Customer care and passenger safety
By Todd Carrier
The public transportation industry carries the most valuable cargo — people. Customer service and unwavering commitment to safety gives your company an edge over the competition. In today’s world, it seems threats are numerous. There are the news reports on shootings, violence on the bus and horrific accidents on the road. At a very basic level, there are three key components of customer care and passenger safety: preparation, practice and passenger control.
Your obligation to the motoring public and the safety of your passengers starts with good customer service. Never underestimate the importance of (or the time involved with) preparation, no matter how long you’ve been doing the job. Prior to each trip, ensure the driver has met all regulatory and company policies and procedures, including pre-trip inspections, mirror adjustments, route planning and being well rested. Ensure they will be flexible and sensitive to the needs of your passengers and communicate regularly; if passengers are not updated on all facets of the trip, they may become nervous. It is also important to outline the safety features of the vehicle and expectations of passengers. Passengers should be reminded to stay seated, use seat belts and handrails, know the location of fire extinguishers, and follow evacuation procedures. This not only shows good customer service, but also demonstrates the driver is attentive and in control.
As in athletics, practice makes perfect. A driver will not be able to perform under duress unless the agency has made emergency procedures routine. Hands-on training is often the most effective, but practice begins with the drivers’ own personal habits. For example, there is no message more damaging to passengers than not wearing the seat belt or passing vehicles to make up lost time. Drivers should practice how to deal with distractions or unplanned events. If people are talking excessively to the driver, they should politely inform them that safety is the first priority and they must concentrate on driving. If they experience an emergency, regardless of how minor it might be, their job is to control the scene.
“As in athletics, practice makes perfect.”
They should be prepared and trained to proceed to the nearest roadway exit, side-street or parking lot to minimize exposure to traffic. In most situations, it is usually safest to keep everyone in the vehicle unless the danger is inside the bus. Calling dispatch first in a true emergency will delay response time and prove to be poor judgment in subsequent investigations.
Passenger control techniques are the most underutilized and misunderstood topic in the industry. Often, the company and drivers blur the line between customer satisfaction and safety. We do not place enough emphasis on how to handle threats from non-passengers such as the general public, terrorism, active shooters, student violence and even angry parents.
“Most drivers and companies alike recognize there is a distinct possibility, but they don’t know what to do or where to start in regards to that possibility,” says Jesus Villahermosa of Crisis Reality Training, Inc. “I tell them to expect the unexpected and to remember that when someone has been interviewed from an incident after it occurred; almost all of them have made a statement to the effect of, ‘We never thought it would happen here!’”
Villahermosa suggests companies train drivers on crisis management by focusing on the acronym I-A-M: identify, assess and manage. Identifying a threat begins by being aware of your surroundings and learning to recognize body language indicators, which can be precursors to violence.
“If you think and feel something bad is about to happen then you need to start trusting that instinct and take some action that will eliminate or mitigate whatever you perceived the threat to be,” Villahermosa says.
Reasonable responses include locking down your bus, driving away or making an emergency stop and allowing passengers to exit the bus to get away from the internal threat.
Villahermosa recommends training drivers on reasonable and necessary defensible use of force and de-escalation techniques.
“We are teaching drivers to learn verbal response techniques that could de-escalate that incident without it ever getting physical,” he says. “Everyone has a legal right to defend themselves, so we also discuss what your options and legal obligations are if it does get physical.”
Managing a situation requires training the driver on options and, most importantly, making a decision. In stressful situations, it’s human nature to choose fight or flight. Unfortunately there’s a third reaction — freeze. Companies and drivers must realize that the worst decision is no action and inadequate training can expose the risk of vicarious liability. Although no one likes to talk about the possibility of these types of incidents occurring, these are the very questions where drivers are looking for reality-based answers.
Todd Carrier serves as assistant vice president of risk management for Protective Insurance Company, Carmel, IN. Jesus Villahermosa, Jr. is the president of Crisis Reality Training, Inc., a firm that specializes in assessment, policy, procedure and protocol development for crisis situations. He has partnered with Protective to develop reality-based tools and training for the public transportation industry. To learn more, please visit www.crisisrealitytraining.com.