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1 SUMMARY Vehicle Operator Recruitment, Retention, and Performance in ADA Complementary Paratransit Operations Vehicle operator performance is an essential element in the delivery of efficient, quality, and Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) complementary paratransit service. Successfully carrying out shared-ride paratransit schedules which is often on a tight schedule in order to meet all rider demands, is a significant challenge. Providing appropriate assistance to riders with diverse needs requires particular skill and training. Meeting and responding to daily oper- ating conditions requires consistent professionalism. A common sentiment expressed by those familiar with the dynamic nature of paratransit operations is that the vehicle operator job in this type of service is at least as challenging and critical as that of fixed-route operators. Finding and retaining quality ADA paratransit vehicle operators is reported to be a par- ticular problem. Annual surveys of the industry by a leading trade publication have consis- tently found that operator recruitment and retention is one of the most significant chal- lenges faced by service providers. The national survey conducted as part of this study found that annual turnover of vehicle operators averages 30 percent among private contracted providers and is often much higher. ADA compliance reviews conducted by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in recent years have documented vehicle operator turnover rates in excess of 80% per year in some of the nation's largest ADA paratransit programs. Vehicle operator recruitment and retention issues directly affect the quality and effective- ness of ADA paratransit services that are provided. This study found that only 29% of pri- vate companies providing ADA paratransit services under contract to public entities consis- tently operate with a full complement of vehicle operators. Fifty-five percent experience periodic workforce shortages, and 16% reported constant workforce shortages. Among pub- lic entities that operate services in-house, 50% reported a full workforce, while 28% reported periodic shortages of operators, and 16% reported constant shortages. Fifty-two percent of public entities responsible for providing ADA complementary paratransit indicated that vehicle operator availability had a moderate to significant impact on service delivery. Without an adequate number of vehicle operators, systems can enter the day of service with scheduled runs that are "uncovered." The trips on these runs must then be added to already tight schedules on other runs. Constant turnover also means that a significant por- tion of the workforce is inexperienced and may not be able to deliver services as efficiently and effectively as more experienced operators. A detailed review of two ADA paratransit programs conducted as part of this study found that on-time performance on runs per- formed by less experienced operators was 3 to 13 percentage points lower than on runs per- formed by more experienced operators. High turnover also can have significant financial consequences. The research found that the full cost of recruiting, hiring, and training each ADA paratransit operator is between $3,200 and $4,200. This suggests that in a system that employs 100 vehicle operators and has a 40% annual turnover rate, recruitment and training costs are likely between $128,000 and

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2 $168,000 per year. Reducing annual turnover to 20% would result in savings in recruitment and training of $64,000 to $84,000 per year. Investing this amount in improved recruitment, training, compensation, performance bonuses, and better tools and support to achieve low- ered turnover would therefore make sense financially. Even more significant cost savings could also be realized from the performance of expe- rienced vehicle operators. As noted above, the research found that vehicle operators with more than 6 months of experience were 8% to 24% more productive than less experienced operators. In a system with 100 operators and 40% annual turnover, it could be expected that 40 operators would have less than 6 months of experience for half the year each year. Reducing annual turnover to 20% would mean that there would be 20 more operators that would be providing service at a higher productivity for half of the year. Assuming an aver- age increase in productivity of 16%, this would mean a savings of 3,200 revenue-hours per year to serve the same number of trips. Assuming an operating cost of $55 per revenue-hour, this could amount to a savings of $176,000 per year. Savings in recruitment and training is realized directly by the operating entity and should influence business decisions to improve workforce stability. Cost savings related to produc- tivity also would be directly realized by public entities that operate ADA paratransit services in-house and should impact their decisions to create a more stable workforce. In privately contracted operations, though, where providers are paid per revenue-hour of service deliv- ered, the savings due to productivity improvement might not affect their workforce deci- sions. If they are paid per hour regardless of productivity, and contract incentives and dis- incentives related to productivity are not significant, they might find it more profitable to provide relatively low levels of compensation and operate with high vehicle operator turnover. It is incumbent on the public entities paying for the services, to which the additional costs would fall (or savings accrue), to ensure that contract operators provide them with stable, experienced, and productive vehicle operators. A number of factors appear to impact vehicle operator recruitment and retention. The adequacy of compensation appears to be one of the more significant factors. Relatively low compensation, particularly given the high demands of the job, can affect the quality of appli- cants and trainees. This, in turn, can result in high training drop-out rates and involuntary terminations for poor performance. Relatively low compensation can also contribute to turnover as qualified operators leave for better paying jobs or jobs of equal pay with fewer demands and less stress. According to national survey responses, the average starting wage in the spring of 2008 for ADA paratransit vehicle operators employed by private contractors ranged from $7 to $14.06 per hour and averaged $10.47. Vehicle operators employed by public agencies that provided services in-house were paid from $9.50 to $15.77, with the average starting wage being $12.06. The research also found that starting wages for ADA paratransit operators are less than for fixed-route operators by an average of about $1 to $2 per hour and the differ- ence in maximum pay for longer term operators is greater. Fringe benefits for ADA paratransit operators are also often relatively meager, particularly for those employed by private contractors. Only 75% of private contractors offer individual health care coverage to full-time operators, and only 68% provide family coverage. Only 19% of companies offer health benefits to part-time vehicle operators. On average, full-time vehicle operators are required to pay 33% of individual coverage and 50% of family cover- age, a cost that is often out-of-reach given the hourly wages. Detailed analysis conducted as part of this study did show a statistically significant relation- ship between compensation and turnover. The level of starting wages was shown to account for 21% of the turnover reported. The research also suggested that turnover can be lowered by 3.5% to 5.1% for every $1 increase in starting wage.

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3 While compensation is significant and explains some of the turnover, the research sug- gests that the other factors also affect turnover. Other factors that appear to be significant are the following: The requirements and demands of the job. It was found that many applicants and trainees may not have a full appreciation for the nature of the job. Individuals who believe they are applying for a simple driving job may leave once they realize the full requirements and demands of the job. Work shifts and work assignment practices. This includes evening and weekend work and part-time shifts and split shifts that may not fit employee lifestyles. With 81% of para- transit providers assigning work based on seniority, constant high turnover was noted among operators with the least seniority who received the least desirable assignments. Job frustrations and limited support. Vehicle operators who participated in focus group discussions conducted as part of the study noted frustration with the schedules they some- times were required to perform. Difficult schedules, particularly if combined with limited dispatch or company support, can lead to job dissatisfaction and turnover. The research suggests that greater attention must be given to the following three areas in order to address vehicle operator recruitment and retention: Attracting and finding the right individuals for the job, Providing adequate training and the necessary tools to do the job effectively, and Providing a supportive and responsive work environment. Specific actions and efforts that can assist in each of these areas have been identified and are outlined in this report. Examples of successful approaches and efforts reported by tran- sit agencies and service providers are described. A model that describes the many factors that contribute to recruitment and retention is presented and explained. The more promising efforts and approaches include the following: Targeted recruitment that focuses on finding the right person for the job and training them to be vehicle operators rather than relying on applicants with driving experience who may not be good fits for the job; Recruitment that defines the characteristics required to succeed as an ADA paratransit vehicle operator and then seeks to identify and attract these individuals to the job; Careful pre-screening of applicants to ensure that they have the necessary skills and atti- tude to succeed in the job; Realistic job previews that give applicants a better sense of the nature of the job; Improved compensation to be able to attract qualified applicants and keep quality operators; "Onboarding" and mentoring to provide support and guidance to new operators; Referral and signing bonuses to assist in recruitment; Bonuses to encourage and recognize good performance and supplement base levels of compensation; Other efforts to recognize the contributions of vehicle operators; and Greater dispatch, supervisor, and management support and a "team" approach to meet- ing the challenges of ADA paratransit service delivery. The research noted a number of public transit agencies that have developed integrated workforces and equalized pay for fixed-route and ADA paratransit operators. A number of systems that are moving in this direction as a way to address workforce issues were also

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4 identified. The experiences reported by these systems suggest that workforce integration and pay equity can improve job satisfaction, retention, and performance. The increased costs were, in many cases, offset by gains in service productivity, lowered recruitment and training costs, and greater workforce flexibility. The research also identified transit agencies that are employing innovative procurement and contracting approaches to address vehicle operator issues. These include the following: Clearly indicating the importance of vehicle operator recruitment and retention to prospective proposers and the transit agency's desire to be provided with a stable and experienced workforce; Requirements in procurement documents for the provision of reasonable or living wages or for maintaining and building on the current levels of compensation; Requirements for reasonable fringe benefits; Preferences in the selection process to proposers who demonstrate compensation levels and other efforts that will achieve a stable, experienced workforce; Specific penalties if contractors are unable to pull-out assigned runs due to operator short- ages; and Other service performance requirements, with associated incentives and penalties, that directly relate to the need for an adequate workforce. Finally, this report notes the need for further research. In particular, more research is needed to understand and quantify the impacts of the many factors and components of recruitment and retention. Starting wages have been shown to account for about 21% of turnover. More research on the exact impacts of fringe benefits, work assignments, and other factors is needed to better define the other 79%. Additional study and documentation of the inter-relationships between recruitment and training costs, compensation, turnover, per- formance, and total system cost are also needed to allow systems to make decisions about the appropriate levels of investment in the workforce. While this study has begun to document the extent of the problem and has identified pos- sible solutions, more research is also needed to identify proven practices and approaches. This includes continued study of the integration of fixed-route and ADA paratransit work- forces and efforts to develop pay equity. It also includes additional study of best practices in public transit procurement that encourages and supports contractor efforts to develop a sta- ble and experienced workforce.