Metro Transit, the primary public transportation provider in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, operates buses, light rail and commuter rail within a region of 2.9 million residents. Its bus fleet includes 686 40-foot buses, 166 articulated buses and 36 coaches. Average weekday bus boardings are 230,000 at more than 12,000 bus stops in a service area of 907 miles. Of its nearly 2,800 employees, more than half — 1,452 — are bus operators.
Metro Transit’s primary focus has always been providing safe, reliable transportation options. Its safety record for National Transit Database reportable collisions for 2008-2011 is far below those for the top 30 U.S. transit agencies, its peer agencies and those of comparable bus operations within several larger providers.
However, in 2009, following two fatal bus-pedestrian collisions, the agency’s Bus Safety and Bus Transportation departments began collaborating on several initiatives to reduce collisions and enhance overall safety performance.
A comprehensive framework of education and outreach laid in 2009 and 2010 has led to improvements in customer perceptions of safety, a 6.5 percent annual reduction in collisions and a $582,282 annual savings in risk management claim payments.
Better Operator Education
A “Look & See” campaign was developed in 2009 and highly promoted in 2010 to all garage employees. The campaign with a bold Look & See graphic saturated the bus operators’ work environment — from the break room to the bay — with reminders to be aware of their surroundings while in service.
Look & See stickers were initially placed inside buses on the street-side frame of bus windshields at one operating garage as a test. This frame creates a “blind spot” or visual obstruction that the bus operator needs to look around, especially when turning at an intersection. Feedback from bus operators on the stickers was positive so Look & See stickers were placed on every bus in the system as a constant reminder.
The Look & See campaign had several phases, each focusing on a different facet of operational safety: pedestrians, bus stops and bicycles. The Look & See pedestrian campaign involved a series of weekly operator bulletins, each using photos and simple messages to raise awareness of pedestrians among bus operators and to remind them to use one of the five Safety Keys. Safety Keys is a nickname of the Smith System, and is the cornerstone of Metro Transit’s bus operator training program. Smith System training provides advanced driving techniques for space cushion driving and collision avoidance. To place added importance to the message, these bulletins were handed to bus operators by transportation management.
The bicycle Look & See phase used a short video created by Metro Transit’s Instruction Center and Safety department playing off the concept of “ghost bikes” that are often placed at the site of bicycle fatalities. Metro Transit Safety obtained unclaimed bicycles from the city of Minneapolis then worked with the Maintenance Department to carefully run over each bicycle with a bus. Maintenance painted each bicycle white then designed wheeled stands. The ghost bikes, with Look & See graphics on them, were placed in bus operator break rooms and moved around to other locations inside the bays. They were a sobering but effective reminder of the importance of staying alert.
One of the messages used in the Look & See campaign was Rock “n” Roll to Look & See. It was based on the “rocking” in the driver’s seat and rolling your body to see past obstructions. Almost life-size cut-outs of Elvis were decorated with Look & See logos and placed in the bus operators’ break rooms.
In 2012, Metro Transit also began working with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies — a frequent collaborator on performance and safety enhancements — on left-turn pedestrian collision research using a simulator. This analysis is ongoing.