For decades, the Transit & Paratransit Company (TAPTCO) and the Motorcoach Safety Training Company (MCSTCO) have been at the forefront of the public and private bus industries’ safety trends and regulations with its driver training programs.
A Safety Management System (SMS) is a process where you identify the hazards in driving a bus, analyze these hazards and devise actions to remove or reduce these hazards. Our SMS is summarized on this poster.
— Jeff Cassell
The TAPTCO and MCSTCO team of performance improvement experts – with vast expertise in fleet operations and safety, industrial psychology, instructional design, and media production – have collaborated to create highly successful training programs for bus driver training, CDL training, trainer certification, safety leadership, ADA-compliant transportation, garage safety, and passenger safety for riders of public transit, paratransit, and privately-owned bus travel.
Today, over 450 transit agencies and every location of Keolis, RATP Dev, MTM, and National Express use the training materials created by TAPTCO. Building off that success in the public sphere, MCSTCO training materials are used at more than 100 motorcoach, charter, and tour companies.
TAPTCO and MCSTCO Origins
Jeff Cassell, president of both TAPTCO and MCSTCO, was formerly the VP Corporate Risk Manager for the Laidlaw group for over 21 years. During Cassell’s tenure, Laidlaw operated 38,000 school buses and nearly 10,000 transit and paratransit buses – and the company was 100 percent owner of Greyhound Lines. As the risk manager, Cassell was responsible for the claims handling.
“I saw firsthand the mistakes that led to accidents,” he said. “Laidlaw operated over 480 locations and the level and quality of the training was all over the map. Most locations only sought to meet the state requirements, using self-made guides and PowerPoint presentations.”
While one might think that complying with state requirements is sufficient, the truth is that every state has wildly different standards. This is why the new FMCSA Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) requirements were created but, Cassell said, even meeting those new requirements is not nearly enough to develop the safe practices required for a true safety culture.
At Laidlaw, Cassell helped create a comprehensive video-based training course far ahead of state requirements and implemented the course at all 480 locations. Laidlaw reduced their accident rate by more than 72 percent and their cost of losses were reduced by more than $58 million per year.
“After Laidlaw was acquired by First Group, I attempted to retire but was bored,” he said. “I decided to apply all I had learned leading the safety practices at Laidlaw, and created driver training courses for school bus, transit, paratransit, and motorcoach. These new courses were even better than what we had at Laidlaw. The plan was to create the most comprehensive video-based training possible and sell it at a low price, to every school district, transit agency and motorcoach operation.”
Making Safety a Standard
The TAPTCO and MCSTCO courses fall into several categories:
Driver Training: TAPTCO offers two courses centered on driver training: the Transit Operator Development Course and the Paratransit Operator Development Course.
Both courses include dozens of video-based training programs, detailing federal regulations, safety & defensive driving, specific driving situations, driver behavior and removing risk, professional service, conflict management, ADA compliance, emergency and accident procedures, and more.
For motorcoach bus companies, MCSTCO offers the Driver Training Course for operators. This course features eight programs plus an extensive exam. The teachings detail safety best practices, defensive driving, preventing intersection accidents and rear-end collisions, pedestrian and bicycle awareness, merging/passing/lane-changing, lift operations and securement procedures, and professional customer service.
Cassell said that the motorcoach course is proven to reduce accidents by at least 50 percent.
Safety Leadership Course: Both TAPTCO and MCSTCO offer this course. Safety Leadership is an advanced self-directed educational course for directors of transportation, managers, supervisors, and trainers. There are six units, providing about four hours of instruction, followed by a 50-question final exam.
The course explains why people have accidents and how leaders can prevent them from happening by establishing and maintaining NORMS. By creating safety NORMS, Cassell said, leaders can influence the behavior of their employees to achieve better results. Cassell said that every transit and motorcoach manager and supervisor can benefit from this course.
The Trainer Certification Process: Per Cassell, trainers have the greatest influence on drivers in everything they do and say – and, importantly, how they say it. The Trainer Certification Process covers everything a trainer needs to know, including demonstrations of commentary driving, which Cassell said is the most effective Behind-The-Wheel training.
Bus Garage Safety Toolkit/OSHA Compliance: A single source management tool specifically designed by TAPTCO and MCSTCO for transit/paratransit and motorcoach operations, respectively. When used properly, the course will help managers quickly and easily achieve compliance with OSHA regulations. The toolkit provides education and training materials addressing 23 OSHA standards that apply to maintenance facilities and three standards that apply to drivers.
CDL Written Test: The CDL course includes interactive lessons on rules and vehicle inspections, general safe driving, cargo and hazardous materials, passenger transportation, and air brakes. In addition to practice tests, it includes a classroom trainer’s guide and a driver’s study guide.
This course is designed to help trainers pass the CDL written test in less time.
Safety: Freedom from Risk
Cassell reiterated that meeting the state standards should not be the desired practice for agencies and operators. TAPTCO and MCSTCO’s most effective training program, called Safety Best Practices, takes 90 minutes to deliver and really sets the foundation for anything the companies teach. However, there is nothing in any state requirement or in the new ELDT requirements that teach everything that is included in Safety Best Practices.
“Safety Best Practices starts by asking the trainees, ‘What is safety? What does the word safety mean? If you go to the dictionary and look up safety, what will it say?’” Cassell said. “Believe it or not, only one in 10 drivers, trainers, or DOT professionals know what the definition of safety is. If you have a passion for safety but do not even know what it is, how can you apply that passion? All you have is words and no actions.”
Cassell said that the most common answer is “having no accidents,” but that is incorrect. Having no accidents, he said, is the consequence of safety.
“Imagine that I blindfold myself and run across a busy street, and I make it to the other side,” he said. “I did not have an accident, but I certainly wasn’t safe.”
For TAPTCO and MCSTCO, safety means freedom from risk.
“If you avoid risk, you are safe,” Cassell said. “If you reduce risk, you are safer. It is as simple as that, but most drivers at locations without our course do not know this.”
The training also asks, “What does the word ‘risk’ mean?” The training videos repeatedly ask questions and stop to allow discussions because, Cassell said, the more the trainees are involved, the more they will learn.
“Risk is defined as the possibility of injury or damage to property,” he said. “So, if we put these together: Safety is freedom from the possibility of injury or damage to property.”
Cassell reiterated that drivers do not deliberately have accidents, but they do deliberately perform the unsafe behaviors that lead to accidents.
For example, if a bus is only two seconds behind a vehicle and it rear-ends that vehicle – the driver did not mean to rear-end the vehicle, however they did mean to follow too closely. That was a conscious and deliberate act that led to the accident, and that is what the courses seek to change.
Effective Training at Top Operations
TAPTCO and MCSTCO materials are in use at transit and paratransit agencies, motorcoach companies, and driver locations all throughout North America, with some of the safest records being touted as a result of the training.
Synergize Consulting, based in Kansas, has been offering transportation safety and training since its founding in 2018. Founder Frank Ciccarella has more than 40 years’ experience in the field, and now works with emerging and existing companies to formalize training procedures and create lasting safety cultures.
Ciccarella has extensive history utilizing TAPTCO and finds it unique among other programs of its kind.
“When I work with companies, I stress that TAPTCO is unique because it creates a foundational training program,” Ciccarella said. “It creates programs, policies, and procedures which allow companies to standardize best business practices.”
Beyond driver training, Ciccarella said, TAPTCO helps instill norms about hiring, background checks, retraining, terminations for unsafe behavior, and more.
“Many companies handle training in-house, and that often consist of videos from the internet or self-produced materials,” he said. “But if something goes wrong, attorneys and law enforcement will want to see the training and know the qualifications of the trainers.”
“With TAPTCO, it’s a professionally-built program with an instructor who’s been trained to use it,” he continued. “They know how to document the training, how to implement it, and how to relate it to drivers on the road.”
In Ohio, Black & White Transportation utilizes TAPTCO modules geared specifically toward Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) and paratransit operations. The company operates the largest fleet of wheelchair-accessible vans, sedans, and minivans in northwest Ohio. The NEMT division consists of approximately 30 vehicles and 60 drivers, providing around 40,000 annual trips.
Clark Gross is chief operating officer at Black & White Transportation and manages the day-to-day activities for the company’s paratransit division. When he joined the company in 2016, he said one of his first recommendations was to standardize and formalize driver training. After consulting with TAPTCO, Black & White began implementing TAPTCO for its NEMT/paratransit operations.
“There is a lot of methodology involved in the NEMT world,” Gross said. “In order to be federally funded – whether through the Department of Health and Human Services, or Medicaid, Medicare – the government wants things done a certain way. The TAPTCO program is very comprehensive in that area.”
Since standardizing its training, Black & White Transportation experienced improvements in its accident frequency ratio and loss history. Furthermore, the company’s NEMT division recently became the sixth company to receive accreditation by the Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Commission (NEMTAC), an ANSI-accredited standards developer.
“I credit it to having the right people – but they’re only the right people if you give them proper training,” Gross said. “And we have seen tangible improvements in safe operations because of that training.”
The West Central Mass Transit District (WCMTD) provides public transportation to Morgan, Scott, Brown, Pike, Cass, and Schuyler Counties in Illinois, with “curb to curb” transportation allowing for riders to travel directly from home to their chosen destination.
Kevin Tavender, the safety and security manager at WCTMD, spends a week and a half with each new driver and dispatcher, going through every portion of the program together. After each lesson, Tavender pauses the program to initiate a discussion with the new driver about what they just learned. After the classroom training is completed, they begin supervised driving.
Tavender also uses TAPTCO as a corrective measure in the event of an incident where the driver may be at fault, such as a backing accident or safety issue. The driver must meet with Tavender and review the course associated with the incident in question. Tavender said he does this with new and veteran drivers.
Tavender said he appreciates the responsiveness he has received from TAPTCO.
“We use the online version of the program, which is great because it updates instantly whenever TAPTCO revises its materials,” he said. “I also like that TAPTCO, if you call or email them with a question or a problem, either answers or gets right back to me with an answer.”
“For example, if I’m experiencing a glitch of any kind, I call them and it gets fixed instantly,” he continued. “It’s spot-on customer service. If there’s an issue, they take care of it.”
AppalCART is the public transportation authority for Watauga County in North Carolina, mainly servicing the town of Boone. Annually transporting more than 2 million people, the AppalCART fleet consists of 28 full-size buses and 14 paratransit vans. AppalCART has utilized TAPTCO training for more than three years.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate TAPTCO as a 10+,” said Rick Osborne, driver, trainer, and road-tester for AppalCART. “Since moving to TAPTCO, we have probably cut down our accident rate by 60 to 70 percent.”
Osborne said that TAPTCO is invaluable because of the ease in which it communicates the safety standards and messaging.
“We have drivers of all education and experience backgrounds, and we really like that TAPTCO is presented so that it’s easy for all to understand,” he said. “Something like the LLLC – look ahead, look around, leave room, and communicate – is such an easy lesson to remember, when it’s put in such simple terms.”
“If you take safety seriously then TAPTCO’s the only way you’ll get it across to your people, to where they truly understand,” he added. “Safety is the number one priority, and that’s what TAPTCO stands for.”