Compliance, Cooperation and Collaboration: The 3 C’s of Operator Safety

Sept. 15, 2017
A variety of safety and security training programs address operator concerns and ensure each employee is armed with the necessary tools to diffuse and avoid potentially disruptive situations.

As with many transit organizations around the country, at Cincinnati Metro, the safety of operators, who serve tens of thousands of passengers each day, is of the utmost importance. 

That is why Metro implements a variety of safety and security training programs and committees to address operator concerns and to ensure that each employee is armed with the necessary tools to diffuse and if possible, avoid potentially disruptive situations.

Cincinnati Metro has in place an On-Board Security Team, composed of operators and led by Cincinnati Metro’s Security Director Mike Weil. The purpose of this team is to discuss on-board security issues and Metro’s procedures.

“We want to prevent security incidents from occurring as much as possible,” said Weil. “In order to do this, we review on-board security incidents within the last five years and together with the On-Board Security Team, we make recommendations on how to prevent each incident and pass that information and training on to all of our operators.”

Cincinnati Metro also utilizes a General Manager’s Security Oversight Committee, composed of representatives from each department, to look at system-wide security threats, as well as a Safety Committee composed of both operators and maintenance employees to address potential safety hazards. Additionally, Cincinnati Metro participates in tabletop security exercises and full-scale drills with first responders and local police, fire and SWAT teams to test plans for various scenarios onboard buses and in facilities, including active shooter and bomb threat scenarios.

New this year, the organization has begun offering de-escalation training for operators. The objectives are to increase safety, tactical communication and voluntary compliance.

Implementation of this training began after Cincinnati Metro began noticing a slight increase in operator assaults onboard, which often leads to lost wages for employees, costly lawsuits, decreased ridership and increased absenteeism — all which can have a crippling effect on a transit organization.

Through de-escalation training, Cincinnati Metro’s training team works with operators to walk them through uncomfortable and potentially hostile situations they may encounter with passengers on board their buses.

This type of training for operators is especially important, said 26 year-Operator Orlando King. “While the situation may be nothing personal against you, you are probably the first person they run into after encountering a bad situation with another operator or someone else.”

Cincinnati Metro’s de-escalation training aims to equip operators with tips for dealing with disgruntled customers and useful tools to help de-escalate volatile situations.

Here are a few of those tips:

  • Always communicate respectfully
  • Remember, you are trying to reduce the level of agitation
  • If it feels good to say it, don’t say it
  • Realize the person you are dealing with could have mental health issues, a medical condition, be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or even carrying a weapon

When focusing on handling verbal conflict, operators are trained to avoid using unprofessional language or words that express their personal feelings. The goal is to provide a source of deflection by trying to redirect the individual away from their threatening behavior and lead them toward compliance.


Acquiring voluntary compliance is key to getting passengers to follow your directions in a calm and safe manner. Successful achievement of compliance often begins with the operator’s tone of voice.

“The tone of the first words out of the operators mouth sets the stage for the interactions to follow,” added Weil. “The second critical factor is body language, including facial expressions, when you are trying to establish compliance.”

As the operator of the coach, it is important to remember that you are in charge of the vehicle and the passengers on board, and to not take the situation personal. It’s not about being right or wrong or making a point, rather your mission is to de-escalate the situation and get the passenger to peacefully comply.


Cooperation is the process of working together to achieve the same goals. The disruptive passenger, while being loud and perhaps aggressive, ultimately wants to get to his or her end destination via the bus. The operator’s role here is to help lead the passenger to a place of cooperation.

To do this, ask, don’t tell. Adults don’t like to be told what to do. Simply rephrasing “Don’t swipe your card, you have to dip it,” comes across as more acceptable if phrased “Would you mind trying to swipe your card?” 

It’s important to check your words, tone and body language and remember that if you are not open and professional, getting people to convert to your way of thinking is nearly impossible.


Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce or create something. Motivation is essential to ensure collaboration. Displaying a willingness to help others can often open the door to collaboration. Improving your aptitude for listening and not making the passenger feel rushed or ignored is important. Everyone simply wants to be heard and have their viewpoints acknowledged.

Tips to deflect and re-direct:

  • I understand that, however …
  • I hear that, however …
  • I’m sorry you feel that way …
  • I appreciate what you’re saying …
  • Let me see if I understand what you’re saying … then repeat what they just said

Things not to say:

  • Come here!
  • You wouldn’t understand
  • Because those are the rules
  • It’s none of your business
  • What do you want me to do about it?
  • Calm down
  • What’s your problem?

Operators should always be observant, watch body language, be aware of their surroundings and ultimately trust your instincts and call for assistance if necessary.

“Show empathy, allow disgruntled passengers to vent, remember your customer service training and make them feel that what they’re saying is important and that you will do all that you can to resolve their issues,” added King. “You can stop a confrontation by how you handle the situation. Treating people with kindness and respect will stop the escalation at the door.”

Brandy Jones is the director of External Affairs with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (Cincinnati Metro).