” program to enhance customer service and make sure riders feel safe getting on board. The training is coupled with federal requirements to train operators in handling security issues, such as strange packages left on board so they can handle the situation while riders are still on the bus.
“From a security standpoint, we have experienced somewhat of an increase in driver assaults and obviously that really is alarming,” Hall said. “We’re partnering with Ebert and Associates on how to mitigate assaults on our operators and again, that also deals with passenger-on-passenger situations too, so they can control what’s going on in the vehicles.”
Most of the local transit agencies Veolia manages also hold monthly or quarterly safety meetings with operators in order to keep them well informed about issues. Hall said another program called “Going for Care,” recently launched in order to work as a building block to the “Going for Green” program.
Hall said Veolia has also beefed up its paratransit training programs as well, given the significant amount of customer interaction in that service in order to make sure riders have a good experience.
Veolia plans to roll out more safety and security training programs in 2014, Hall said, to help control dangerous situations, including a training program for safety managers on how to handle a bus hijacking.
Thomas J. Harris, III, vice president of human resources and safety for First Transit & First Services, said bus operators are given 43 hours of training when they first start, including 12 hours of one-on-one time with an instructor and customer service training.
“I think that’s cornerstone,” he said. “What it does is it gives a good, strong foundation and I think everything flows and cascades from that.”
Harris said First Transit continues training sessions throughout the year and sends out newsletters detailing incidents from across the company, so each location can learn from one another. The company also sends out DVDs to each location to educate operators by playing them on a continual loop in break rooms. First Transit also utilizes DriveCam with its operators so they can be reviewed when an incident occurs and further trained about things they may be doing incorrectly on their routes.
Harris said First Transit launched a campaign in May to educate drivers on taking care of their own health as a way to address passenger safety.
“A good driver and a safe driver is also a healthy driver,” Harris said. “A safe driver worries about their personal and physical well-being.”
Building a safe environment
Mel Cohen, president of Handi-Hut, said strong, safe shelters can also make riders feel safer by providing them a safer environment. Handi-Hut shelters installed in New Jersey before Hurricane Sandy swept through the northeast in 2012, stood through the storm, showing they can be durable areas.