Saturday, October 27, 2012

Preparing for Hurricane #Sandy

Hurricane Sandy is now all but confirmed to hit the NYC Metro area Monday night, October 29th.  The Transit system has begun preparations since Thursday.  A lot is involved in preparation for a major, potentially catastrophic storm.

In the Bus Depots, we prepare for before, during, and after the storm.   Some of the things that we look at very early in the planning process are;

Do we have enough personnel available to provide service before, possibly during, and after the storm.  Will personnel be able to make it in.  Should we keep a percentage of personnel on hand at the locations to restore service quickly if it is curtailed?  Do we have enough personnel to provide both regular route service and evacuation services if necessary?

Do we have enough fuel.  Are the back-up generators working?  Are the sewer and drain lines free and clear and able to handle the massive amounts of water expected?  Has the facility been made safe for personnel to remain on the property.  Any potential "flying" debris secured?

Are clear lines of communication established and working between the Command Center Situation Room and all the necessary agencies such as OEM, NYPD, and PORT AUTHORITY. Were the previous storms performance critiqued and reviewed.  Is all personnel familiar with the current storm processes and plan? 

Has known flooding locations taken required steps to secure equipment to higher ground?  Are back up cellular phones in place?  Are we prepared to operate a few days without power and consistent communications?

These questions have been long thought of months before the upcoming storm.  Now the plans and drills practiced go into place. Hopefully, the storm will not be as bad as the weather forecasts predict.  But if the worst occurs, we will be ready to "move" people safely, assist as emergency responders,  while protecting our equipment and personnel in the process.   We are ready.  Lets roll!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Not At Fault, However Preventable Collision

Many bus operators and transit managers are confused about at-fault versus preventable collisions/accidents.

In general, bus operators are considered professional drivers as CDL holders, and held to a higher standard of performance.

As a manager who has held hundreds of accident hearings, I've heard "but it was not my fault" over and over; even though I've explained that even though a collision may be 100% not at fault it may still be preventable.

A review of some excerpts below will clarify the differences between a non-fault versus preventable collision/accident.  An clear understanding of the principles below are essential for any transit manager involved in the collision/accident review process.

(Excerpts from NSC via )

Concept of Defensive Driving--the ability to avoid accidents in spite of the wrong actions of the other driver and in spite of adverse driving conditions.

Accidents involve so many different factors that it is impossible to set hard and fast rules to classify them preventable or non-preventable. Each member must make this determination. In making these decisions, a member will answer the question "What standard of safe driving performance do we expect of our drivers in this company?" If a company is lenient, it condones a mediocre standard of safe driving performance. Drivers respect a strict interpretation of the rules so long as the company takes the time and effort to insure that these interpretations are made consistently and impartially. The following paragraphs are offered as a guide in determining the preventability of accidents.

When two or more vehicles of a fleet enrolled in the Safe Driver Award program are involved in the same accident, each driver may be charged with a preventable accident regardless of which one was primarily responsible for the occurrence. Although two or more employees may be riding on the same vehicle, a preventable accident will be charged only against the person operating the vehicle.

Each driver involved in an accident usually contributes to it in some degree. If the "other driver" admits he was at fault, it usually only means that he sees how he contributed to the situation. Admission of being at fault by the "other driver", a record of the "other driver" being cited for a traffic violation and witness or police statements of exoneration for the company driver are not, in themselves, conclusive evidence to adjudge an accident "non-preventable." It is likely that the member driver contributed to the situation in some manner.
Statements of exoneration are generally based on legal responsibility without respect to the definition of preventability used in these Safe Driver Award Rules. Consequently, a careful study must be made of all conditions to determine how the employee in question contributed to the situation by acts of omission or commission.
Unless thorough investigation indicates that employee in question could not have avoided involvement, by reasonable defensive driving practice, the following types of accidents will be regarded as PREVENTABLE

It is the responsibility of professional drivers to approach, enter and cross intersections prepared to avoid accidents that might occur through the action of other drivers. Complex traffic movement, blind intersections, or failure of the "other driver" to conform to law or traffic control devices will not automatically discharge an accident as "not preventable." Intersection accidents are preventable even though the professional driver has not violated traffic regulations. His failure to take precautionary measures prior to entering the intersection are factors to be studied in making a decision. When a professional driver crosses intersection and the obvious actions of the "other driver" indicated possible involvement either by reason of his excess speed, crossing his lane in turning, or coming from behind a blind spot, the decision based on such entrapment should be PREVENTABLE

Practically all-backing accidents are preventable. A driver is not relieved of his responsibility to back safely when a guide is involved in the maneuver. A guide cannot control the movement of the vehicle; therefore, a driver must check all clearances for himself

Regardless of the abrupt or unexpected stop of the vehicle ahead, your driver can prevent front end collisions by maintaining a safe following distance at all times. This includes being prepared for possible obstructions on the highway, either in plain view or hidden by the crest of a hill or the curve of a roadway. Overdriving headlights at night is a common cause of front-end collisions. Night speed should not be greater than that which will permit the vehicle to come to a stop within the forward distance illuminated by the vehicle's headlights.

Investigation often discloses that drivers risk being struck from behind by failing to maintain a margin of safety in his own following distance. Rear-end collisions preceded by a roll-back, an abrupt stop at a grade crossing, when a traffic signal changes, or when your driver fails to signal a turn at an intersection, should be charged PREVENTABLE

Failure to signal intentions or to slow down gradually should be considered PREVENTABLE.

Failure to pass safely indicates faulty judgment and the possible failure to consider one or more of the important factors a driver must observe before attempting the maneuver. Unusual actions of the driver being passed or of oncoming traffic might appear to exonerate a driver involved in a passing accident; however, the entire passing maneuver is voluntary and the driver's responsibility.

Sideswipes and cut-offs involving a professional driver while he is being passed are preventable when he falls to yield to the passing vehicle by slowing down or moving to the right where possible.

A safe driver is rarely a victim of entrapment by another driver when changing lanes. Similarly, entrapment in merging traffic is an indication of unwillingness to yield to other vehicles or to wait for a break in traffic. Blind spots are not valid excuses for lane encroachment accidents. Drivers must make extra allowances to protect themselves in areas of limited sight distances.
Squeeze plays causing involvement with parked cars, pillars, and other structures, can be prevented by dropping back when it is apparent that the other driver is forcing the issue or contesting a common portion of the road.

Collisions with fixed rail vehicles, such as trains, streetcars, etc., occurring at grade crossings, in traffic, in a rail yard, switch area, or on private property are the responsibilities of the professional driver to prevent. When a vehicle is parked across a rail siding, the driver must first determine if it is safe and permissible and, furthermore, must stand by in case conditions change by the movement of rail cars during the parking interval.

It is extremely important to check the action of the company driver when involved in a head-on or sideswipe accident with a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. Exact location of vehicles, prior to and at the point of impact, must be carefully verified. Even though an opposing vehicle enters your drivers' traffic lane, it may be possible for your driver to avoid the collision.
For example, if the opposing vehicle was in a passing maneuver and your driver failed to slow down, stop, or move to the right to allow the vehicle to re-enter his own lane, he has failed to take action to prevent the occurrence. Failing to signal the opposing driver by flickering the headlights or sounding the horn should also be taken into account.

Turning movements, like passing maneuvers, require the most exacting care by a professional driver. "Squeeze plays" at the left or right turns involving other vehicles, scooters, bicycles, or pedestrians are the responsibility of the driver making the turn. Failure to signal, to properly position the vehicle for the turn, to check the rearview mirrors, to check pedestrian lanes, or to take precautionary action from tip-offs from the other vehicle immediately preceding the incident. U-turns by your driver that result in a collision are PREVENTABLE.

Passenger accidents in any type of vehicle are preventable when they are caused by faulty operation of the vehicle. Even though the incident did not involve a collision of the vehicle, it must be considered preventable when your driver stops, turns, or accelerates abruptly.
Emergency action by the company driver to avoid a collision that results in passenger injury should be checked to determine if proper driving prior to the emergency would have eliminated the need for the evasive maneuver.

Traffic regulations and court decisions generally favor the pedestrian hit by a moving vehicle. An unusual route of a pedestrian at mid-block or from between parked vehicles does not necessarily relieve a driver from taking precautions to prevent such accidents. Whether speed limits are posted or the area is placarded with warning signs, speed too fast for conditions may be involved. School zones, shopping areas, residential streets, and other areas with special pedestrian traffic must be traveled at reduced speeds equal to the particular situation. Bicycles, motor scooters and similar equipment are generally operated by young and inexperienced operators. The driver who fails to reduce his speed when this type of equipment is operated within his sigh-distance has failed to take the necessary precautions to prevent an accident. Keeping within posted speed limits is not taking the proper precaution when unusual conditions call for voluntary reduction of speed.

Adverse weather conditions are not a valid excuse for being involved in an accident. Rain, snow, fog, sleet, or icy pavement have never caused an accident. These conditions merely increase the hazards of driving. Failure to adjust driving to the prevailing weather conditions, or to "call it a day" when necessary, should be cause for deciding an accident preventable. Failure to use safety devices such as skid chains, sanders, etc., provided by the company, should be cause for a preventable decision when it is reasonable to expect the driver to use such devices.

Accidents involving traffic originating from alleys, driveways, plant entrances, and other special interesting locations should be carefully analyzed to determine what measures the professional driver might have taken to avoid the occurrence. Failure to slow down, sound a warning or to yield to the other driver, can be considered cause to judge such an accident preventable.

Collisions with fixed objects are preventable. They usually involve failure to check or properly judge clearances. New routes, strange delivery points, resurfaced pavements under viaducts, inclined entrances to docks, marquees projecting over traveled section of road, and similar situations are not, in themselves, valid reasons for excusing a driver from being involved. He must be constantly on the lookout for such conditions and make the necessary allowances.

When a driver is expected to make deliveries at unusual locations, construction sites, etc., or on driveways not built to support heavy commercial vehicles, it is his responsibility to discuss the operation with the proper authorities and to obtain permission prior to entering the area.

Unconventional parking locations, including double parking, parking, failure to put out warning devices, etc. generally constitute evidence for judging an accident preventable. Rollaway accidents from a parked position normally should be classified preventable. This includes unauthorized entry into an unlocked and unattended vehicle, failure to properly block wheels or to turn wheels toward the curb to prevent vehicle movement.

Any accident caused by mechanical failure that reasonably could have been detected by the driver, but went unheeded should be judged preventable. It is the driver's responsibility to report unsafe vehicle conditions for repairs and to immediate repairs where continued operation might result in an accident. When mechanical difficulties occur unexpectedly during a trip, and a driver upon discovery, fails to check with his company for emergency instructions prior to an accident, the accident is preventable.

An accident caused by mechanical failure that results from abusive driving should be considered PREVENTABLE

Many accidents, such as overturning, jack-knifing, or running off the road, may result fromemergency action by the driver to preclude being involved in a collision. Examination of his

driving procedure prior to the incident may reveal speed too fast for conditions, or other factors. The company driver's actions prior to involvement should be examined for possible errors or lack of defensive driving practice.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

FMLA Abuse and Transit Operations

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), while created with good intentions to protect employees who need it, has become a major expense for American companies as it is widely abused. 

FMLA especially is burdensome for Transit Operations.  In an office, if an employee is absent to due FMLA, the work is often put aside until the employee returns or possibly redistributed to other employees.  In transit operations, a driver absent on FMLA with short notice may translate to the driver's run not being covered, leaving service disrupted, hundreds of customers inconvenienced, loss of confidence in your agencies operation/reliability, and loss of morale of other drivers who now have to deal with the extra and likely angry late customers as a result.  If the run is covered, it is often covered on overtime, increasing operational costs.

Dealing FMLA abuse is like skating on thin ice.  Managers who aren't thoroughly familiar with the rules and take inappropriate action can be on the end of a lawsuit in a hurry.  Managers looking to increase availability via aggressively combating FMLA abuse and fraud should always consult with Labor Relations and HR staff to ensure their tactics are in-line with applicable laws and collective bargaining agreements.  While the government protects FMLA leave, it has recognized the problems of abuse.  Recent decisions have helped to curtail abuse such as upholding surveillance and terminations of suspected FMLA abusers. 

While not financially feasible, transit management can add "extra-board" operators to be on stand-by when they observe a cluster of FMLA drivers assigned in close proximity or observe a pattern of FMLA abuse on a particular day/time.  However, if the suspected abuser(s) don't call out FMLA on a day where an "extra-board" driver is standing by, the transit operator is now paying the extra-board person to basically sit around if no other work is available.

Dispatchers preparing next day assignments often do not have the luxury of knowing which employees have a high probability of calling out FMLA the next day. Software should be developed to automatically flag the likelihood of an FMLA absence based on available pattern/usage data and suggest the time of an extra-board assignment.

FMLA is also known as the "Friday-Monday Leave Act", due to employee abuse of linking their FMLA leave to their RDO's (Regular Days Off).

FMLA Poster from Department of Labor
FMLA Guidelines and Compliance information
Additional FMLA information
Code of Federal Regulations - Part 825 (FMLA)

Here are some useful links to help combat FMLA abuse.

12 Ways to curb FMLA Abuse
Minimizing FMLA Abuse
The FMLA and Pattern Abuse
FMLA Abuse: 4 Ways to fight back and not get sued
10 Ways to stop FMLA Abuse
Simple tactics arrest FMLA abuse during intermittent FMLA leave
5 ways to stop FMLA abuse dead in its tracks
Steps to combating FMLA abuse
How to combat FMLA abuse
As FMLA Abuse mounts, the employer must lay down the law
Reducing risk and abuse of FMLA leave

How do you or your agency attempt to curb FMLA abuse?  Share your story by responding/commenting to this post.

Follow me on twitter @michaelpal

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How Do We Measure Friendly Transit Bus Customer Service?

Most transit agencies expect friendly customer service from their bus operators.  But what defines "friendly?"  How do we measure "friendly" customer service?

I've wondered about these issues in my current position at work.  I receive, as many transit agencies do, complaints of bus drivers behaving in a rude, non customer friendly manner.  Transit customer service bulletins dictate that employees provide customer friendly service. What are the minimum and expected behaviors that should be displayed.  Is discipline appropriate if an employee is not "friendly enough?"

While it is difficult to define and measure customer friendly service, unacceptable behavior is obvious.

Unacceptable Behaviors
  • Cursing and/or using profane vulgar language/gestures at customers, even if provoked.
  • Raising voice / screaming at customer
  • Ignoring reasonable requests from customers for directions/information
  • Failure to provide explanations for delays/disruptions if known
  • Failure to assist when required
  • Speaking to the customer in a dismissive fashion
  • Prejudging a customer based on past experiences
  • Treating customers differently based on sex/race/physical disabilities
  • Putting schedule before service

Customer Interaction

If a customer boards and says good morning to a bus driver and the driver ignores them, while clearly rude and unfriendly, is it an offense that justifies discipline? 
How a bus driver interacts with customers reflects on the operating agency as a whole.  A bus driver has the ability to make or break a persons day with a simple greeting at boarding or departure.  While the primary function of a bus driver is to operate the vehicle safely, it is not their ONLY function. 

Multiple complaints about a bus drivers behavior is usually an indication of an angry/aggressive employee.  When a complaint comes in, it is often the customers word against the drivers.  Managers need to be alert to angry customers who may have missed a connecting bus and are now displacing their anger on the bus driver with an exaggerated complaint.  In general, the bus drivers face is the face of the company and the only face the customer will see.

Bus drivers operate with very little supervision unique in comparison to an office or factory worker who generally have direct supervision a majority of the time.  When transit supervisors conduct "check rides", they are generally observing safety skills.  Customer service should also be evaluated at every chance.  Though difficult to measure consistently, obvious customer "un-friendly" service should not be tolerated and always addressed appropriately.  Perhaps first through retraining, then through discipline.

What is your experience with friendly customer service in bus operations?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On Time Performance

By Michael Pal

Buses face many obstacles to maintain on time performance. Traffic on shared roadways is an obvious main culprit, but there are many other mitigating circumstances that should be examined when on time performance in not being satisfactorily achieved.

When on time performance is low, confidence and trust of your bus service reliability falls, and your ridership will fall even faster.

What is On Time Performance?
Common industry standard is... A bus should depart no more than one to two minutes early and no more than five minutes late from its posted schedule along en route time-points and departing terminal.

Why shouldn't a bus be early?
Suppose a customer observes a bus schedule of every 20 minutes at his stop.  The first bus is due at 7:00 am.  So the schedule will read
8:00.... and so on..

Now lets suppose he gets to the stop at 6:57 and as he arrives at the stop, he observes the 7:00am bus pulling away.  The 7:00 am bus was three minutes early.  And now the customer has to wait at least 23 minutes for the next bus instead of three!


Factors effecting On Time Performance

  • Ineffective Dispatcher/Supervisor
    • If there is a dispatcher/supervisor en route or monitoring the route via GPS then the supervisor needs to recognize service problems and effectively adjust buses to minimize the schedule disruptions when possible
  • Traffic
    • In large cities, traffic is often unpredictable and without constant evaluation of patterns, too much or too little schedule time may be provided.
  • Weather
    • Weather obviously plays a major role in schedule adherence. 
  • Employee Availability
    • To many sick calls and/or late drivers without adequate extra reports
  • Late Driver / Late Pull-Out
    • A driver who delays service by pulling out of the depot late or "drags" the line
  • Equipment Availability
    • Too many defects waiting to be repaired or scheduled inspections/operations can limit bus availability for revenue service
  • Equipment Failure
    • Breakdowns en route causing following buses to be overcrowded increasing dwell time
  • Schedule Problems
    • Unrealistic schedules that do not reflect the actual travel time conditions
    • Too much or not enough travel time between time-points
  • Construction/Detours
    • Planned or unplanned, buses held up in construction or detouring off rote will usually need additional running time not provided in the schedule
  • Special Events
    • Movie/Church/Concert/School dismissals
    • Subway failure
  • Dwell time
    • Some customers fumble with fare media and ask many questions of the Driver, delaying service at stops.  Additionally, busy stops require more boarding/alighting time.
  • Communication
    • Inability to reach control desk to report problems and/or get directions
    • Driver unaware of detours etc
  • Insufficient Layover Time
    • Transit systems often adjust running times by cutting from Layover times at the end of the route.  This gives less time to compensate a run for unexpected delays for its next scheduled trip


Solutions to Improve On Time Performance

  • Off Board Payment
    • Reduces dwell time by increasing boarding
  • Tap and Go
    • Significantly reduces transaction time
  • Signal Priority
    • Reduces traffic time waiting at red signals
  • GPS Tracking
    • Allows for real time tracking and service adjustments from a control center in real time.  A control center can employ one supervisor to monitor many routes as opposed to an employee per route manpower requirement.  Additionally, automated data collection and analysis can be a wealth of information immediately flagging problem areas that need adjustment/attention in real time
  • Schedule Adjustments
    • Analysis of on time performance failures needs to be carefully and frequently completed.  For example, service reductions may be possible on Friday due to less customers, but more service may be needed due to heavier weekend traffic volume.
  • Driver Discipline
    • Drivers who deliberately disregard schedule adherence should be disciplined for either running ahead of schedule or "dragging" the line.  However, drivers should never be required to operate unsafely to maintain a schedule which does not provide ample running time.
  • Better Maintenance
    • Better preventive maintenance programs reduce equipment failures leading to better service regularity and equipment availability/reliability.  Additionally, maintenance needs to perform quality repairs to avoid "repeater' breakdowns.
  • Extra Supervision
    • Routes need to be monitored when problems exist.  Routes should never go unsupervised.  Supervision schedules should be tweaked to reflect operational issues.
  • Accountable Supervision
    • Supervisors should be held accountable for preventable short-comings with the routes they supervise.  Is the supervisor pro-active?  Does the supervisor understand the problems of the specific route and traffic/ridership patterns to make effective service adjustments?
  • Exclusive Lane / BRT Service
    • Exclusive bus lanes and BRT service has been shown to reduce travel times by up to 20%.  Bus lanes need to be enforced regularly by law enforcement and enforcement cameras.
  • Detour plans in advance
    • Effective communication to the customers and drivers will minimize detour delays allowing advance time to plan.
  • Special Events
    • Concerts, sporting events, and school breaks should all be addressed in advance when they can be. 

What is your experience with on time performance issues?  Share and comment.

Friday, October 14, 2011

First Post

First post.

Thank you for visiting the Transit Manager Blog. The purpose of this blog is to enrich our knowledge, techniques, skills, and operations performance as transit managers through the sharing of experience, ideas, and communication.

Topics I hope to discuss, in no particular order, are;
Employee Availability
Accidents and Accident Investigations
Employee Morale
On Time Performance
Fare Media
Best Practices
Social Media in Transit
Service Delivery and Adjustments
Customer Complaints and Issues
Technology and Transit
Route Selection and Design
Unions and Labor Relations
Transit Security
Sub-Contracting and Contracts

I have been working in the Transit Industry for over 18 years.  Positions I held were Bus Operator, Dispatcher, Superintendent, and General Superintendent.  I have worked in all aspects of transportation operations including road and depot operations, accident investigation and analysis, fixed route and paratransit, and held administrative and operational positions.  I also was a union representative when I was a Bus Operator, representing over 4000 Bus Operators.  I have a very thorough background in Transit Operations which I continue to expand every day as I believe we can always learn something new and improve.

Looking forward to you joining the conversation!