April 24, 2014
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New Operator Mentoring Program

"Illinois Terminal" "buses" "snow"

MTD buses serve the snowy platforms of Illinois Terminal.

You’ve heard us say it before, but being a bus operator is not an easy job. MTD drivers are certified professionals who juggle the demands of changing road conditions, passengers boarding and alighting, and surrounding traffic of varying sizes and speeds. So what’s it like to be a newbie?

“It can be stressful,” answers Jim Dhom, Safety and Training Director. “We throw a tremendous amount of information at them in training.”

The average operator is in training for eight weeks and logs 300 hours of driving time before they are cleared to operate in-service on their own. Dhom says this timeline goes beyond industry standards as most transit agencies execute a four to six week training program. Even with above average industry training time though, new operators can still struggle.

Extra Attention

Dhom maintains thorough accident data analysis and noticed operators in their first two years of service were incurring a higher rate of accidents than veteran operators. To give more attention to this at-risk group, Dhom implemented a mentoring program in 2008. The investment in time and resources has paid off.

The New Operator Mentoring Program was developed for new operators and their first twelve months following training. It involves a minimum of six safety evaluations, which are done when the operator is in-service. These “ride alongs” are conducted by MTD’s core classroom and road trainers. This select group of trainers are veteran operators who are certified by the State of Illinois to test and issue Commercial Driver’s Licenses Class A and B. They are also certified trainers of the Smith Defensive Driving System.

After six months of in-service driving, Dhom and his trainers bring them back into the classroom for a skills review as well as a not-in-service ride along. “This contact is to ensure the new operator remains focused on safety and skills taught during training,” says Dhom. “All these things help ease them into the demanding work they do.”

Dhom added that his core trainers give out their personal phone numbers to new operators with a “call if you need anything” sentiment.

"operator training" "trainers" "classroom"

Two core trainers pictured address a class of new operators.

Extra Safety

The New Operator Mentoring Program seems more valuable than ever as MTD is transporting record passenger loads and an unrelenting winter season (and now thundersnow?) this year. Since the program was instituted in 2008, the first year accident rate has gone down 63%.

“I believe this program has been pivotal in reducing the number of accidents,” says Dhom. “While it is another thing on top of our regular training and safety work, it’s proven to be worthwhile.”

Interested in taking on the rigors of bus operations? We’re hiring!

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About Amy Snyder

Amy Snyder is the Communications Specialist at the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. She writes and manages content for this blog, The Inside Lane, as well as the social media pages for CUMTD.
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2 Responses to New Operator Mentoring Program

  1. Sue Jones says:

    Are the drivers also trained in people skills? Just seems to me there’s a (wonderful) consistency in the way drivers engage with riders of all sorts and keep not just their cool, but their humour in all kinds of interesting situations.

    • Amy Snyder says:

      Yes, Sue, operators are trained in customer service skills during their formal training as well as in annual summer review. Thank you for complimenting our drivers’ ability to “keep their cool.” It certainly takes practice but operators are working in a customer service field! Thanks for reading.

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Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District
1101 East University Avenue
Urbana, IL 61802-2009
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