How to have happier bus drivers

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Paperwork, Policies, and Punishment–agencies fail to promote productivity within the workplace. Penalizing your drivers won’t motivate them to work harder. 

It disconnects the workforce from the decision-makers and instills stronger divisiveness. It results in reactive responses and an “us vs. them” mentality that plagues transit operations. The agency is in direct control of the work culture, and if they do not maintain a healthy environment, it can, unfortunately, trickle-down and affect customers. 

Hard-working operators literally and figuratively drive the transit industry forward. No matter the effort you put into gathering and analyzing data to create schedules–it will not affect employees who do not feel appreciated. Loyalty needs to be earned by the leaders of the companies. If you treat workers poorly, they will become indifferent to the agency. 

The “fear culture” does not work and will only backfire on you.

 

Pressuring employees might have worked in the past, but the workplace has undergone some profound changes in this modern-day. Employees are less likely to respond to orders and threats–you might find your company image tarnished on social media if you try to use punishment to motivate. Ultimately, it will stunt development and build resentment among a workforce that requires strong teamwork to be efficient.

 

The world’s consumers and their needs are changing: passenger expectations are vastly different from those when I first arrived in transit operations nearly a decade ago. They demand safer drivers, cleaner and newer buses, and green emissions. As the demands of riders have changed throughout the years, so too have those of drivers. The operations infrastructure should allow for alterations as well.

 

Current business trends lean towards a sense of camaraderie. It focuses on building relationships and supporting community connections. The way businesses treat their customers dictates their success. Restaurants and stores that offer a sense of friendship and personalization always find success–places like Chipotle or Pie 5 where they create your meal in front of you; or Starbucks and Panera, where they call you by name. Those who managed to update their business practices to keep up with changing preferences have found success, while others are still struggling.

 

It leads you to wonder whether transit agencies see their drivers are family or only as a means to an end. Dispatchers and management sit behind bulletproof glass, further separating employees into divisions of good vs. bad; us vs. them. 

 

Transit ops failed to evolve and create sustainable relationships amongst the employers and workers. As a result, the employees who drive the system have no motivation to go above and beyond their work and achieve the desired results. The lack of relationship is the number one driving factor (pun intended) in declining service quality. 

 

At Supir, we believe that it is necessary to transform the current transit operations and reinvent a healthy culture amongst drivers and their employers. Our mission is to reconnect them and strengthen their relationships.

Pursue Partnerships

One of the most frustrating things for operators is when we feel that things are unfairly altered or adjusted without being privy to the conversation. We can understand that the people on the board have their jobs to do. However, what makes sense to decision-makers sitting in offices may not necessarily translate well to operators in the field. They have different day-to-day experiences that often don’t apply to the actual drivers. 

A few years ago, my pull-in route was switched and sent me directly into the center of rush hour traffic. It was full of crazy accidents, massive delays, and too much stress and frustration. The board members thought they were improving the situation because the new route was more direct and consisted of about 90% expressway. It was initially issued in the summertime during vacation, but once school resumed after September, people returned to their regular routes and caused mayhem. 


That same year, a significant interstate closed early, causing the usual 4-5 PM rush hour push back. Drivers were delayed getting to my location, and overall, everyone was unhappy and frustrated. On paper, it seemed like a good idea to board members, but I could see the variables and factors that their data failed to capture. Call it drivers eye. We ultimately fixed the route, but that headache wouldn’t have occurred if there were better working relationships between both parties. 

Promote A Positive Work Culture

A leader’s job is to support their employees, create a healthy work environment, change negative thinking, and invest in their workers. Engaged operators are happier and work harder for their agency. Incentives, friendly competition, and supporting individual success are critical factors to maintaining a strong work ethic. 

 

Provide Pathways for Professional Progression

Use various programs to create the next generation of decision-makers who will go well beyond the street supervisors and bus operations as a whole. No one understands the system better than the operators, so encourage your drivers to develop into the next planners, administrators, and directors. Their first-hand experience and knowledge will be beneficial to the agency.

Present The Problems

I was once working with a service planner in my agency when he joked about how his data is screwed up because individual operators were always leaving the terminus late. As I was one of those operators, I explained my reasoning, and we were able to have an informative conversation and come to a great solution that benefitted us both. Drivers are often on their own–no one informs them of other coworkers’ challenges and difficulties. We see the results of the backend policy, not the reasoning behind it. If you have a line that seems to struggle often, start a discussion and ask to propose a solution–you’d be surprised at the results you get.

Purpose

Inspire your drivers and instill a sense of purpose in them. While pay and benefits are great motivators, they can be harmful to your work environment if you focus only on those. You’ll end up with a workforce that does the bare minimum to receive compensation. Create a healthy work culture where your drivers are eager to work and loyal to the agency. Connect the purpose of their work to the actual impact it has on society, and make it known that you appreciate them.

Patrick Parents
Patrick Parents

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