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!