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Weeks of Safety Training Make Safe Bus, Streetcar Drivers

Streetcars are a big part of the cityscape of New Orleans. Additionally, buses, with their festive and distinct fleur-de-lis design, get riders from one edge of the city to the other. Riders often sit back and let the operator whisk them to their destinations not thinking about all the things that go into being a bus, streetcar or Paratransit operator. Operators spend weeks in detailed training courses with a dedicated group of trainers and veterans operators before sitting in the operator’s seat of a streetcar or bus. Safety is paramount for all operators and a major initiative within the organization to ensure that our passengers get their destinations safely.

“Our aim is to make sure our operators are prepared to safely operate buses and streetcars. Much time goes into properly training operators,” says Toria Wagner, Safety Training and Security Manager.

Bus training lasts for six weeks, streetcar for twelve weeks. Paratransit, serving riders with disabilities, have a more specialized training regimen that lasts five weeks.
Every operator goes through the orientation process during their first week. New operators are introduced to the RTA and Transdev staff as well as what will be expected during the weeks of training.

During the first week, operators attend classroom-based sessions where they are taken through the transit operations program, like operational hazards, customer service, and the “Prevent the 300” campaign. “This campaign is designed to outline unsafe operating habits, and present ways to prevent those habits,” mentions Wagner. “It is the first step in introducing possible scenarios that operators might face, and it prepares them for safely dealing with those scenarios.”
Bus operators leave the classroom on the second week, and move onto a training course in New Orleans East. Before they are ready to sit behind the wheel, operators are taught the functionalities of the bus and how to maneuver it. By the third week, they begin driving the bus, carefully weaving around orange cones and barrels in a closed environment.

Streetcar operators follow a similar introduction, but, in the fourth week, move to a closed track to practice. The following weeks focus on operating a streetcar down Canal Street. After both bus and streetcar operators have enough practice on a course, they start “platforming” with veteran operators. This involves operators practicing on actual routes under supervision.

“It can be a little scary at first,” points out Wagner. “But, with the supervision of our veteran operators, new operators often find their confidence quickly. Some of our veteran operators have 20 or 25 years bus or streetcar driving experience.”

After weeks of intensive training both on and off a vehicle, operators are ready to begin driving on a route with riders. However, safety is an on-going practice. The Safety and Training team at the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority hold quarterly training sessions with new and seasoned operators to discuss a variety of safety topics from hurricane preparedness to driving during busy seasons like Mardi Gras and in inclement weather.  

“Our motto is Safety First, Service Always,” says Wagner. “To offer excellent transit services, we must always offer safe transit services.”

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