FTSN Quarterly Meeting – December 4, 2014 (8:30 am)

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Lisa Staes welcomed everyone to the quarterly meeting and asked for individual introduction of the attendees. She then introduced our host, Stephen Berry of LYNX who welcomed the group and gave a brief insight to growth and activities at LYNX. He also shared that a tour of the LOC training lab and simulator would occur after the meeting. Reports from the various FTSN committees followed.

Committee Reports and Discussion

After introductions of members and guests, the following discussion took place:

Collisions Committee Discussion – Joe DeGeorge

Joe shared with the group that at-fault accidents have been reduced by 30 percent at PCPT over the last 12 months. He offered to share the data pertaining to safety with the Network when it becomes available, probably sometime in the next 30-60 days. He also commented that the agency is currently using driver videos for training purposes- to show drivers what they are doing right. The videos appear to be a very effective training tool that drivers really like. It is important to remember that veteran drivers can make huge errors, but they change their behavior based on what they see in the videos. Also, all training materials that were previously on paper are now in PowerPoint format to keep trainees engaged, interested, and participating. When asked whether there was anything glaring that jumped out with respect to the causes of collisions, Joe responded that it is primarily driver error such as failing to signal when pulling out or making lane changes, but that he won’t have definitive answers until he has worked through all the data.

Bus Operator and Passenger Safety Committee discussion – Stephen Berry, LYNX

Steve began the discussion by mentioning that several agencies within the Network have been experiencing an increase in operator/passenger assaults. While solutions to mechanical problems are straight-forward, we tend to shy away from social or behavioral problems. For instance, a lot of programs don’t offer suggestions of what to do once an assault is occurring. At this point, Steve went over the Top 10 List of De-Escalation Techniques

  1. Proximity – when facing an upset person, it is almost always better to be farther away than too close (of course, operators don’t really have a choice about this).
  2. Pace – when we get nervous we tend to rush our responses or think too deeply. Be conscious of when your anxiety level is heightened and slow down when required and speed up when necessary.
  3. Purpose – anything you say and do during tense situations may communicate a real or imagined meaning to the upset person. Act and speak with purpose.
  4. Process – don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the process of de-escalation. Stay flexible and adjust your responses and behavior to the situation.
  5. Plan – whenever possible, think through anticipated difficult sessions and meetings. Imagine as many “what ifs” as you can and develop plans of how you will respond.
  6. Practice – role playing: practice how you will be with a challenging person. Remember, perfect practice makes perfect.
  7. Presentation – give prior thought to the form and style of how you will present upsetting information. Some people need to receive bad news alone.  Others need to have visible support when dealing with stressful situations.
  8. Pivot – when it is clear that the upset person is too upset to calm down or is invested in being upset, use the (Feel/Felt/Found) technique to manage their behavior.
  9. Persuasion – in order to be persuasive it is important that you have accurate and relevant information about the upset persons’ issues.
  10. Preempt – sometimes you have an idea as to the other person’s agenda. If you think that what you have discovered is a major issue, present your solutions early on to prevent the individual from beginning to escalate.

(Steve stated that #9 and #10 are not exactly realistic for the transit context- we can only really be effective on 1-8.)
LYNX had just hosted the Transit Threat and Vulnerability Assessment course earlier this week, and the topic of driver barriers was discussed in that class as a possible solution. FTSN had previously discussed this approach, but it was soundly rejected by most. Stephen also brought up that in most incidents, there was a ‘trigger word’ that initiated the conflict.

Steve mentioned that operators often lack the skill set or tools to appropriately deal with passenger/operator assaults. At this point, a question was asked as to why there is such a disconnect during the transition from training to when an operator is on their own- is it that they are nervous or intimidated by the public?

Jim Egbert offered that it is helpful to examine how realistic your agency’s customer service training is- it is extremely important for operators to know that this is a customer service job- they need to see the videos so they can know what to realistically expect. Don Worrell offered that it is important to remind operators to always give the patron an out- it is not always necessary to have a response to an unpleasant statement or behavior. Dave Kelsey emphasized the importance of getting operators to understand that without customers, a transit agency ceases to exist.

Victor brought up the question of whether trainees are being sent out with the best operators for road training, pointing out the danger of picking up bad habits during training. Lydia offered that at PalmTran instructors exhibiting undesirable behavior have been disqualified to prevent trainees from picking up bad habits, and that students are told to report any questionable behavior they see during training. She also noted that Palm Tran has recently fired senior trainers because of the bad habits they were demonstrating during training session. Some examples being taught by these senior trainers were influencing new hires in a negative way. Palm Tran is working hard to have their new hires start off on the right path by providing sound training on the topic.

Steve mentioned that LYNX has enacted an audit on line instructors, not only on their behaviors, but their driver records. This audit, which has been increased from annually to quarterly, has shown that more than half of the instructors did not meet the qualifications.

It was also mentioned that it is challenging to try to fit all the necessary training into eight weeks, and that the on-boarding process for a first-time driver can be like being “thrown to the wolves.” This is probably a big part of the reason why there is such high turnover during the first 12 months of employment.

In response to whether any agency offers self-defense as part of training and whether drivers have the right to defend themselves, Eustache Mine replied that the operator should use no more force than what is absolutely necessary to defend themselves. Dave Kelsey added that drivers should not have to take the first hit in order to defend themselves, and that managers have do something to protect their drivers- the responsibility doesn’t fall on the driver alone. Pat Ryan offered that it is critical that management support the driver with policy and training when these situations arise.

Fatigue Committee discussion – Don Worrell, StarMetro

Don began the discussion by noting that the subject of fatigue covers everything that has been discussed so far- collisions and distractions can be caused by or related to fatigue. Chair Don Worrell shared that StarMetro had recent accidents that incurred $20-30k of damage. Research indicated that many of the accidents were a result of driver fatigue – the drivers simply had not gotten enough rest before getting behind the wheel. StarMetro will not allow drivers to work more than 6 days in a row, then they must be off 24 hours before returning to duty.

He stressed the importance of looking at the issues of driver refresh time and spread time and ask: “How do we convince a driver or know if that driver is getting enough rest to be fit for duty?” Dave Kelsey mentioned that the scheduling department at HART has been trying to reduce spread time when breaking up pieces of work. Don added that another issue is long commutes for drivers, and that the HR department at StarMetro is getting more involved in the “fit for duty” concept. Victor emphasized that fatigue management involves more than hours of service. Post accident, NTSB looks at hours of service, but also a lot of other things such as medical records, cell phone records. There is other due diligence besides refresh time and hours of service. Obviously, we can’t mandate everything operators do, but we need to ask them to self-report other jobs and activities that may affect their fitness for duty.

At this point, Bob Fields gave a presentation on SCAT’s driver satellite reporting location. Bob explained that many of SCAT’s drivers commute from Northport, which is quite a distance south of Sarasota. To combat the problem of this long commute, it was suggested that perhaps a satellite facility could be located in Northport. A search was initiated for a vacant property that met SCAT’s security requirements, and a new school bus parking facility turned out to be a good fit. A small team was organized to evaluate the concept, lots of hoops needed to be jumped through, and lots of extra training was required on how to fuel buses, but in the end it became a reality. The result was that 20 percent of drivers are saving lots of money on gas because they no longer have to make such a long commute, and SCAT has been able to save money by eliminating 1,200 deadhead miles.

Stephen shared that LYNX has a similar operation to cover their services in Osceola County. He noted that more hubs are needed.

Distracted Driving Committee discussion – Lydia Chung, PalmTran

Lydia began the discussion by focusing internal distractions such as answering the radio. Eustache asked specifically what is put over the air to which a driver must respond. Dave noted that HART’s policy is that drivers must pull over to the side of the road before engaging in radio communication. Victor asked whether agencies post a specific policy prohibiting drivers from calling other drivers over the radio. Lydia responded that, second to passengers, it’s one of the biggest distractions for PalmTran operators. Victor mentioned that it was important to remember the importance of distractions relating not only to driving, but to all safety-related activities, such as helping the elderly and deploying wheelchair lifts.

Don Worrell stated that StarMetro drivers are to respond only when the bus is stopped (i.e. at a red light, pull over to the side, etc.) The supervisor is responsible for enforcing the communications policies. Having open mics is a problem. Driver to driver ‘socializing’ conversations should not be allowed on the radio. Someone suggested using posters (placed in bus driver common areas) to emphasize the communications policies and procedures, and having signage on the buses requesting passengers not to “chat” with the driver. However, most felt that passengers do not typically read signage on the bus.

Safety Training Committee discussion – Bob Fields, SCAT

Bob began the discussion with the topic of the committee’s efforts to develop minimum guidelines for annual bus operator refresher training. Lisa Staes discussed the findings of previous surveys and discussion panels regarding refresher training guidelines. Jay Goodwill presented the Minimum Fixed Route Bus Operator Annual Refresher Training Guidelines which were based on the survey responses from all the agencies. The Florida Transit Maintenance Consortium also provided input for the refresher training. Agencies still retain the right to handle their training independently.

Lisa reminded the group that these are not mandatory- these are recommended guidelines for how agencies should conduct refresher training, and that they will soon be circulating among FTSN members for approval.

Bob also reminded the group of the recent survey of FTSN members regarding current safety training at agencies. He announced that the committee is looking for volunteers to flesh out the details of the following two training topic areas. The format for both of these topic areas will be small group discussion augmented with video or a CBT component.

  1. Conflict avoidance and resolution (a top concern identified by the survey)
  2. Distracted driving

Bob also explained the status of three other training topic areas identified by the survey:

  1. Defensive Driving: most agencies report using TSI or Smith System; the committee will be looking further into these methods.
  2. Supervisor training: supervisors are often neglected- they are promoted to supervisors and then not necessarily trained accordingly. Roberta already gives a training course in leadership and communication that could be well suited, and there is also a week-long Transit Supervisor Certification Course offered annually through TSI.
  3. OTC medications: although agencies ask people to self-report medications, people don’t always follow through; therefore, training in this area is needed.

At this point, Victor mentioned that CBT-based training already exists for distracted driving, but that the updated training will go further to address the issue of internal distractions.

Other FTSN Member Discussion

FDOT Drug and Alcohol Testing Program – Management Certification Course for Designated Employer Representatives in Transit – Diana Byrnes and Victor Wiley

Diana began the discussion by pointing out that much of the discussion so far falls under FTA’s new Safety Management System (SMS) principles of being proactive and implementing strategies prior to accidents in order to prevent them.  Drug and alcohol training should be the same- the purpose is to be a deterrent, not simply to implement “gotcha” rules and regulations.  She went on to describe a new course being rolled out- FDOT’s Certification Course for Drug and Alcohol Program Managers.  The course is designed to take the person responsible for an agency’s drug and alcohol program “to the next level,” so they understand all the ins and outs of what is required.  Following are some of the course characteristics:

  • Course will be launched in Spring 2015
  • Enrollment is on a first come, first served basis
  • To begin, course will include up to 20 participants, one per agency
  • Course format will be “blended learning,” with the following elements:
    • two learn-at-your-own-pace CBT platforms,
    • two live webinars,
    • a two-day classroom-style workshop, and
    • a very comprehensive final exam

Although there is currently no federal requirement for certification, Florida serves as a model for the rest of the country, and FTA is looking closely at what Florida is doing.

2015 FPTA Transit Safety Awards Committee – Jay Goodwill

Jay reminded the group that FTSN will be taking over the management of the FPTA Safety Awards, and mentioned that previous discussion of this issue took place at both the Safety Summit and the last FTSN meeting. One of the drawbacks in the past is that the Awards focused almost entirely on statistics, with no incorporation or discussion of an agency’s overall safety program quality or innovative practices. Jay then discussed the FTSN-designed award platform, including award category tiers, award criteria, submission format, and award timetable. He mentioned that the platform could possibly be used for submitting and winning an award at the national level, and stressed the importance of getting the group’s endorsement of the award platform so that it could be sent to FPTA for final approval. The group agreed to endorse and forward to Lisa Bacot at FPTA.

Victor reminded the attendees that we (Florida’s transit agencies) should be more vocal to APTA, and self-nominate for APTA awards of recognition. Florida is on the map as a leader in training, policies and procedures. Our findings and statistics are real – not the NTD stuff. We should consider this and submit our accomplishments to FPTA, and with approval submit to APTA.

CUTR Safety Research Project Updates

Strategies to Prevent, Reduce and Mitigate Bus Collisions – Bill Morris

Bill relayed to the group that as the first part of this research effort concluded, FDOT requested that CUTR be very “laser-focused” in coming up with a set of integrative strategies for the prevention, reduction and mitigation of bus collisions. Before giving a brief overview of the questionnaire, Bill urged the group to participate and not to assume that the rest of the nation has this issue figured out. He distributed an upcoming survey and asked that since the report is due in a relatively short window of time, they respond ASAP to the “Strategies to Prevent, Reduce, and Mitigate Bus Collisions” survey/questionnaire. He asked that if responders do not know the answer to the question, they should go to the person/department in their agency that does. He explained that this effort is not an audit of the agency, and the agency will not be judged for answers. This is fact-finding research. He explained that subsequent 2 ½ day site visits would be customized based upon the answers to the questionnaire, and that an exit interview would take place on the third day. Victor also encouraged participation, reminding all that “this is not an audit.”

FTSN Tours

The final activity for attendees was a guided tour of the LYNX LOC to see first-hand the LYNX University featuring a computer lab and teaching room, The highlight of the tour was the FAAC bus simulator. Questions were fielded regarding the impressive simulator and volunteers were allowed to take it for a “test drive.”

Many thanks to Stephen Berry (and LYNX) for being a gracious and inspiring host for the Florida Transit Safety Network quarterly meeting.