Refresher training keeps RTD operators ready for interactions on the road and with passengers
Since April 22, RTD’s Bus Operations Training division has trained more than 920 bus operators on the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) training and Smith System of driving.
CPI is training that specializes in the safe management of disruptive and assaultive behavior. Smith System is a three-stage training that focuses on defensive driving and collision avoidance.
RTD Bus Operations’ leadership wanted to take the opportunity to conduct these extensive and important trainings now that operators are less pressed for time with the new COVID-19 service schedule.
To Daniel Yazzie, a bus operations instructor, the CPI training is important because “being safe while remaining courteous is becoming more of a challenge to operators – especially for those with less experience. Learning how to quickly identify risk and respond appropriately promotes safety, reduces stress and increases retention.
“Drivers can sometimes feel left alone to handle problematic passengers who have some level of emotional/mental unwellness and may be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.”
Some of the conditions that bus operators may have to deal with, on top of driving the vehicle, are fare evasion/fraud, loud music, smoking, drinking alcohol, and obscene or offensive behavior. According to Yazzie, aggressive behavior can quickly escalate from challenging questions, to refusal, then threats, and finally violence. Most recently, operators have had to deal with refusal to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
“Senior operators, who have learned how to transition difficult personalities into cooperative regular passengers, agree that this presentation is valuable information for new drivers and most are grateful for the reminder,” said Yazzie.
This was true for Mark Krone, who has been an operator for almost 10 months. He was new to dealing with conflict. He previously worked in the construction industry. For him, the first 3-4 months were difficult because reactions from some customers were aggressive.
“[The training] was a reminder on how the little things you do as a driver could either set off or calm down a situation,” he said. “Sometimes you get out of technique dealing with humans who have mental problems or are having a bad day.”
From the training, Krone learned to not take the job personally.
“People will have issues no matter what. I learned to comment back toward them as you would a baby so you won’t set them off.”
Two months prior, Krone unfortunately had a customer spit on him, which is scary, especially amid a deadly pandemic. He thinks if he had this CPI training before, he would’ve been able to handle the situation differently and it wouldn’t have turned out that way.
Krone says he uses the CPI training on a weekly basis.
“I drive the route 16 up and down Colfax. How you interact with people reflects on how they interact back with you. I’ve realized that down Colfax, when you are passive and you talk to customers in a monotone voice, they respond better and you don’t have as many situations. I’ve noticed a significant decrease of incidents on my buses when I take a step back” and remember the CPI training.
“Calm cognitive behavior can de-escalate defensive reflexive behavior,” said Yazzie. “We offer tools for operators to avoid overreaction, choose calm energy, make decisions based on their core values, allow for precipitating factors, and not take defensive behavior personally. Operators learn how tone, volume, cadence, facial expressions, and gestures add meaning to the words they say. They hear possible perspectives and internal factors that influence human actions. Empathetic listening can help them reveal the source of anxious behavior.”
Operators also spent time getting a refresher on the Smith System. The first phase of this training involves two hours in the classroom that addresses the five keys of defensive driving techniques (Key 1. Aim High In Steering, Key 2. Get The Big Picture, Key 3. Keep Your Eyes Moving, Key 4. Leave Yourself An Out and Key 5. Make Sure They See You).
The second phase includes driving skills that address clearance issues around a bus while navigating curves and turns through an on-site obstacle course.
Lastly, the third phase is an on-the-road graded driving session where drivers practice the techniques that were given to them in the classroom.
“This training is essential in reminding RTD drivers to always stay vigilant by using defensive techniques that will help keep their passengers, pedestrians and other drivers as safe as possible while they are operating the bus,” said trainer Greg Ortiz.
Krone also thought this training was useful.
“It was a good class, making you more aware of your surroundings, how your blind spots are larger than you think.”
Krone said for the on-the-road portion of the training, operators had to verbalize everything they saw, which was handy in helping him notice people and objects on the road.
Feedback for all of the training has been very positive.
In the long run, the CPI training gives operators the confidence to manage and prevent crisis situations, which in turn will reduce challenging behaviors, reduce injuries and increase our overall safety.