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61 chapter six ConClusions and areas for future researCh Dealing with difficult customer situations in public transportation will always be an issue. Customers are, of course, human beings who might occasionally get frustrated, anxious, or angry over any number of things. In addition to the times when normally calm customers might be having a bad day or get upset over faulty service that affects their schedules or needs, there are some customers who might have varying degrees of mental illness, be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, or have a disability that might make them difficult to understand. There are also more instances of public transit agencies serving in lieu of yellow bus school service, which results in large numbers of highly ener- getic teenagers, who can exhibit boisterous and unpredictable behavior. In addition, some customers might just be chronic troublemakers who display little respect for others. ConClusions Public transportation is characterized by strangers, all with different personalities, values, and levels of tolerance for otherâs behavior, who are sharing limited space for a period of time, but who virtually all share the objective of reaching a destination in a time frame that is important to them. There will be different sets of values and behaviors within groups of strangers that can cause discomfort and people with different fears and tolerance levels for certain types of human behavior. People using transit have reasonable expectations of having a safe and uneventful experience. To help promote harmony, transit agencies generally adopt rules that prohibit certain types of behavior. Most such prohibited behaviors are described in the codes of conduct in Appendix D of this report. A sample of the type of prohibited behavior in these codes includes the following: â¢ Screaming, shouting, playing loud music, or speaking loudly on cell phones; â¢ Threatening others or engaging in other disruptive or disorderly conduct; â¢ Littering, spitting, or urinating while on vehicles or at stations; â¢ Emitting repulsive odors; â¢ Fare avoidance; â¢ Assaults on transit personnel or fighting among passengers; â¢ Prostitution, drug dealing, solicitation, panhandling, and gambling; â¢ Vandalism and graffiti; â¢ Sexual or other forms of harassment; â¢ Loitering or sleeping; â¢ Smoking, eating, or drinking on vehicles in nondesignated areas; and â¢ Bringing prohibited animals onboard vehicles. Rules are established in the interest of customer safety and to enhance the overall experience for riders so that more customers will be attracted to the transit system. Transit agencies want to dis- courage inconsiderate behavior and improve passenger comfort. Fortunately, although these types of difficult customer situations are not rare, they remain the exception and not the rule. It would be largely unnecessary and highly cost prohibitive to have some form of security personnel at every location and on every vehicle to deal with potential difficult customer situations. Accordingly, transit agencies take a number of steps to try to prevent or deal with such situations that generally fall in the categories listed here.
62 Public Education â¢ Meeting with the public at community forums (school registrations, community centers, health fairs, etc.), in which transit personnel can inform people of transit etiquette and rules of the road as passengers. â¢ Placing videos that emphasize the proper use of transit and prohibited behavior on the agency website, YouTube, public access television, other social media, and monitors at transit centers. â¢ Providing transit rules on brochures, ride guides, transit schedules, posters, placards, and digital displays. Training for Frontline Personnel Instruction courses include techniques in: â¢ Deescalating and defusing situations; â¢ Avoiding arguments and confrontations; â¢ Nonthreatening communications and verbal judo; â¢ Learning how to be empathetic and a good listener; â¢ Taking nothing personally and remaining professional, patient, courteous, and respectful; â¢ Emotional intelligence and avoiding being hijacked emotionally; and â¢ Stress and anger management. Employing Technology to Discourage (and detect/record) Inappropriate Behavior â¢ Placing multiple video cameras and audio devices that record passenger behavior. â¢ Installing monitors that passengers see themselves in to remind them they are being recorded. â¢ Providing smartphone applications to customers to enable them to record and silently report incidents in real time. â¢ Installing bus operator compartment barriers to thwart physical assaults on operators. â¢ Installing emergency alarms that can be discreetly enabled to call for help. â¢ Installing automated vehicle locating systems to help transit agencies refine and improve their on-time performance and allow dispatchers to know exactly where a vehicle is when in need of assistance because of a difficult customer situation. â¢ Providing real-time transit service information that can defuse passenger anxiety. Legal Measures â¢ Codes of conduct that list the many forms of unacceptable behavior to advise the riding public of what is prohibited and allow the transit agency to exercise authority without being arbitrary. â¢ Trespass warrants that can ban offending individuals from using the system. â¢ Local laws and ordinances that identify criminal activity that can result in punishment and being banned from the system for varying lengths of time. â¢ Gaining the understanding of the importance of transit etiquette from members of the judicial system who hear cases reported by the transit agency. Higher Deterrent and/or Arrest Authority â¢ Contracting for private security service that might not have arrest power but can help deter unwanted behavior, detain a customer if necessary, and coordinate with local police. â¢ Contracting for hourly service from local police departments who dedicate personnel to transit details. â¢ Establishing a transit police force as part of the agencyâs personnel. â¢ Educating local police departments about transit rules and regulations and working closely with them during incidents for which their arrest powers are required. Additional Assistance â¢ Coordination with local human service agencies that can help provide guidance and assistance to people who might otherwise loiter on the transit system.
63 â¢ Contracting for Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services to help transit employees who have experienced some degree of trauma resulting from difficult customer situations return to service with higher confidence. â¢ Establishing internal âdefuser teamsâ of people from within the transit agency who have been trained and are experienced (such as former police officers or firefighters) in helping people who have experienced trauma. â¢ Requesting and receiving input from representatives of organized labor who can provide highly significant insight into the needs of fellow employees and ideas on how to help them. A final factor for transit agencies to appreciate is how much their systemsâ performance contributes to harmonious customer relations. Mobility is critical to the lives of their customers and allows them to access whatever they need in life, whether it is access to work, school, job interviews, medical appointments, or a host of other important trip purposes. When the transit system fails to deliver timely service, peopleâs lives can be affected severely: they can lose their job; miss a job interview, doctorâs appointment, or test to pass a class; arrive late to pick up a child, and so forth. When this happens, people can get understandably upset and take their frustrations out on frontline personnel. Thus, it is important for the transit agency to do everything in its power to maintain the fleet and avoid mechanical breakdowns, develop schedules that are realistic and allow people to make con- nections, monitor and make use of the agencyâs automated vehicle locator systems to keep service on schedule, and provide passengers with real-time information on the arrival time of buses and trains to allow people to make alternate plans, exercise other mobility options, or inform others that they will be late. When difficult customer situations occur despite all efforts to prevent them, transit agency personnel need to do their best to use the training they have received to defuse situations, listen and empathize as appropriate, and help resolve the situation by remaining professional and calm. The operator or customer service agent can remind the customer that their interaction is being recorded, which might irritate an already frustrated customer but reminds him or her that there will be a video and audio record of the interaction. Most difficult customer situations are resolved at the level of the frontline employee. However, should the customer still present problems for the driver or other customers, it is essential that the operator or conductor default to procedures they have been taught in training courses by notifying dispatch supervisors of the situation and asking for advice on the next step. The dispatcher makes the determination of whether a supervisor or local police is to be sent and works with the vehicle operator to determine if the vehicle is to be pulled off the road or kept in service to the next location, where a supervisor or local police can meet the vehicle. Vehicle operators can engage silent alarms to alert authorities to the need for assistance. In the most dangerous of situations, the operator and passengers can evacuate the bus until law enforcement arrives and takes over juris- diction of the incident. areas for future researCh Much of the substance of this report is based on anecdotal information, not well-maintained data- bases of incidents of difficult customer situations. Although anecdotal information is useful, transit agencies would benefit from having good records that would allow for better analysis and under- standing of the different types of incidents they have experienced by date, time of day, day of the week, route, and so forth. With this kind of information, transit agencies would be able to understand trends and perhaps know what programs are to be used to counter difficult passenger situations in the future. More research would be useful on what types of software programs and reporting sys- tems would be most helpful for agencies that wish to keep more careful track of difficult customer incidents. It is generally taken as an article of faith that the various activities transit agencies engage in to address difficult customer situations are useful and necessary. However, few transit agencies have any idea just how effective their programs are that are intended to prevent difficult passenger situations. For instance, are ad campaigns using placards to shame people into good behavior really effective? What are the most effective ways to reach teenagers with the message that certain behaviors on transit
64 vehicles or at facilities are prohibited? Perhaps focus groups held with teenage students would allow transit systems to better understand teenagersâ attitudes toward transit service and what they believe is reasonable and unreasonable behavior. In short, research on quantifying the effects of various interventions would help transit agencies determine how best to address the issue of dealing with many difficult customer situations. Research on effective ways of dealing with difficult passenger situations might be bolstered by a study that directly interviews bus operators and train conductors who might have developed coping mechanisms, some of which might be good and others that might be bad, and should be known by operations training departments. These practical assessments are often grounded in the âsilentâ knowledge that operating personnel possess (i.e., knowledge that is based on experience and difficult to convey through formal training) (22). A final area of future research is to examine how vehicle automation technology might change the role of the transit vehicle operator in ways that could affect how difficult customer situations are addressed. Although completely connected and automated vehicle operation is something that might be between 10 and 30 years away from full implementation, the prospect raises questions on how transit operations would be affected. Indeed, there are transit buses in China that are operating today in an automated mode with a bus operator in the driverâs seat in the event something fails (28). Automated shuttles have operated in France, Switzerland, Finland, and Greece on public streets without operators although they are monitored by a central control office (29). Inventor/entrepreneur Elon Musk provided few details but announced plans for the development of âheavy-duty trucks and high passenger density urban transport,â which are both in the early stages of development and should be unveiled in 2017 (30). Although no one can determine just when automation of this sort will be implementable in the United States, it would be worth examining how such technology would change the role of the bus operator. Currently, the first responsibility of a bus operator is to drive the vehicle safely in mixed traffic. Perhaps instead of having someone drive the bus, transit agencies might have someone on board who provides customer service and information and is empowered to act as a security agent as well. Until the time that full vehicle automation is in place, there might be some improvements in avoiding or dealing with difficult customer situations that could be implemented through partial automation.