National Academies Press: OpenBook

Addressing Difficult Customer Situations (2017)

Chapter: Chapter One - Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Addressing Difficult Customer Situations. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24701.
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Page 4
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Addressing Difficult Customer Situations. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24701.
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Page 5
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Addressing Difficult Customer Situations. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24701.
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Page 6

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5 chapter one IntroductIon Project Background Public transportation agencies do their best to provide safe, reliable, and attractive service for their communities. One of the primary goals of transit agencies is to increase ridership, which requires retaining existing customers and attracting new ones. Even if the service provided is reliable and vehicles and facilities are well maintained, efforts to increase ridership and market share can be thwarted when problematic or difficult customers frighten or repel others using buses, trains, or transit facilities. Such behavior can discourage other customers from using transit. At worst, difficult passenger situations might result in violence or injury to customers or agency employees. Transit agency personnel know that providing a safe environment for employees and the general public is at the core of any such agency’s mission. Each transit agency determines how it deals with difficult customers. Some expect supervisors to handle such matters, and others rely on law enforcement. Some have developed relationships with local judges, whereas others have employees dedicated to teaching customers their rights and responsibilities. Some have clear codes of conduct approved by their policy boards, and others have passed local or state legislation to provide additional authority for taking appropriate action, includ- ing banning particularly difficult customers from their system. A broad range of policies and prac- tices exist. Each situation may be handled on a case-by-case basis, balancing the interests of all involved. A synthesis of current practices will help transit agencies learn from each other about new and effec- tive practices in handling incidents with authority and respect. defInItIon of dIffIcult customer sItuatIons The phrase “difficult customer situations” covers a variety of circumstances that can occur at transit facilities or in transit vehicles that create undesirable, uncomfortable, or even dangerous experiences for passengers and/or transit agency employees. These include, but are not limited to, the follow- ing acts: • Playing sound equipment that is noticeably audible and annoying to other customers; • People talking loudly (and annoyingly) while using cell phones; • Noxious odors emanating from clothing, possessions, or the body that discomfort other passengers; • Boisterous or disruptive behavior, including fighting, by an individual or groups that creates potentially unsafe conditions in a transit vehicle or station; • People who are intoxicated or under the influence of other drugs and may exhibit erratic, danger- ous, or frightening behavior; • People who have mental health or emotional issues; • Argumentative passengers or those simply having a bad day who act out in frustration or anger; • People who eat or drink while riding a transit vehicle; • People who spit, urinate, or throw things in a transit facility or in a vehicle; and • Harassment in the form of threatening or abusive behavior or written or visual signs causing people alarm and stress.

6 PurPose of rePort and Intended audIence Although some of these circumstances might be regarded as only annoying, others are clearly antisocial and can create legitimate anxiety among other passengers who may fear for their safety. Fortunately, almost all transit customers using the service to travel can usually expect a noneventful ride. The situations occur from time to time, but they represent the exception and not the rule. However, those who use public transit know that any member of the public can access the service, and one never knows what actions a person who is coming on board a vehicle or approaching a customer service window might take. It is understood that unwanted events can occur, and no agency has enough resources to provide perfect protection for every vehicle or facility. If these types of occurrences happen too often or are not handled properly, people, particularly those with choices, will find other ways to travel, and word of mouth can harm the reputation of the transit system and discourage others from using it. The purpose of this report is to identify what transit agencies throughout the country are doing to address most effectively the types of difficult customer situations that occur in a transit system, including • Ways of preventing difficult customer situations through education, policies, rules, and so forth. • No trespass warrants or denial of service or similar programs, including how they work and how they might be made more effective. • Determining what more can be done to defuse incidents. • Exploring what training exists that can provide guidance for agency employees when dealing with difficult customers. • Exploring legal issues and considerations. • Studying the level of union involvement and cooperation. • Considering the relationship between incident management practices and current safety programs (safety management system). This report will be of interest to managers of transit systems of all sizes. It will be of particular use to those responsible for operating trains, buses, paratransit vehicles, and transit facilities and those who supervise those employees who are on the front lines of providing transit service. Those who train operations personnel will benefit from learning what techniques, practices, and policies are used by other transit systems, to determine if they are transferable to their own agency’s training program. It will also be of interest to officials who provide security services for transit agencies, whether they are employees of the agency, private security services, or local police departments. Agencies that provide social services for people who are homeless or other counseling services for people with addictions could benefit from learning how transit agencies partner with those agencies to help cus- tomers with such needs. Transit policy boards will benefit from knowing the types of policies that are in place to address these circumstances without violating the civil rights of customers. technIcal aPProach The approach to this synthesis includes: • A literature review of scholarly research and other sources of information obtained through Internet search engines and transit industry news services. • A survey of public transit agencies of all sizes with respondents from 20 different states and the District of Columbia. • E-mail and telephone communications with a number of the survey respondents to clarify infor- mation that they provided in the survey. organIzatIon of thIs rePort Following this introductory chapter, chapter two summarizes the information found in the review of literature that addresses dealing with difficult customer situations. Chapter three identifies the 41 public agencies that responded to the survey for this report and provides information on the types

7 of difficult customer situations that transit agencies deal with and which ones are becoming more common. Chapter four looks more closely at specific techniques, practices, and policies that prevent, respond to, and counter these types of situations. Chapter five reports on case examples of transit agencies that provided particularly thorough answers to all questions asked on the surveys. Chapter six presents conclusions from this synthesis project and offers suggestions for future research. Appendix A is the survey instrument used to gain information from the 41 agencies that reported their experience in dealing with difficult customer situations. Appendix B is a list of all the agencies that participated in the survey for this project; it also includes their agencies’ size characteristics. Appendix C provides examples of codes of conduct or other local ordinances that are intended to govern customer behavior and provide guidance to passengers and employees of transit systems.

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TRB's Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 127: Addressing Difficult Customer Situations considers issues surrounding difficult customers or passengers and the variety of circumstances that can arise when they utilize transit system facilities or vehicles. The report identifies current practices used by transit agencies to prevent, prepare for, and deal with these incidents.

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