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Addressing Difficult Customer Situations (2017)

Chapter: Chapter Five - Case Examples

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Case Examples." 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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42 chapter five Case examples long BeaCh TransiT LBT is a midsize transit system, as defined by APTA, serving more than 28.6 million boarding customers annually in southeast Los Angeles County and portions of northwest Orange County (Figure 11). With a service area covering 100 mi2 throughout 13 cities, LBT annually runs more than 6.6 million service miles while providing nearly 700,000 service hours, using 250 fixed-route buses on 35 routes. LBT also operates 10 Dial-A-Lift paratransit vans and four water taxi vessels (two catamarans and two boats). Trends and Contributing Causes of Difficult Customer situations LBT uses a CRMS to track all comments and concerns regarding the agency’s services and products. Based on data from LBT’s CRMS, there has been a 28% increase in total comments logged from FY 2011 to FY 2015. One noticeable demographic change in ridership is the influx of K–12 students onboard LBT. In 2011, the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) began a process of eliminat- ing regular school bus service. The process was complete by 2013. Many students now rely on LBT to take them to and from school. This has presented many challenges for LBT. There was a learning curve that needed to be addressed for both students and LBT on proper engagement and etiquette. At the beginning of FY 2016, LBT developed a communications strategy specifically addressing LBUSD. The communications strategy uses a multitactical approach with support and partnership from the LBUSD assistant superintendents. The strategy includes marketing, community outreach, safety, and security. Through these concerted efforts, LBT has seen a decrease in incidents involving K–12 student customers during FY 2016. LBT also has seen an overall decrease in customer comments in FY 2016 over the first three quarters, and LBT is on pace to see a 19% decrease in overall customer comments by year-end. This can be partially attributed to the efforts LBT has put forth in how-to-ride marketing as well as tactics regarding safety, security, operations, and planning. In terms of new social norms that might have an impact on customer behavior, AB 109 (Prison Realignment) passed in 2011. Proposition 47 (Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative) passed in 2014. These laws resulted in the forced reduction of California prison and jail populations by about 15%. Since then, statewide crime levels have risen demonstrably, and the city of Long Beach has experienced violent and nonviolent crime category increases. It is reasonable to expect that these and other new social norms have increased the number of problem customers on or affecting the LBT system. LBT personnel do not think people are quicker to anger than they have been in the past. The agency reports that the deportment and agendas of a small percentage of the ridership have always resulted in negative impacts to other customers but no more now than previously. The most challenging difficult customer situation for LBT to deal with has been fare evaders. Most, if not all, of these incidents result in a service interruption and loss in service or a short fare

43 collected. Although LBT has policies and procedures in place and operators quote the proper fare(s), customers are still inclined to board without the proper change, no fare, or partial fares. The most frequently occurring difficult customer situation has been managing and monitoring customers who refuse to pay the published fare. LBT has public announcements that quote the correct fare and notices posted on the fare box for customers as they board the bus. All comments regarding LBT services and products are inputted into LBT’s CRMS. Once inputted, the system automatically generates a tracking number and sends the comments to the appropriate department. The comments are investigated and resolved, and the report is closed accordingly. Customers are notified of the results if they opted to receive feedback. Comments involving safety or security concerns have been investigated by the corresponding departments. If themes arise from customer comments, the corresponding departments can use the data to develop safety and security programs to assist in decreasing the specific problem. LBT definitely thinks that difficult customer situations pertaining to security or safety issues could have a negative impact on transit ridership, and the agency has statistics to support that belief. According to data from LBT’s FY 2015 Customer and Community Evaluation Survey, a half per- cent of people who no longer ride LBT responded that it was safety concerns that influenced their departure from riding the system. Although this represents a relatively small number of passengers, LBT continually evaluates and addresses security concerns to minimize the impact on customers and potential ridership. The agency does not think that difficult passenger situations have resulted in increased cases of workers compensation claims because few have been made. outreach efforts to minimize/prevent Difficult Customer situations A component of the LBT communications strategy for the LBUSD is outreach. LBT conducts direct outreach to targeted schools in the district to communicate how to ride the system appropriately. LBT actively participates in back-to-school nights and PTA-sponsored events, and conducts LBT-driven events to engage students, parents, and LBUSD teachers and administrators. FIGURE 11 Location of Long Beach, California. Source: www.city-data.com.

44 LBT also continues to develop a robust community outreach program that educates existing and potential customers on how to ride LBT. The program includes meetings with targeted demographic groups, such as students, seniors, and customers with disabilities, and it also includes participation in community events that focus on themes such as “environment” and “healthy living.” The agency’s current advertising campaign demonstrates different aspects of how to ride LBT effec- tively. The campaign’s humorous approach was developed from the social media meme concept, juxtaposing images and text to elicit engagement with the audience. This is similar to methods described in the literature review section of this synthesis report. The campaign reaches a wide demographic range and is used as a branding and education tool. TED receives virtually no citizen complaints related to its duties to minimize inappropriate behavior on LBT’s transit system. LBT’s service superintendent states that few complaints have been received related to the conduct of LBT’s system service supervisors. On rare occasion, LBT receives comments from customers regarding the behavior of other customers when the behavior was not directed at them. These rare comments range from noticing nefarious activities to customers not giving up their seats to seniors or customers with disabilities. Customers making the comments do not provide suggestions on how to deal with the situations; they merely make LBT aware of the situation so that it can be addressed by the agency. Technologies Used to address Difficult Customer situations LBT uses a variety of technologies to help minimize or detect difficult customer situations. Surveillance cameras, covert microphones inside the bus, security announcements (“See something, say something”), and video monitors that make passengers aware they are being videotaped as they board the bus are examples of technology being used onboard buses to discourage inappropriate behavior. LBT’s current fleet is equipped with an audio and video surveillance system. There are eight cameras on its 40-ft buses and 11 cameras on its articulated buses. The video system has been effective in reviewing situations reported by customers. In a number of cases, the video system has exonerated operators with regard to claims made against them. LBT installed customer monitors in 20 of its buses in a pilot program (Figure 12). The moni- tors are positioned in the front of the vehicle near the operator and in the interior of the middle of the bus. Customers can view themselves on the monitor as they enter the bus, much like customers view themselves on monitors when in retail establishments. This provides customers with verification that they are on camera and may provide a deterrent for any operator/customer conflicts on the vehicle. This is a relatively new program, and operators are being surveyed for their input. FIGURE 12 Monitors in middle of bus remind passengers they are being recorded. Source: LBT.

45 Code of Conduct and passenger Warrants LBT’s draft code of conduct is under executive review. Once approved, LBT will use various means to inform its employees and ridership of the code’s contents and the potential consequences for violating it. Beyond this, the route and schedule guide LBT publishes with each service change (February, June, and August) covers some of this information in the sections Tips for a Smooth Ride and Bus Riding Etiquette. LBT does not issue passenger warrants. However, under extreme circumstances, LBT occasion- ally petitions the court for a civil restraining order when a customer’s behavior becomes so difficult that it regularly disrupts LBT’s service. Short of that, the LBPD TED issues misdemeanor citations (written promises to appear) to persons who disrupt LBT’s system in various ways (fare evasion, fighting, or being disruptive in other ways). Training and assistance for Vehicle operators LBT’s training department has developed a program that focuses on what the department refers to as “flashpoint.” The flashpoint is the moment in time just before a situation gets out of control. This training includes video clips from current headlines regarding operator and customer conflict. Also included is an element of verbal judo techniques. This training program was designed to provide operators with tools and support for conflict avoidance. LBT’s training department developed a training to address conflict avoidance and anger management. The feedback from operators who received the training was that it was highly useful in avoiding conflict. LBT provides an employee assistance program (EAP) at no cost to its employees. The EAP provides employees with free, confidential assistance to help with personal or professional problems. Services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. LBT has a protocol in place that directs all operators to radio or phone into the communications center with concerns about problem customers rather than taking matters into their own hands. Once the operator notifies the communications center, the communications supervisor relays concerns to the transit field supervisors and transit police on duty to verify and validate the customer(s) behavior that may or may not be a threat to the operator or transit services. During this time the operator must stand down in a safe location until the situation is resolved. Coordination with local law enforcement and handling Difficult passenger situations LBT coordinates with local law enforcement through the LBPD TED (Figure 13). Its members know LBT’s system well and provide cross-training for and liaison with other members of the law FIGURE 13 LBT TED interacting with passengers at bus stop. Source: LBT.

46 enforcement agency. LBT specifies the lines of responsibility in its memorandum of understanding with the LBPD. LBT uses the following procedures for crimes committed on their system: • Criminal offense [violent or property crime (property crime includes fare evasion and vandalism)] – Operator reports by radio and requests a supervisor and TED supervisor, and TED responds and takes whatever legal enforcement action is deemed most appropriate • Infraction offense (related to quality of life) – Operator reports by radio and attempts to manage by quoting the applicable policy – If necessary, operator requests a supervisor and transit police – Supervisor and TED respond and collaborate to assess the most effective way to proceed. TED takes whatever legal enforcement action is deemed most appropriate LBT has established key performance measures for TED related to proactive operations and other activities, such as bus boardings and foot patrols in high-profile areas. The FTA has identified such proactive operations as a best practice for maintaining system security and improving the perception of the same among the ridership. TED collaborates with local, regional, state, and national transit enforcement partners to share information, enhance communication, and conduct proactive operations, such as a Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response team and practical and tabletop training exercises. These policies have proven effective in reducing incidents of unruly or otherwise disruptive customers. LBT constantly reviews and amends, as needed, all such policies. For passengers who are mentally impaired or emotionally disturbed, TED works closely with the LBPD Mental Evaluation Team, a specialized unit staffed by trained police officers partnered with a Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health clinician. One of TED’s officers occasionally works overtime assignments with one of the Mental Evaluation Team clinicians. For those who are homeless or destitute, TED works with several local nonprofit and not-for-profit homeless and charitable service agencies and organizations (Mental Health America Village, Long Beach Rescue Mission, Veterans Administration, etc.). TED’s sergeant works closely with the city of Long Beach City prosecutor on misdemeanor prosecutions and with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office on felony prosecutions. LBT does not typically engage directly with judges in the local municipal or county superior courts. California enacted an entire penal code section related to mass transit-related public offenses (PC 640(a) (1) et. seq.). TED’s officers routinely enforce various subsections of the code. LBT says these laws are of con- siderable value in helping LBT deal with certain classes of disruptive customers. Other than the enactment of an approved code of conduct, which is anticipated to be adopted soon, LBT has all of the legal recourse it needs to minimize inappropriate behavior on its transit system. Customer service personnel LBT customer service clerks come into contact with a wide array of customers every day. Most customers have simple questions and are happy to get the information they need from the clerks. However, clerks also deal with a variety of challenging customers. Challenging customers often are troubled by conditions that LBT does not have control over, such as mental or emotional disorders, substance abuse, or uncontrolled personal issues. LBT customer service clerks are trained to interact with customers in a professional, friendly, and supportive manner. By being consistent and attempt- ing to calmly resolve customer issues by following and stating policy, LBT clerks can often quell challenging situations directly with the customer. However, if a clerk cannot manage a challenging customer, he or she solicits the assistance of the LBT customer service supervisor or in some cases calls the communications center for support from an LBT road supervisor or security administrator or the TED.

47 pinellas sUnCoasT TransiT aUThoriTy The PSTA is a midsize transit agency on the west coast of Florida that oversees the operation of 210 buses, 100 sedans, and 75 vans supporting fixed-route and paratransit services. PSTA employs 600 people, of whom 370 are bus operators and 100 are maintenance personnel in various positions. PSTA operates route service throughout Pinellas County’s 26 cities and towns for a county popula- tion of more than 980,000 residents. The agency is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the Tampa Bay area (Figure 14). PSTA has 38 bus routes and carries more than 46,000 rides daily and more than 15 million rides annually, amounting to 9 million annual service miles. Trends and Contributing Causes of Difficult Customer situations PSTA tracks customer incidents using two databases. One is called FleetNet and produces service summary reports. The other is an in-house–created Microsoft Access database used to enter and document daily incidents. The Access database is still progressing and in 2017 will have the ability to query specific information regarding these data. Screenshots from the FleetNet program are provided here (Figures 15 and 16). The most challenging customer situation PSTA operators deal with is enforcing payment of the correct fare. Other situations frequently encountered also deal with enforcement related to basic rules of the road for riders, such as: • Paying the correct fare/refusing to show identification; • Eating and drinking onboard; • Discourteous behavior; • Bringing nonservice animals onboard; • Blocking the aisles; FIGURE 14 Map of Pinellas County, Florida. Source: commons. wikipedia.org.

48 FIGURE 16 Screenshot from FleetNet program. Source: PSTA. FIGURE 15 Screenshot from FleetNet program. Source: PSTA.

49 • Smoking, including e-cigarettes; • Attempting to get off or on at unofficial stops; • Standing in front of the “white/yellow” passenger line; • Refusing to fold or stow strollers or carts; • Refusing to wear a seatbelt when in a wheelchair; and • Refusing to give up a seat for a senior or disabled passenger. PSTA officials do not state unequivocally that customers are becoming “quicker to anger” compared with yesteryear. The agency’s database does not have the ability to quantify specific incidents related to the category of “difficult customer situations,” but the agency hopes to have that capability by 2017. However, agency officials state with a measurable degree of certainty that the advent and progression of mobile technology (smartphones) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as the new widely preferred platform for direct, fast, and mass distributed communication combined with increasing access to free data (Wi-Fi) has made it easier for customers to immediately express any displeasure they might be feeling at the moment they are feeling it. Such behavior becomes disruptive and creates difficult or chaotic situations aboard the bus because the right to privacy for the operator and other customers is stripped away with one person’s insistence on taking pictures and video to capture live their frustrations with a situation. The act of doing this aboard the bus can create tense situations for all involved. The tendency of this type of thing occurring more and more often can increase feelings of vulnerability among operators and create uncomfortable environments for operators and other passengers. PSTA says difficult passenger situations can have a negative impact on ridership, but different factors have an influence. Such factors may include the route, the particular situation at hand, the expectation of a likely disruption, and how tenured a transit rider is given the circumstances. Passengers who attempted to park their personal vehicles and “try transit” by relying on public transit for all their daily commuting needs for a week have written to the agency. They found that newer riders can be discouraged more easily when a route becomes disrupted because of unruly customer behavior. When the operator stops the route completely to wait for a supervisor or local authority to come deal with a difficult passenger, the situation can be disconcerting for passengers who then arrive late to their destinations. For newer riders who may have more transportation options to carpool or take their own vehicle, the impact can be greater than on those who have no other means of transportation and thus fewer choices. PSTA has many passengers who rely on public transit as their sole means of transportation. These customers have a longer perspective, view the greater good transit provides to them, and are more tolerant of an occasional service disruption caused by a mechanical issue, traffic congestion, or a disruptive passenger. There are times when veteran riders step in to help the operator deal with disruptive riders by lending support or becoming involved to help deescalate potentially disruptive situations with difficult customers. outreach efforts to minimize/prevent Difficult Customer situations Recently, PSTA has created visual spots, posters, and video depicting the agency’s code of conduct rules for passengers. It is hoped the campaign will add greater awareness for customers and help to mitigate would-be offending and disruptive behavior. PSTA regularly works with other agencies that provide assistance to local citizens, including senior citizens, those with physical challenges, those with housing or transportation needs, and others. PSTA’s mobility department, which manages the paratransit services provided by the agency, regularly interacts with other human service agencies specifically to discover solutions for those with trans- portation and mobility challenges. The mobility department also offers travel training assistance to those in need, which may have a positive impact on the readiness and preparedness of the average passenger who rides the PSTA bus system. This may translate to easier interactions between PSTA bus operators and those assisted.

50 PSTA also works with human service agencies to provide deeply discounted monthly bus passes ($11 vs. $70) to individuals served through the Transportation Disadvantaged program. The program minimizes the issue of passengers who cannot pay the fare. These agencies also educate those they serve about not abusing the special pass, for which most users are extremely grateful. Through word of mouth, participants in the Transportation Disadvantaged program learn that they can be suspended from the program if they break the rules, thereby reducing problem behaviors from this population. PSTA employs travel trainers (PSTA employees from the planning and mobility departments), who go to schools and other places to provide live instruction to students and others on how to ride the bus, what to expect, and how to read schedules; the travel trainers also distribute information on the agency’s code of conduct or rules of the road. PSTA has relationships with attorneys who provide the statutory and reference information to judges to assist them in making legal determinations regarding the agency’s customers. Through interactions with these attorneys and their own research, judges have made sound legal rulings, usually in favor of the agency’s position. In Florida, State Statute FL-784.07 (http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes) regarding assault or battery of law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical care providers, public transit employees or agents, or other specified officers provides for minimum sentences for offenders. The provision to include public transportation employees was added only recently. Technologies Used to address Difficult Customer situations PSTA uses video surveillance at its terminals and on its buses. The agency does not necessarily have evidence supporting the direct correlation of video surveillance and the mitigation of incidences of inappropriate customer behavior, but agency staff think such equipment helps discourage the frequency of offences and causes potential offenders to think twice before creating disruptions or engaging in offensive behavior. In addition, agency staff have been able to follow-up with past offenders and describe to them in detail exactly what the agency considers the precipitating offend- ing behavior. This raises awareness for people that PSTA readily uses its surveillance equipment (to determine causation of incidences) and will not hesitate to share evidence with the proper authorities. PSTA regularly interacts with local law enforcement and helps law enforcement at times through the use of its surveillance equipment on buses. For law enforcement, it is like having mobile surveillance in multiple areas at any given time, which aids in solving other cases. Code of Conduct and passenger Warrants PSTA relies on three things to discourage inappropriate behavior in the system: video surveillance, uniformed security personnel, and passenger code-of-conduct rules and displays. PSTA’s customer code of conduct also identifies the consequences for repeat offenders in the form of suspensions from use of the transit service. PSTA works with local law enforcement authorities, who issue trespass violations for individuals who are repeat offenders if they engage in disruptive and volatile behavior at a transit facility or on a transit vehicle. Local authorities understand the transit authority’s needs for enforcement and regularly meet with PSTA staff to gain clarity on their support roles. PSTA often receives feedback from customers if they disagree with the measures the agency has taken to resolve a difficult passenger violation. Usually if a customer’s conduct was so unruly that it resulted in the physical removal of the customer from the bus or property or if a trespass violation was issued prohibiting a person from using the system, there is pushback from the individual. In most situations, the agency tries to find a middle ground or compromise if possible on a case-by-case basis. PSTA stands its ground when necessary, but if the customer shows contrition and appears sincere in future intentions, the agency works to find a compromise solution. PSTA is seldom accused by the customer of being too drastic or intimidating when finding resolutions. Occasionally, accusa- tions are made that an operator’s actions were discriminatory but not that the agency response was discriminatory.

51 Training and assistance provided to Vehicle operators handling Difficult passenger situations The agency regularly creates and distributes training pamphlets to raise awareness and remind operators how to deal with difficult customers. Other literature and programs used during new-hire and refresher training include: • Transit Security Institute customer service training and dealing with difficult customers: the Institute’s materials are issued through train-the-trainer certification. • Verbal deescalation classes, which are internally developed. • Transit and Paratransit Company training materials for customer service training, which are proprietary materials. • Canadian Urban Transit Association ambassador training, which are proprietary materials. PSTA offers employee assistance counseling through a contracted EAP to all of its employees. Employees may call an 800 number provided by the company or contact the company’s human resources department directly to set up stress or anger management counseling. PSTA recently embarked on a half-day customer service training initiative for all operators, supervisors, and customer service personnel that includes stress management components within the training. In addition, PSTA created a part-time position in 2014 for coaching, counseling, advising, and training operators on dealing with stress and anger management while in service. The position is called the coaching and performance development manager. It is staffed at 20 hours or more per week, and the manager is located in an office right outside of the operators’ lounge with direct access to the operators. The success of this position has increased incrementally every quarter. Partnership with the union is an additional key to the position’s positive impact for workers. PSTA regularly engages in conversations with the local transit union on how best to partner to address challenging customer concerns. Recently, and as a result of the last union–management negotiations, both parties agreed to create committees specifically tasked with addressing issues that may arise for operators while they are in service. PSTA and its union drafted a memorandum of understanding to implement a quality public service council committee. The purpose of this committee is to address a number of issues, including dealing with challenging customers in a broad forum with input and ideas from both sides and an objective of putting agreed-upon ideas into action that create solutions for addressing common problems faced by the workforce. Coordination with local law enforcement and handling Difficult Customer situations PSTA uses uniformed security personnel at its terminals for a visual enforcement effect. The agency reports the mere presence of official personnel who are employed to specifically detect, stop, and report offending or disruptive behavior is enough to help maintain peace and order. PSTA does not have a definitive procedural book that outlines how to handle every different sce- nario that may arise while in service. There are manuals that are used for new hires in training classes that touch on some of these topics, including a PowerPoint presentation describing techniques in verbal deescalation. PSTA has plans to improve protocols for handling different situations to achieve a more uniform response, but for most events things are handled on a case-by-case basis, with the exception of accident protocol and handling customers needing medical attention. Policy bulletins have been issued to ensure orderly and concerted follow-up by all employees for a number of scenarios. The agency states there is not a one-size-fits-all model when dealing with difficult customers and challenging situations, and their experience is that no two incidents are ever exactly alike. Following are possible scenarios and actions to be taken: • Someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol: the operator handles on a case-by-case basis. Notify dispatch and pull over, if necessary, until assistance arrives. • Disruptive passengers: the operator handles on a case-by-case basis. Notify dispatch and pull over, if necessary, until assistance arrives.

52 • Passengers talking too loudly on their phones or eating on transit vehicles: the operator addresses the customer and tries to discourage the behavior; the operator attempts to enforce the code of conduct and calls dispatch for backup, if necessary. • Unhygienic passengers: the operator handles on a case-by-case basis. Actions depend on many different factors, including tolerance thresholds and potential for creating biohazards. • Passengers who are using the transit system as a shelter rather than transportation: transportation supervisors/operators attempt to challenge; enforce code of conduct and bus rules for round- tripping; notify dispatch or local authorities, if necessary; make use of uniformed security at terminals; and search for shelter solutions or designs, which mitigates the likelihood that bus shelter can be used as housing shelters. All of this is done on a case-by-case basis. • Customers who make threats: operators notify dispatch immediately; dispatch notifies authori- ties right away; service is halted, if necessary, depending on the nature of the threat. Agency employees follow protocol. • Customers assault transit personnel or other passengers: notify dispatch immediately; dispatch notifies authorities; and the agency seeks to press charges, suspend the customer from bus services, or issue trespass warrants. Customer service personnel The most difficult types of situations PSTA’s CSRs face when dealing with customers over the phone are as follows: • Threats made to the CSR in the form of a promise to do future harm (or commit an act of violence) against an operator, the bus, or along a specific route. • Customers who make obscene, prejudiced, or other offensive remarks over the phone to a CSR. • Irate customers who scream or yell and display total anger or outrage while making their reports. The CSRs are trained to remain patient, attempt to calm the person on the phone, and do their best to provide an answer to the inquiry or draft a report for follow-up if the person wants to speak to a manager and/or make a formal complaint. CSRs are also encouraged to end the phone call if it becomes vulgar, obscene, and offensive or pass the call along to a manager if it appears to turn violent in nature or becomes a threat. All phone lines are recorded, and if people make threats, PSTA tries to get as much information as possible to immediately report the call to the proper authorities. Local authorities have been good about following up on threats made to the system. roCk islanD CoUnTy meTropoliTan mass TransiT DisTriCT MetroLINK is regarded as a small transit agency serving communities in two states: the region is known as the Quad Cities area of northwest Illinois and southeast Iowa. The organization provides Metro bus service, ADA paratransit and special transportation services, and seasonal passenger ferry- boat service with the Channel Cat Water Taxi. The communities served include Moline, Rock Island, East Moline, Silvis, Milan, Carbon Cliff, Hampton, and Colona (Figure 17). MetroLINK carries 3.6 million passengers per year on 60 fixed bus routes and with 15 paratransit buses, serving a popu- lation of 147,000. Trends and Contributing Causes of Difficult Customer situations MetroLINK serves a much smaller urban area than either PSTA or LBT and perhaps unsurprisingly experiences fewer difficult customer situations than do larger agencies. Managers note that their

53 records do not reveal an increase or a decrease in the amount of difficult customer incidents that have occurred over the past 5 years. The number of incidents appears to be consistent from year to year. Agency personnel think difficult customer situations can affect ridership, although they have no “hard” evidence to support this statement. However, they are aware of at least one incident when a passenger, referring to a disruptive passenger who was yelling and cursing at the driver, stated: “I can’t ride this bus with this going on.” The most challenging difficult customer situation MetroLINK deals with is stressed passengers looking to make connections and those looking to get route information. Agency personnel find it can be difficult to assure passengers, especially if they are already agitated. The most common difficult customer situations they deal with are passengers complaining of rudeness by operators and operators complaining of rudeness and the attitudes of passengers. The agency trains operators to remember that they cannot control how someone speaks or the language they use, and that unless the difficult customer makes a direct threat, such situations are a part of dealing with the public. MetroLINK also reminds their operators that they have control over their own words and actions. outreach efforts to minimize/prevent Difficult Customer situations MetroLINK takes every opportunity to present public education programs in a variety of locations and events, including at transit centers, local social service agencies, churches, centers for the elderly and to veteran’s clubs, health fairs, and neighborhood groups, to help people understand the respon- sibilities of transit passengers. MetroLINK Ride Guides and Respect the Ride flyers are distributed during these programs. The Ride Guide and related website include information on basic rules, passenger etiquette, and safety and security. The agency’s code of conduct is published on the agency website and posted inside buses and at transit facilities. MetroLINK makes a point to have a presence at schools on registration days; such events provide the agency with opportunities to hear the concerns of parents, students, and teachers about riding transit and their safety while using the service. The transit agency maintains an open and ongoing FIGURE 17 MetroLINK service area. Source: Ctjf83 at English Wikipedia—Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php? curid=3837452.

54 relationship with the school’s principals and their respective police liaison officers, who take the time to address any incidents of disruptive students. Rider surveys, conducted primarily to improve route planning, also provide opportunities for general input, which includes comments about customer safety, general conduct, and so forth. MetroLINK meets monthly with a passenger advisory committee (PAC) made up primarily of passengers who face challenges riding transit. Committee members have a variety of disabilities and advise agency managers of issues and areas that need attention, including interactions with bus operators. The agency receives feedback about passengers’ ride experiences, the operators, and the routes that can affect the customers’ ride experiences. Members are provided with a free monthly pass for their participation. PAC members generally are vocal about issues that specifically affect their daily rides and are not shy about voicing their opinions. The agency reports that PAC members have not discussed the topic of disruptive passengers. MetroLINK maintains good relationships with local hospitals and social service agencies. Such agencies are provided a number of single-ride bus passes to use at their discretion for their clients/ customers. MetroLINK transports special needs adults from their group homes to their work place on a daily basis. When or if disruptive passenger issues occur with such customers, MetroLINK immediately contacts the group home to assure that responses to these issues are appropriate to the mental and physical abilities of the passenger. MetroLINK maintains a comprehensive list of community resources that may be helpful in a wide variety of situations and can be used to help minimize difficult customer situations. The list includes agencies that provide addiction services, free clothing, food pantries, hot meals, housing, counsel- ing services, and a variety of other services that can help people who might otherwise become more desperate and troubled. In general, the development and implementation of procedures and policies addressing difficult customer situations has been a cooperative and collaborative effort between the district and the union. The agency notes that there is always room for improvement but reports the efforts have been successful in raising the level of awareness of employees regarding difficult customer situations and how to appropriately respond to them. MetroLINK has established mutual trust and respect with local judges and the state’s attorney office staff, who are aware of the agency’s challenges with difficult customers and rule fairly when dealing with these customers. Technologies Used to address Difficult Customer situations All MetroLINK vehicles are equipped with audio and visual recording equipment. Notices of this equipment are posted on the bus. Technology is used to identify passengers and issues. If the pas- senger can be identified, this can lead to a warning or banning from the system for a period of time. After multiple offenses, a passenger can be banned permanently. Passengers are aware of the use of this technology. Audio and video review has assisted in the assessment of incidents in verifying customer complaints and demonstrating that the agency driver acted appropriately. Code of Conduct and passenger Warrants MetroLINK does not include a code of conduct on its website but does include new rider tips and rider etiquette that provide specific recommendations on some of the generic rules of using MetroLINK with respect for all others. A rider’s guide that is available at all transit centers and on buses lists prohibited activities more specifically. This guide can be provided and/or shown to customers while they are on vehicles or at the stations should a MetroLINK employee need to demonstrate what is

55 permitted and prohibited in terms of behavior. Prohibited activities while on MetroLINK property or vehicles include: 1. Harassment of any kind. If it is unwanted, it’s harassment. MetroLINK will not tolerate it. 2. Loud playing of any type of audio device, excessively loud speech, and cell phones using speaker mode. 3. Committing or attempting to commit any activity that would constitute a violation of any federal, state, or local statute or ordinance. 4. Littering, marking, etching, graffiti, and defacing or damaging the vehicle and/or its contents or any property of MetroLINK. 5. Loitering, panhandling, soliciting, gambling, or exhibition or display of any object for sale or soliciting for a service. 6. Posting, distributing, or displaying any sign, advertisement, circular, handbill, or other written materials is not allowed on any MetroLINK property. 7. Performing ceremonies or making speeches or orations. 8. Profanity, cursing, or inappropriate topics of conversation. 9. Food and beverages (unless in sealed containers) on buses. 10. Smoking and consumption of drugs or alcohol. 11. Activities or conditions that would negatively affect the health and/or safety of other passengers or the driver. 12. Items, odors, or photographs that are offensive or a potential hazard to other passengers. 13. Boarding a bus or facility while not properly clothed, including footwear. 14. Noncompliance with the bus driver’s instructions. 15. Carrying weapons and inflammable or explosive materials. MetroLINK has established several ordinances that mirror the state statutes protecting customers and staff. The ordinances are a tool that can be used to keep difficult customers in compliance with agency policies and rules and are a less severe course of action than a state charge. The following are current ordinances that are in place: • Disorderly conduct • Littering • Transportation/possession of alcohol • Unlawful use of weapon • False report • Interfering with the operation of a bus. Using the authority provided through local ordinances, MetroLINK can and has banned cus- tomers from using the transit system, but such instances are rare. If a person is banned, he or she has the right to appeal the decision through a hearing procedure that is listed on the website or described when the person calls in by phone. As an example, a customer was banned for failure to stop using profanity after several requests by the operator and the supervisor’s instructions to stop using profanity. The customer requested that his ban be reviewed because he depended on the buses for work. The customer stated he was just having a bad day and the conduct would not occur again. The ban was lifted, and the customer was allowed to resume riding the bus with no further incidents reported. Training and assistance provided to Vehicle operators handling Difficult passenger situations Companywide training has included instruction in sensitivity, courtesy, and professionalism. Trainings reinforce the use of key words and phrases and voice tone when dealing with unruly or upset passengers or callers. The agency provides a distracted driving course that contains a section on “how not to hold on to situations/thoughts that can affect the safe operation of the bus.” This course also teaches tips on how to leave problems at the door, breathing techniques for relaxation, and tips on how health affects job performance both mentally and physically.

56 Additional training for operators is provided that is focused on how to defuse tense or troublesome situations and help operators recognize passengers who “might be having a bad day” or might have a disability that contributes to their behavior. Continuing education includes ADA sensitivity and how to deal with unruly people. Instruction is provided from outside sources, such as the Independent Living Center, a nonprofit organization that specializes in understanding the challenges persons with disabilities face and how bus operators can better communicate with them. MetroLINK recently provided their on-street supervisors with a guidelines/resource packet for addressing disruptive passengers. The packet includes a general overview of the issues along with specific examples regarding the handling of disorderly or hostile individuals. Also included is a comprehensive list of community resources (mentioned previously) that may be helpful in a variety of situations. Coordination with local law enforcement and handling Difficult Customer situations MetroLINK contracts with the local sheriff’s department and has two deputies assigned to the transit agency. These deputies are aware of transit agency policies and practices and work with other local law enforcement agencies, schools, and court services with regard to enforcing policies and practices. The agency’s customer incident management practices are consistent with its efforts to provide a secure and safe environment for customers and staff. MetroLINK has many safety and security measures in place to allow a comfortable ride on its buses. The agency partners with the sheriff’s department and K-9 patrols, and with local law enforcement agencies that patrol all of the agency’s vehicles and facilities. The agency’s supervisors, operators, and staff provide additional safety and security presence and are trained in safety procedures and policies and customer incident management practices. MetroLINK enjoys an excellent working relationship with the local court system. The agency schedules a meeting with the state’s attorney’s office when a problem or issue arises to ensure they understand the circumstances of any serious case of customer misconduct. Transit agency rep- resentatives also attend court hearing or rulings regarding individuals or circumstances involving MetroLINK and confer with the state’s attorney often before that office makes any conditions or enters into any agreements regarding the case. The agency says it is important to attend court hear- ings or other meetings involving the judicial system. This action shows the court systems the agency is concerned and committed to the safety, health, and protection of all passengers that use the transit system. In most cases, judges will ask if MetroLINK is supportive of any potential agreements before the judge makes a final ruling. When MetroLINK is dealing with a difficult customer situation in real time, the usual situation is that the vehicle operator or customer service agent first verbally requests the customer to stop the behavior or action. If a passenger is obnoxious and/or disruptive, the operator notifies dispatch for a supervisor or the police department to respond. The supervisor makes the determination of whether or not the passenger is allowed to ride. If the situation continues, an operations supervisor requests the customer in violation exit the bus or leave the property. Customers may be removed temporarily or issued a ban by law enforcement informing them they are in nonconformance with the agency’s policies that protect the health, safety, and general welfare of MetroLINK customers and staff. For dealing with passengers who are loud, playing loud music, or eating, MetroLINK personnel do their best to advise customers that their behavior is inappropriate and in violation of agency rules of the road. MetroLINK employees rely on passenger etiquette pamphlets that are available at transit locations and in buses that list all the prohibited behaviors. Doing so takes the “rule making” out of the operator’s hands, so passengers cannot think anyone is being arbitrary when operators or customer service agents ask them to abide by established guidelines. If students or other passengers begin to fight or are aggressive physically or verbally, the operator pulls the bus to the curb, opens the doors, and notifies dispatch. A supervisor is sent to the scene. A deputy is notified or 911 called for police to respond. The camera is time-marked and an incident report filed by the operator. A video request is made to security; after the video is viewed, a follow-up

57 meeting is held with the passengers involved, if necessary. A determination is then made regarding the issuance of a warning, suspension, or ban from the transit system. MetroLINK does not consider being intoxicated grounds for prohibiting a person from riding. If intoxicated passengers are mobile, nondisruptive, and able to get on and off the vehicle under their own power and safely, they are allowed to ride. However, for intoxicated passengers who are being disruptive or are a danger to themselves or others, agency personnel initiate actions to have them removed from the bus. If their safety is questionable, the operator calls for a supervisor to respond. The operator cannot deny a passenger a ride unless being so instructed by a dispatch or field supervisor. A supervisor will assist the passenger to a destination or call 911 for help, if necessary. Customer service personnel Customer service agents at MetroLINK deal with callers who are agitated, verbally abusive, and sometimes intoxicated. The agency reminds their personnel that difficult customers usually come from a place of frustration, either with the system, operators, or other passengers. Customers are looking for the next bus, wondering where it is, when it will arrive, and why it is late and want a quick answer and may not be the most cordial; their frustration may be evident. Customer service personnel attend in-house training and outside call center training and learn techniques, such as voice tone and words and phrases, to diffuse situations and calm and assure callers. WashingTon meTropoliTan area TransiT aUThoriTy WMATA serves the District of Columbia and portions of Maryland and Virginia, an area with a population of more than four million, with tens of thousands of visitors each day (Figure 18). It is one of the largest transit systems in the United States. More than one million passengers a day are transported with a fleet of more than 1,200 rail cars and 1,500 buses. Trends and Contributing Causes of Difficult Customer situations WMATA’s survey response indicated that, in recent past, disruptive youth behavior has escalated on both bus and rail, with such behavior being more apparent on rail than bus. The agency thinks there may be a correlation between declining customer satisfaction as a result of rail reliability Maryland Virginia FIGURE 18 WMATA service area. Source: Wikipedia.

58 and increased customer frustration, which may present itself through more altercations with front- line employees. The inability to move customers quickly and efficiently leaves additional time for increased platform customer interaction. This is reflected in a higher volume of customer complaints regarding safety while riding the system and requests for additional police presence and visibility on buses and rail. Assaults on rail employees increased 35% from 2013 to 2014, with an additional increase in 2015. In 2015, the number of employees seeking assistance for stress related to having been a victim of customer violence or having witnessed that violence nearly quadrupled. However, WMATA experienced a sharp decline (of 30%) in assaults on bus operator through the first quarter of 2016. WMATA officials understand that too many incidents of difficult customer situations can erode other customers’ confidence and affect the system’s image and ridership. In addition to service quality and reliability, the sense of personal safety is a leading indicator of customers’ satisfaction and their likelihood to continue riding. The most challenging situations the agency is facing are assaults on employees by customers. The most frequently occurring difficult customer situations are verbal altercations between passengers and employees, many times in response to fare disputes. outreach efforts to minimize/prevent Difficult Customer situations WMATA carries an enormous number of students and youth and takes extensive actions to gain under- standing and cooperation from that segment of the ridership. The Respect Your Ride program calls for WMATA staff and staff of the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) to visit local schools to talk to students about the importance of appropriate behavior while riding Metro and having pride and ownership for the safety and security of the system. Despite a recent rash of incidents, WMATA reports this program has been effective in addressing juvenile behavior. MTPD police officers have tristate jurisdiction throughout the 1,500 mi2 service area of WMATA with arrest powers for crimes that occur in or against WMATA facilities. The MTPD has an authorized strength of 490 sworn police officers, 64 security special police, and 91 civilian personnel. Officers provide a variety of law enforcement and public safety services on the Metrorail and Metrobus systems in the Washington metropolitan area (27). MTPD works with representatives in the judicial systems for each of their jurisdictions to ensure assaults and other criminal behavior are prosecuted appropriately on a case-by-case basis. MTPD also works within the local jurisdictional support systems and agencies for passengers who require a variety of assistance, including food, shelter, clothing, and counseling. WMATA works closely with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 to implement programs to address employee assaults and work with transit operators to give them the skills to manage customer interactions more effectively. In April 2016, WMATA and Local 689 jointly hosted a bus operator assault symposium to maintain focus on the issue and continue to facilitate discussion and identifica- tion of ways to minimize assaults. Customers provide feedback regularly on safety and security in the Metro system, particularly after a high-visibility incident. The most common feedback is that customers would like to see an increased presence of MTPD officers on transit vehicles and in stations. Technologies Used to address Difficult Customer situations WMATA uses surveillance cameras in all rail stations, platforms, and on the interior and exterior of buses and trains; the cameras serve to discourage altercations. WMATA has installed bus operator shields (or plexiglass barriers) on 350 buses to protect bus operators from assaults by passengers.

59 Most operators have been supportive, but some have mentioned issues with glare from the shield that affects their ability to drive in the evening. As at LBT, WMATA is testing a program with which a large video monitor is placed near the bus operator showing passengers that they are being recorded as they board the bus. Both the bus shield and video monitor programs are still in early stages, but both have shown promising results, as evidenced by the 30% reduction in assaults on bus operators. Code of Conduct and passenger Warrants Maryland and the District of Columbia both have had laws for several years that provide for enhanced penalties in assaults involving a transit operator. The laws were passed as a way to further discourage passengers from committing assaults against bus and rail operators. MTPD works with representatives in the judicial systems for each of the agency’s jurisdictions to ensure assaults and other criminal behavior are prosecuted appropriately on a case-by-case basis. The agency has a set of general rules of ridership for both bus and rail as follows: Metrorail Rules and Manners General Do • Use headphones with all audio and video devices. • Let passengers get off the train before you board. • Be courteous. Seats next to the doors are reserved for senior citizens and riders with disabilities. Please give your seat to someone who needs it more than you do. • Put trash in trash bins and newspapers in the newspaper recycling bins. • Give senior citizens and riders with disabilities priority when using the elevators. • Stand at least two feet behind the edge of the platform. Flashing lights along the platform edge announce that a train is arriving. A recorded voice followed by chimes warn that train doors are closing. • Follow official instructions at all times. Try to remain calm in emergencies. • Step carefully over the gap between the train door and the platform. • Report any unattended packages to a transit police officer, station manager or train operator. Don’t • Eat, drink, smoke or litter on Metro vehicles or in stations. Metro Transit Police issue citations or make arrests to enforce the law. • Try to block or force train doors open. They do not reopen like elevator doors. • Touch the train doors when they are opening or closing. • Lean against the train doors. • Run in the station. • Sit on the platform edge. • Walk on the track bed. The third rail carries 750 volts of electricity. Always stay away from it even if you think the power is off. The third-rail power is usually not affected during a station power outage. Training and assistance provided to Vehicle operators handling Difficult passenger situations WMATA offers a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program that includes stress management, anger management, and various other assistance programs for employees. The service can be voluntary or required. Training on customer management techniques also is offered outside of the EAP. In addition, a training program is offered to frontline staff to teach them skills for dealing with difficult customers to avoid escalating a situation and with the hope they can use the skills to turn around bad situations. Feedback from frontline staff has been positive; they have indicated the skills they learn in the course are useful. As noted, WMATA has experienced a 30% decline in bus operator assaults in the first quarter of 2016. Finally, MTPD has been focusing on areas with high rates of fare evasion because such evasion is generally the root cause of disputes that escalate between employees and customers. This additional visibility has generated positive feedback from frontline staff who would like to see even greater levels of fare enforcement.

60 For nonemergency situations, employees contact Rail Operations Central Control or Bus Operations Central Control, who advise the employee as to how to proceed (i.e., stop the vehicle pending police response or continue operations until police meet the vehicle). For emergency issues requiring an immediate response, employees contact MTPD, who respond to the situation. Although these pro- cedures work well, employees occasionally comment about the need for more rapid response from MTPD and disagree with the approach recommended by the Operations Control Center staff in nonemergency situations. When difficult customer incidents escalate, a record is kept and entered into WMATA’s safety management system and used for reports and decision making. Customer service personnel Customer service personnel at WMATA, including station managers, the lost and found department, and sales center staff all experience similar issues with occasional difficult customers. However, these staff members generally are behind shields, with the exception of station managers, who spend a large portion of their day outside their kiosk. The staff also may contact Central Operations Control, their management team, and MTPD when necessary to address difficult customer behavior.

Next: Chapter Six - Conclusions and Areas for Future Research »
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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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