Being a transit manager is not just about overseeing a system of buses and schedules, it is also about building a team of workers and creating a positive and productive environment. This section will discuss different policies and tactics an organization can use during the hiring process and after to create an environment that will help employees work to their full potentials and increase customer satisfaction. If you have not already read the Mission & Leadership section of this toolkit, it may be helpful do so before reading this section.
If a transit operation is a division of a larger organization, the agency may already have well-established human resources policies and procedures that will guide personnel administration activities. However, because transit is federally funded there are policies and procedures that apply to transit and nothing else in the organization. An example might be the FTA Drug and Alcohol requirements. There are ADA requirements regarding how staff work with passengers that may be unfamiliar to others in an organization. It is the transit manager’s responsibility to ensure that others in an organization understand some of the special conditions staff face while operating the transit system. The many resources listed in this section can assist.
This section of the toolkit introduces general human resources information that applies to most or all of an agency’s employees, regardless of their position. The information is organized in the following sections:
Information that is specific to drivers (operators) is presented in a separate section of the toolkit, Driver Recruitment, Training, and Retention.
For a deeper dive than what is included in this section of the toolkit, the National RTAP Resource Center offers many helpful resources related to human resources, including:
The person responsible for Human Resources generally has hiring documents prepared. This documentation includes standard agency employment applications, job descriptions, policies for background checks, and a method for interviewing and selecting applicants. These documents need to be reviewed and updated from time to time to meet new job requirements, new best practice recommendations, and new legal regulations.
The job description should be the basis for advertising open positions. The salary scale for each advertised position should also be reviewed, particularly for any positions that the organization has difficulty filling. For job description and salary range examples, National RTAP completed a job title and salary range survey of rural and tribal public transit agencies in July 2020 that includes responses from 275 agencies. The Salary Ranges for Transit Jobs spreadsheet contains the database and a summary table. In the database, users are able to filter and sort each column of data by clicking on the arrow to the right of the column title. Clicking on the arrow will display a list of options. Users can sort/filter by FTA Region, job title, union, CDL, full/part-time and/or salary range.
There are many avenues to recruit new personnel including newspapers, agency websites, national, state, and local associations (both in print and electronically), word of mouth, professional and fraternal associations, and posting physical advertisements at selected locations. There are also a number of internet job search agencies such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Transit Talent, and Idealist. In small communities, employers often post job opening announcements on Facebook and Craigslist. National RTAP does not endorse or recommend any individual job search agencies or job listing websites. The listing can be brief, with a link to a posting with complete information.
The interview can be handled by committee or by one person; however, the questions asked should be identified beforehand, consistent for all applicants and legally allowable. For example, an employer may not ask about age, religion, marital status, and other characteristics which could result in discrimination. The U.S. Department of Labor provides links to guidance on pre-employment inquiries on a variety of topics. Once an applicant is chosen, consistent required background checks (criminal records, driving records, etc.) and screening (such as drug and alcohol) should be conducted.
In order to have an agency that provides good customer service and transit operations, it is important to create and maintain a positive work environment for employees. While creating a positive work environment is the responsibility of everyone on staff, managers are in a position to be the change they want to see in their staff. In leading by example, a transit manager can foster and transfer habits to the rest of his or her employees.
At a 2012 National RTAP conference, Carol Wright, then Associate Director of Training and Outreach at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute’s Small Urban and Rural Transit Center, offered these tips to keep in mind in her presentation on Choosing Your Attitude:
- Attitude is communicated to others in three ways: by spoken words (least important), tone of voice, and nonverbal mannerisms (most important).
- Think of three things that happened at work each day that were positive.
- A good attitude does not happen by chance but comes from conscious effort.
- Take ownership over your own attitude. Reflect on the steps you have taken to improve the quality of your work environment.
- Be sure to acknowledge positive changes made by employees, no matter how small.
- Decide to make a difference and act as if you can make a change, because you can.
As with spoken communications, written communications can convey attitude, although without accompanying spoken tone and nonverbal mannerisms to temper the words. Today, email and text messages are frequently used in the workplace. If not carefully worded, emails and texts can be interpreted as having a tone that the sender did not intend to use. The speed of composing and replying to digital communications can also lead to disrespectfulness. As stated by P.M. Forni in The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude, “online communication has unleashed a new magnitude of rudeness. . . . Even when we communicate with people we know, we are less restrained because we don't have to deal with their reactions the way we would if they were present (even as a voice on the phone).” This book and numerous online articles provide tips to foster more positive use of digital communications (and when it is better to communicate via a phone call). Transit agencies that rely on email and texting for workplace communications may wish to discuss with employees the potential attitudinal pitfalls of digital communications and encourage in-person discussions for potentially sensitive topics.
Ideas for Improving Employee Satisfaction
National RTAP’s Applying Good Business Practices: Hiring, Training and Evaluating Employees technical brief recommends the following approaches to improving employee retention and job satisfaction:
- Providing performance incentives, such as cash bonuses.
- Allowing greater flexibility in the use of time off.
- Focusing on employee wellness. (National RTAP’s Healthy Habits: Reducing Stress and Fatigue and Increasing your Energy technical brief is a tool for helping employees in this area.)
- Improving communication, including use of mentors.
- Recognizing employees for a job well done.
- Providing growth potential.
- Fostering a respectful, supportive work environment where employees are involved in projects and appreciation is expressed for the importance of the work they do.
Other actions that can help improve staff morale include:
- Pay wages that reflect the responsibility, skill level, and challenges of the job.
- Ensure that employees have the training, information, equipment, supplies, and working conditions needed to do their jobs safely and effectively.
- Ask for employee input in problem-solving, policy development, and planning. Whenever feasible, involve employees who will be impacted by changes and decisions in the decision-making process.
- Encourage employees to speak up when they are experiencing problems as well as with ideas for solving problems or making improvements. Let them know that you hear them and what is being done to address the problem.
- Conduct annual performance reviews that give employees the opportunity to self-assess, ask questions, raise concerns, and develop goals and plans for the next year.
- If a manager identifies a “problem” employee, address the problem without delay. Talk with the employee and determine together how to improve the situation. Check-in/follow-up with the employee after providing a reasonable amount of time for improvement. If the employee’s actions warrant disciplinary action under the organization’s policy, follow the policy. Not doing so creates an environment of unfairness to other employees.
- Periodically surprise employees with something that makes their day a little easier or more fun. Treat them to doughnuts or bagels in the morning, pizza for lunch, or an afternoon snack.
- Celebrate the milestones and achievements of individuals as well as the organization as a whole.
- Recognize birthdays and holidays (including holidays from different religions and cultures)
- Recognize and honor when employees need to time to grieve. Provide bereavement leave.
- Encourage work/life balance.
- Thank employees who “go the extra mile.” Let them you that you noticed and appreciate their efforts.
Additional resources include:
Employee Performance Code Based on Organizational Values
Encouraging employees to always treat each other with respect is a value that can help maintain a positive workplace. Transit managers may wish to work their employees to create an employee performance code, based in the organization’s mission, vision, and values, to help motivate the team to work together toward the mission. The section of the toolkit on Mission & Leadership provides information on creating mission, vision, and values.
The following example of a performance code is excerpted from “Mission & Values: Meaningful Words,” written by Michael Noel and published in Community Transportation magazine by the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA), Expo 2004, Vol. 22 No. 4, pages 12-14, used with permission from CTAA.
At Transfort in Fort Collins, Colorado, a Performance Code has resulted from discussing values, rather than rules, as a way to both simplify what is expected from employees and how they conduct themselves. This Performance Code is applied to all employees, both labor and management. In all employment activity, a discussion takes place about the Performance Code (Transfort’s values). This code was modified from similar codes (values) in place at Cleveland, Ohio’s transit system and AMTRAM in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The seven values of the code, and how they apply at work, are:
- Report to work on time and fit for duty. Since our mission is to provide safe, reliable on-time service, we will arrive at work before our assigned time. We will take personal responsibility to be well rested and ready for duty. We will come to work cool, calm, in control and mentally alert. We will care for our mental, physical and emotional help.
- Practice safety in all work activities. Our customers deserve and expect to be safe when using our services. Our families also expect us to return home safe and secure at the end of our work day. We will always put safety ahead of schedule. We will follow all safety rules, pay serious attention to driving defensively and never engage in high-risk activities. We will take seriously the special needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities, and we will be prepared and understand how to deal with emergency situations.
- Demonstrate high levels of skill in your jobs. We are professionals. We will take every opportunity to learn ways to improve our performance while on the job. We will set high standards and constantly search for innovative ways to improve our performance. We will continue to learn through on-going re-education and training. We will take the performance review process as part of our education.
- Respect the property of the organization. We respect that the tools of our trade were purchased by our community. We will diligently care for the equipment through pro-active measures such as careful inspections and reporting. We will set an example for others by caring for our work environment. We will take seriously our responsibility to use facilities or equipment for the gain of the community. We will always respect the privacy of co-workers.
- Treat co-workers with dignity and respect. We understand that our organization is made up of a diverse workforce. We respect the rights of individuals to be different from us. We take an active part in creating a friendly working community. We extend common courtesies to each other. Those who must provide discipline in the workplace will do so with dignity and respect. Rules will be applied fairly while honoring individuals’ special needs. We will also be honest with each other by telling the truth.
- Treat customers with dignity and respect. We acknowledge that customers are our business. That each person who uses the service we provide is the essence of why our organization is necessary. We will treat them as guests. We will listen to their questions and provide them with respectful and helpful information. We understand that our mission is to provide safe, reliable, on-time service that people can depend on. We will welcome them and thank them for using our services. We will treat them with dignity regardless of their age, gender, race, religious beliefs, disabilities, economic or social status. We acknowledge that while the customer may not always be right, they always deserve dignity and respect.
- Present a positive image of your company when working. We acknowledge that we are professionals and act as professionals. This will start with personal responsibility to be neat in our appearance and in clean and appropriate uniforms of clothing. We will be positive with the public when speaking about our organization. We will use the in-house shift/safety meetings and meetings with managers/supervisors to solve problems and improve morale. We will embrace the organization’s values and apply them to co-workers and customers.
Diversity, Inclusiveness, and Treating Others with Dignity and Respect
Treating staff and co-workers with dignity and respect, the fifth item in the performance code listed above, is essential to a positive work environment. This begins with recognizing and encouraging the diversity of the workforce and fostering an inclusive organization in which people from different backgrounds feel valued and respected. Employees should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of age, race, color, religion, gender, gender identity/orientation (including those transitioning to a different gender), national origin, and disability.
Transit managers can help all employees to feel valued and respected by:
- Establishing organizational values that reflect the diversity of the workforce and the community the transit system serves
- Adopting, providing training on, and consistently enforcing clear policies that prohibit harassment and discriminatory behavior
- Encouraging career development for all employees
- Encouraging all qualified applicants to apply for employment opportunities and opportunities for advancement
- Making nondiscriminatory hiring and promotion decisions
- Providing training to all employees on treating each other with dignity and respect
- Recognizing that all employees are stakeholders in organizational decisions
- Encouraging participation in problem-solving as a team
- Being a good listener
- Taking employee concerns seriously
- Recognizing different cultural and religious holidays
- Leading by example
Additional resources include:
Employees should receive the training necessary to perform the tasks related to their jobs, both when they first begin working at a transit agency and continually after as refresher training. The training employers are required to provide will vary based on the type of work the employee is performing, whether it is safety sensitive or not, and agency funding sources. For example, subrecipients of Section 5311 funding are required by the FTA to conduct drug and alcohol training for all safety sensitive employees, as well as ADA training for certain staff members. Additional information on these training requirements can be found in the Drug & Alcohol, ADA, and Driver Hiring, Training, and Retention sections of this toolkit. A state may have additional training requirements for its Section 5311 subrecipients. For more information on state requirements, consult with the State Department of Transportation (DOT).
Training programs are successful when learners are able to apply new knowledge to everyday workplace responsibilities. In order to ensure successful learning, agencies must develop training programs that understand and cater to their audiences– adult learners. Focusing on creating a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere, dynamic physical space, interactive presentation style, and content appropriate for the audience will reach and engage learners. If possible, food or snacks in addition to well-placed breaks provide motivation for successful training.
Methods to Train Adult Learners
Trainers may use a variety of methods to train adults. Approaches to training include technology-based learning, simulators, on-the-job-training, coaching/mentoring, lecture, group discussions and role playing.
One proven method for teaching a skill is called Tell, Show, Do, Review. This method is a basic strategy for creating excellent instruction, and includes the following four steps.
- Tell learners the activity and purpose.
- Show them how it’s done.
- Do have learners do the activity and practice.
- Review the activity with learners and provide positive feedback.
For more information about training adult learners, see the National RTAP technical brief Training Adult Learners: How to Reach and Engage Your Audience and the National RTAP Essential Skills for Trainers training module
Training for Drivers/Bus Operators
The Driver Recruitment, Training, and Retention section of the toolkit provides information on driver training.
Training for Managers and Other Employees
Many State RTAP programs sponsor or directly provide training for rural transit personnel, and transit managers should check with their State DOT to find out more. National RTAP provides a Directory of State RTAP Managers and a Directory of Trainers.
National RTAP offers numerous training resources for rural transit managers and other personnel—drivers and beyond, including:
Training for Managers and Administrative Personnel:
Training for Operations Personnel, including Dispatchers and Supervisors:
Training for Maintenance Personnel:
Other National Organizations that Provide Training Geared toward Rural Transit Managers Include:
There are many policies of which both management and employees should be aware. A good way to get this information to transit agency employees is through an employee handbook that is distributed upon hire. If the organization has not yet developed written personnel policies, National RTAP’s Developing & Maintaining a Transit System Personnel Policy Technical Brief can help begin this process, as well as to fine-tune existing policies. As recommended in this technical brief, agency legal counsel should review the completed personnel policy manual as well as substantive revisions. A senior staff person in the agency should be responsible for managing the personnel policy manual and changes. If an agency has collective bargaining agreements, the sections of the manual that apply to unionized job classes must not deviate from the terms of these agreements. It's not unusual to have different sections of a personnel policy manual, with different policies for different classes of position, such as a section for unionized positions, or some small differences between hourly and salaried positions on certain policy points. Also, remember to have the agency governing board approve the personnel policy manual, and date the manual and subsequent changes.
As a Section 5311 grantee, a rural transit organization is required to adopt the following personnel-related policies under federal regulations.
- Drug and Alcohol Testing: subrecipients of 5311 funds are required to have a drug and alcohol testing program for safety-sensitive employees, documented in a written policy, that complies with 49 CFR Parts 655 and 40. For more information, see the Drug and Alcohol Programs section of this toolkit.
- Drug-Free Workplace: transit agencies that are direct recipients of Section 5311 funding (such as State DOTs and Tribes) are also required to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 which requires a written policy. For more information, please see the Department of Labor web site. Note that FTA does not extend this requirement to Section 5311 subrecipients (although a State DOT may do so, and it is a recommended practice).
- Nondiscrimination – any recipient of federal funding is responsible for its own compliance and the compliance of each third-party contractor at any tier and each subrecipient at any tier under the project, with the provisions of 49 U.S.C. Section 5332 of the Federal Transit Laws. The provisions prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or age. This applies to provision of service as well employment. (Note that FTA grantees and contractors with at least 50 transit-related employees which request or receive more than $1 million in a fiscal year in capital or operating assistance or more than $250,000 in planning assistance are also required to have an FTA-compliant Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program as summarized in the Civil Rights section of this toolkit.)
In addition to FTA-required policies, a State DOT may have its own requirements for personnel policies that come with grants administered by the state.
There are numerous labor laws that apply to all employers in the United States, not just FTA grantees. However, transit agencies that are FTA grantees must agree to comply with these laws as a condition of grant funding. More information about the myriad of labor laws an organization must comply with can be found on the U.S. Department of Labor website.
Equal employment opportunity (EEO) requirements for FTA grantees are discussed in the Civil Rights section of the toolkit.
As employers, transit agencies need to comply with ADA requirements for employees, found in 29 CFR Part 1630 - Regulations to Implement the Equal Employment Provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in employment decisions. The ADA regulations of the U.S. Department of Labor require employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. Excluded from this requirement are Indian tribes, the U.S. government, corporations wholly owned by the U.S. government, and any bona fide private membership club (other than a labor organization) that is exempt from taxation under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. For information, visit the Disability Discrimination web page of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If an agency has unionized employees, it is important to have a good working relationship with the head of the union. Transit managers and the agency’s governing body have the authority to create policies and procedures within the organization. However, discussing issues with union representation and keeping the union informed of areas that effect the work of their membership is crucial. Working with a union can be positive and productive if both sides are committed to open communication and fair implementation of policies and procedures.
Under 49 U.S.C. Section 5333(b) of the Federal Transit Laws, when FTA funds are used to “acquire, improve, or operate” a public transportation system, the funds come with an obligation to preserve “the rights and benefits of employees under existing collective bargaining agreements, the continuation of collective bargaining rights, the protection of individual employees against a worsening of their positions in relation to their employment, assurances of employment to employees of acquired transit systems, priority of reemployment, and paid training or retraining programs.”
The Section 5311 program involves a Section 5333(b) Special Warranty established at the federal level that protects existing transit employees in the service area of the rural transit system. Each Section 5311 application submitted by a state or tribe to FTA must contain a labor section identifying labor organizations representing transit employees of each subrecipient, the labor organizations representing employees of other transit providers in the service area, and a list of those transit providers. The FTA notifies the DOL of Section 5311 grants the FTA is awarding. The DOL then notifies the labor unions representing potentially affected transit employees of the grant and their rights under the Special Warranty. More information about the Section 5333(b) Special Warranty and compliance can be found on the DOL web site. (It is also referenced within the FTA Circular 9040.1G.)
For some positions within the transit agency, it may be possible for staff to effectively work at home for at least part of their work schedules. The COVID-19 pandemic created a need for many agencies to develop telework policies. Transit systems with positions that do not always require working at the transit offices, on the bus, or within the field may wish to adopt teleworking policies for those job functions that can be performed at home. Examples of such positions and tasks include call center staff and many administrative functions that can be performed entirely by computer and telephone, such as development and review of procurement documents, grant writing, data analysis, preparation of reports, developing planning documents, website maintenance, etc. While teleworking may not be something an organization can feasibly allow permanently, having a telework policy in place can help the organization respond quickly to unexpected office closures due to fire, other disaster, or future pandemic. Telework policies should address requirements such as hours of work, telephone and email staff contact availability, virtual meetings, daily protocols, recordkeeping, performance objectives, home workspace, equipment, and software provided by the organization.
A 2011 study published by the Transportation Research Board, Strategies to Attract and Retain a Capable Transportation Workforce, defines succession planning as the strategic process of identifying and preparing high-potential employees through mentoring, training, and job rotation opportunities to replace staff, upon exiting the agency. A 2016 study published by the National Center for Transit Research, Workforce Development and Succession Planning to Prepare the Rural Transit Industry for the Future, found that only about 15% of rural transit managers who responded to a national survey have succession plans. To ensure a transit agency will continue to function well after a transit manager retires or transitions to a new job, transit managers need to develop an effective succession plan for their successors. National RTAP hosted a Succession to Transit Twitter Chat in January 2020 during which participants shared recommendations and practical advice for building a succession plan. The recommendations included:
- Incorporate succession planning into/build upon existing planning efforts. Consider succession planning when doing strategic planning. Address as part of emergency planning to support staff who are isolated or made unavailable due to an emergency.
- Develop a plan that supports the agency's mission and vision
- Establish a mentoring program that allows employees to become familiar with processes enabling them to move up in the organization
- Consistently have open form discussions and frequent communications
- Have back up plans
- Cross train staff
- Involve senior leadership as well as human resources
- Carve out time to do this important effort, rather than “back-burnering” it until it is too late; the outcomes are well worth the time invested. (Ideas for saving time to can be found in National RTAP’s Time Management for Rural Transit Managers technical brief.)
- Revisit and modify the succession plan every year to adjust to changing needs
For additional tips, refer to the Succession to Transit Twitter Chat Summary in January 2020.
- Cronin, Brian, Lance Anderson, Beth Heinen, Candace Blair Cronin, Daniel Fien-Helfman, and Marie Venner. Strategies to Attract and Retain a Capable Transportation Workforce. NCHRP Report 685, Transportation Research Board (2011)
- Forni, P.M. (2009) The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude. St. Martin's Press. “Digital Communication,” pages 149-150
- FTA Circular 9040.1G, November 24, 2014, “Formula Grants for Rural Areas: Program Guidance And Application Instructions”
- FTA Civil Rights web page
- National RTAP, Applying Good Business Practices: Hiring, Training and Evaluating Employees Technical Brief (2018)
- National RTAP, Developing & Maintaining a Transit System Personnel Policy Technical Brief (2019)
- National RTAP, Succession to Transit Twitter Chat Summary (2020)
- National RTAP, Time Management for Rural Transit Managers Technical Brief (2020)
- National RTAP, Training Adult Learners: How to Reach and Engage Your Audience Technical Brief (2019)
- Noel, Michael. “Mission & Values: Meaningful Words,” Community Transportation, Expo 2004, Vol. 22 No. 4, pages 12-14
- U.S. Dept of Labor Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988
- U.S. Dept of Labor Federal Transit Law web page
- Wright, Carol. Choosing Your Attitude presentation given at the National RTAP 1st Technical Assistance and Tribal Transit Program Conference and Roadeo, March 2012. Available by request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated November 10, 2020