Safety, Security and Emergency Management


On July 19, 2018, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) published the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) Final Rule that required Section 5307-funded urban transit systems to develop safety plans that include the processes and procedures to implement Safety Management Systems (SMS). Under current rules, Section 5310 and/or 5311 funded agencies are not required at this time to develop an FTA-compliant safety plan.  However, the SMS and safety plan elements presented in this section of the toolkit should be considered as best practices for Section 5310 and/or 5311 funded agencies. Additionally, State DOTs may have established safety program requirements for Section 5310 and/or 5311 subrecipients in the state.

Safety is the Number One priority for a Transit Manager!  A manager is not typically driving a bus, fixing buses or scheduling customer rides, but their responsibility for system safety should guide their decision-making in all aspects of leading and modeling a culture of safety.  The Transit Manager works with the board and leads the employees in the performance of quality service and general morale.  That influence extends to making safety and security the highest priority.

This section of the toolkit is organized into the following subsections:

The Role of the Accountable Executive / Chief Safety Officer

The top executive (usually the Chief Executive Officer or General Manager) of a transit agency shoulders the responsibility, as required by FTA’s Safety Management System (SMS) model, for duties of the Accountable Executive.  The Accountable Executive will be the person who interacts with the board and executive leadership on plans, policies, purchasing decisions and daily operations that impact safety.  The Accountable Executive must also constantly remind employees that safety is the highest priority.  A simple message, Safety Ahead of Schedule, must be the guiding principle articulated to all employees.  

It is a basic management tenet that accountabilities flow from the top down.  While the SMS model requires that safety accountability resides with the Accountable Executive of the transit agency, the agency’s Board of Directors or other governing body must also play an integral role for establishing a foundation for safety management.  The SMS model defines the Accountable Executive as the individual with the ultimate authority and accountability for a transit system’s day to day operations.  The Accountable Executive plays a central role in the development and implementation of safety plan activities consistent with the SMS model.  It is typically at this level that safety objectives, safety performance targets, purchasing decisions and operating budget decisions are made that support safety initiatives.

The Accountable Executive also needs to designate a Chief Safety Officer, who will typically oversee key safety functions.  Depending on the size of the organization, the Chief Safety Officer may be a stand-alone position or additional duties assigned to an individual in another position.  Within the organizational structure, the Chief Safety Officer must report directly to the Accountable Executive for all safety concerns.

As noted in the January/February 2019 FTA Transit Safety and Oversight Spotlight newsletter, the rule also says that a transit agency may allow the Accountable Executive to serve as the Chief Safety Officer.  However, the Chief Safety Officer may not serve in other operational or maintenance capacities unless the agency is a small public transportation provider as defined by the PTASP rule (100 or fewer revenue vehicles in peak service and without rail service).

The Chief Safety Officer may vary from agency to agency, but in general, they manage the transit agency’s safety function such as compliance with federal, state, and local regulations, and overseeing safety requirements for transit projects. Duties might also include hazard management, accident investigation, coordination with the State Safety Oversight Agency, and safety certifications.

Each agency may choose which type of training the Chief Safety Officer will complete to qualify as “adequately trained.” The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) offers a Certified Safety and Security Officer (CSSO) program that is geared toward rural transit agencies.

Safety Management System (SMS) Framework

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP 21)

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act, enacted in July 2012, granted FTA authority to establish and enforce a new comprehensive framework to oversee the safety of public transportation throughout the United States.  This authority continues in current and future federal transit funding.

National Public Transportation Safety Plan was published in January 2017 in the Federal Register.  The NTPSP provides guidance for improving transit safety performance, samples of agency’s safety policy statements, communications tools, and provide updates for standards, best practices, tools, technical assistance, and other trending resources.  

FTA released the final rule in July 2018 on the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) requirements.

The National Public Transportation Safety Plan (NPTSP)

While the National Public Transportation Safety Plan (NPTSP) does not include any mandatory requirements, it does require performance targets for systems that receive federal financial assistance including:

  1. Fatalities – total number of reportable fatalities and rate per total vehicle revenue miles by mode
  2. Injuries – total number of reportable injuries and rate per total vehicle revenue miles by mode
  3. Safety Events – total number of reportable events and rate per total vehicle revenue miles by mode (typically reported safety violations, customer safety related complaints, employee close call / near miss reporting, etc.)
  4. System reliability – total number of reportable events and rate per total vehicle revenue miles by mode (typically road calls and mechanical failures)

Thresholds for reportable fatalities, injuries and events are defined in the National Transit Database (NTD) Safety and Security Reporting Manual (downloadable through the FTA NTD Manuals web page.

The Final Rule on the PTASP includes the following definitions:

  1. Accident - an event that involves any of the following:
    • loss of life
    • report of a serious injury to a person
    • collision of public transportation vehicles
    • runaway train
    • evacuation for life safety reasons
    • derailment of a rail transit vehicle, at any location, at any time, whatever the cause
  2. Incident - an event that involves any of the following:
    • personal injury that is not a serious injury
    • one or more injuries requiring medical transport
    •  damage to facilities, equipment, rolling stock, or infrastructure that disrupts the operations of a transit agency
  3. Event – an accident, incident or occurrence

The Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP)

The July 2018 Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) Final Rule (49 CFR Part 673) applies to recipients or subrecipients of funding under 49 U.S.C. 5307 that operates a public transportation system.

  • Section 5307 funded agencies operating 100 or fewer revenue service vehicles in peak service (small urban transit systems) are required to develop an FTA compliant agency safety plan.
  • Small urban systems may use their State DOT to draft and certify their plan or may develop and certify their own plan.
  • Section 5307 funded agencies operating more than 100 revenue service vehicles in peak service (large transit systems) are required to develop their own FTA compliant agency safety plan

The PTASP must:

  • Be approved by the agency board of directors or equivalent authority by July 19, 2020 
  • Be based on the Safety Management System (SMS) approach
  • Contain performance targets based on safety criteria established under the National Public Transportation Safety Plan
  • Establish a process for annual review

FTA offers a webinar to assist transit agencies and State DOTs with determining whether or not the FTA requires that they develop a PTASP.  Section 5310 and/or 5311 funded agencies are not required AT THIS TIME to develop an FTA compliant safety plan; only Section 5307 (urbanized) recipients and subrecipients and rail systems are currently subject to this requirement. The safety plan requirements for 5307 systems should be considered as best practices for 5310 and/or 5311 funded agencies. 

FTA offers numerous resources for developing a PTASP in its online PTASP Technical Assistance Center.  This includes resources to help small bus transit providers work with their State DOTs on Agency Safety Plan development.  Examples of resources include a Sample Bus Transit Provider Agency Safety Plan (ASP), which outlines the requirements of an FTA compliant plan, a PTASP Checklist for Bus Transit, and a Guide to Developing the Safety Risk Management Component of a Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan, which provides more detail on the SMS component of a PTASP.

Note that State DOTs have a responsibility to develop PTASPs for urban transit systems that operate no more than 100 buses (referred to as a “small bus system” in this context) that elect not to develop their own PTASP.  Some States also require PTASPs for their rural transit systems.  FTA has a web page compiling resources to help State DOTs develop Agency Safety Plans for small public transportation providers in their states.. 

For State DOTs that are interested in procuring consulting services to assist with PTASP preparation for the State’s subrecipients, here is a sample PTASP Scope of Services from Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The Safety Management System (SMS) – A Brief Overview

SMS  is about strategically applying resources to risk.  To do this effectively, the organizational structure includes these elements:

  • Defined roles and responsibilities
  • Strong executive safety leadership
  • Formal safety accountabilities and communication
  • Effective policies and procedures
  • Active employee involvement
  • Scalable to the size of the transit agency and complexity of the service delivery model

Key SMS activities:

  • Collecting and analyzing safety data to proactively identify hazards
  • Taking actions to mitigate the risk associated with the potential consequences of hazards
  • Ongoing monitoring of risk through a system of safety controls
  • Using data to support allocation of resources that promote and support safety performance

Key features of SMS:

  • Accountability for the management of safety at the highest level of the transit agency
  • Collaboration between management and labor to ensure agreement on safety risk priorities
  • Structure and strategic decision making for safety resource allocation
  • Enhanced service safety performance through proactive safety risk analyses
  • Increased confidence in safety risk controls through safety assurance
  • Partnership and knowledge sharing between public transportation agencies, state agencies and FTA
  • A positive safety culture that supports safety communication and hazard reporting

The role of senior management in SMS:

  • Senior management understands and accepts its role of accountability in promoting safety and managing the transit agency safety program
  • Senior management ensures employee partnership and participation on all safety matters
  • Safety Officer / Manager provides ongoing communication about the SMS to all employees

SMS and the current safety structure:

  • Builds on existing transit agency resources, both human and technical, and refocuses activities to more effectively use these resources
  • Ensures that safety decision-making is integrated into the management processes that drive the organization

Working with public safety and emergency preparedness, SMS:

  • Integrates public safety and emergency preparedness information into the assessment of risk
  • Helps management and employees understand their total safety risk exposure and allows for resources to be applied strategically and effectively

SMS and safety culture:

  • Facilitates a shift in attitudes for both management and employees concerning the importance of safety in day-to-day activities
  • Emphasizes safety training and communication throughout the entire transit agency to ensure safety policies and procedures and hazard reporting needs are understood and
  • Encourages management and employees to work together to identify and mitigate safety risk
  • Encourages employees to routinely report close calls and near misses with the understanding that positive actions will be taken by the agency to reduce potential negative outcomes
  • Prioritizes safety related complaints by passengers and those in the community with the understanding that positive actions will be taken by the agency to reduce potential negative outcomes

Safety Management System Overview – 4 Pillars

SMS is composed of four functional components:

  1. Safety Policy
  • The foundation of a safety management system
  • Clear objectives and procedures to accomplish objectives
  • Defines roles of management and employees
  1. Safety Risk Management
  • Processes and procedures for identifying hazards or potential hazards
  • Collection, analysis and assessment of risks for hazards
  • Measures to reduce or eliminate risks
  1. Safety Assurance
  • Ensures performance and effectiveness of safety risk measures developed under safety risk management
  • Ensures continuous collection, analysis and assessment of performance data to meet or exceed safety objectives
  • Monitors and inspects activities to support oversight and performance
  1. Safety Promotion
  • Includes training and communication of safety information
  • Allows a process for employees to communicate safety concerns without fear of retribution

Safety & Overarching Theme

Throughout all phases of SMS, there are four important questions that should be driving your process.

  1. What are your agency’s most serious safety concerns?  (Risk)
  1. How do you know this?  (Data)
  1. What is your agency doing about it?  (Resources)
  1. Is what your agency doing working?  (Trending)

As the manager performs the review, they should revise and develop their internal safety policies and procedures, and ensure that whatever they have in place effectively leads to the answers of these questions.

Manager’s Role in Overseeing Daily Vehicle Operations

While a Transit Manager may not directly supervise daily vehicle operations, they lead the management and operations team in its commitment to safety, security and the agency’s role in emergency management.  The Manager influences and guides the transit system’s employee relations, safety plans and policies, safety committees and meetings, and customer service. The management team shows commitment to safety by example and innovative initiatives to encourage safety procedures and implementation.

The Transit Manager will monitor daily operations through the managers and supervisors in each department of the agency.  The Manager’s role is to ensure that policies, procedures, training, recordkeeping and monitoring is in place in four critical areas:

  1. Vehicle safety –

The Transit Manager

  • Ensures regular vehicle maintenance
  • Ensures preventive vehicle maintenance is following bus manufacturers recommendations
  • Oversees the on-sight maintenance shop, sub-contracted vehicle maintenance at independent garages, and/or vehicle maintenance performed by any sub-contractors
  1. Driving safety –

The Transit Manager

  • Ensures that hiring managers conduct appropriate background checks and ongoing Motor Vehicle Report monitoring of all bus drivers
  • Ensure that training is in place for new hires as well as veteran bus drivers
  • Ensure that all policies and procedures are being followed on a daily basis
  • Ensures that bus drivers receive initial and ongoing training to include, at a minimum:
    • Pre-trip inspection
    • Defensive driver training
    • Drug and alcohol awareness
    • Responding to onboard emergencies, including safe evacuation
    • All policies, procedures and practices of the agency
      *There are many training programs available through local and national organizations and private companies. The National RTAP START safety training module and 2 the Point Training Cards provide high quality training material that can assist in the recommended training.
  1. Passenger safety –

The Transit Manager

  • Ensures that all bus drivers receive training in:
    • Customer service
    • Safe boarding and de-boarding of ambulatory passengers
    • Passenger assistance training including safe boarding, de-boarding and onboard securement of passengers who use mobility devices
    • Ensures that there is a method to mitigate hazards that could impact passenger safety
    • Ensures that there is a method to deal with passenger incidents or accidents
    • Ensures all public health concerns involving passengers are addressed
  1. Emergency procedures –

The Transit Manager

  • Ensures the development and review of documents, protocols and procedures as well as proper training and practice for emergency situations including:
    • Hazardous weather
    • Onboard accidents and incidents
    • Vehicle evacuation
    • Facility evacuation
    • Onboard conflict
    • Vehicle accidents
    • Vehicle or facility fire
    • Community evacuation
    • Ensures that communications and are open and there is cooperation between the transit agency and emergency personnel (local, county and state)
    • Is knowledgeable of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The website offers free, online training courses.

A helpful resource is FTA's catalog of Safety Training Resources for Bus Transit Agencies.

Handling Conflict and Driver De-escalation Skills – Preventing Driver Assaults

As a manager, it is important to provide resources and training for front-line employees on how to handle conflict and how to de-escalate onboard situations. Onboard conflicts can often be just a disappointment or disagreement between the passenger and bus driver over a policy or service. Conflicts may result in customer complaints (or worse) if not handled well. An out of control situation may quickly escalate to a more serious confrontation or even an assault.

Bus drivers must receive a clear message from management that their job is to inform onboard policies with customers. The driver has a responsibility to inform a passenger about the proper fare or a service policy, etc., and the manager can decide on an enforcement plan should the passenger disregard the rules. Sometimes passengers become angry when they are asked to do something or not to do something. Typically, confrontations start small and can accelerate to a worsening onboard situation. As a result, violent behavior can be directed toward the driver or other passengers.

According to National RTAP’s Customer Driven Service Training Module, there are 7 basic needs for all customers: reliability, safety, convenience, cleanliness, simplicity, affordability, and friendly service. Typically, when a bus driver meets the passengers’ expectations, things go well. But there are times when a passenger can board a bus who is angry or even dangerous. The driver’s actions and reactions to the person can either escalate or de-escalate a situation. Drivers should be trained on how to handle conflict, de-escalate situations and prevent assaults:

  1. Always remember that passengers are people with a full range of human emotions. They also may have issues resulting from medical conditions that include dementia and mental illness, , alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, etc. Drivers should approach all passengers with dignity, respect and kindness.
  2. Passengers should be greeted with friendliness and confidence.  Drivers should convey a helpful and professional attitude toward passengers.
  3. It is the driver’s role to support and explain policies.  Explanations should be polite and consistent.  The concept of informing the passenger of a policy is the driver’s job.  However, proceeding to enforcement (denying service) can sometimes result in passenger anger.  Drivers should never threaten a passenger.
  4. It is important to stay vigilant when dealing with someone who is upset. Drivers should be aware of the situation and mindful that stress can intensify the situation. They should also know the environment (e.g., to be prepared to stop the vehicle at the nearest safe location).
  5. Staying calm is crucial. If a driver’s emotions are out of control, the passenger may also lose control.  Drivers should not take comments personally.
  6. Non-threatening questions are powerful tools to de-escalate a situation (e.g., “What do you need?”).
  7. In tense situations, the driver’s first statement can influence the passenger’s attitude.  Drivers should slow their speech and lower their voice.

There may be times when the driver cannot de-escalate the situation and will need to bring the conflict to a safe conclusion. Here are some steps:

  1. At first indication, the driver can discreetly contact the dispatcher.  Engage a panic button or verbal emergency code. A transit system can install a panic button that typically sends a silent signal to dispatch that help is needed. In the absence of this technology, a non-threatening phrase the driver can call into dispatch (e.g., “is there any overtime work this Sunday?”) will alert dispatch to get assistance to the driver. It may also be appropriate to dial 911 on a cell phone and leave the line open in some situations.
  2. Don’t close the door on a dangerous passenger. The driver can stay in place with the door open and announce a mechanical problem. Simply stated, the driver can let the other passengers exit the bus.
  3. If in route, the driver can pull over to a safe crowded area and open the door. Never trap an out-of-control person.

A manager has many responsibilities, but few are more important than providing the necessary tools and training to ensure bus driver and passenger safety. Drivers should be reminded to provide friendly and safe services every day and to display a positive attitude with all passengers. Their daily goal is to be safe, go home, and enjoy their time off.

The New Mexico DOT (NMDOT) has developed a Conflict Management and De-escalation for Transit Drivers and Supervisors video.  Links to stream and download this video, as well as an accompanying handout, can be found on the NMDOT Transit and Rail web page. National Transit Institute (NTI) provides an Assault Awareness and Prevention for Transit Operators online course, including a video recording.

Conflict Resulting from Pandemic Stress

Pandemics can be highly stressful for most people. Self-care during a pandemic should be encouraged among all transit agency staff, especially drivers. Transit agencies may want to offer counseling to staff.

Fear and anxiety, coupled with isolation and loneliness and difficulty in getting what used to be normal activities accomplished, can cause frustration, agitation and inflexible behavior.  

During a pandemic, on-board conflict can escalate. A bus driver may find that a passenger may not comply with a request or policy change. A request to wear a mask or to sit in a certain seat to maintain social distancing, etc., may quickly escalate into a conflict where a passenger or even groups of passengers will not comply with a request. While each system will need to determine if a serious safety threat exists that may result in service denial, typically management would teach bus drivers to inform the passenger of the transit agency policy. After the trip, the bus driver should report the incident to management.

There is also the risk of assault by passengers against bus drivers or other passengers during a pandemic. Frontline personnel should receive advanced training in de-escalation.  While following policy is very important, especially policies related to protecting the health and safety of passengers and employees, the manager should make it clear to drivers that they should not risk themselves or other passengers’ safety when faced with a person who is threatening violence in reaction to being asked to follow the policy.

A series of action steps to reduce and prevent assaults include:

  • Listen – drivers should show that they are really listening and absorbing what the passenger is telling them
  • Place the issue on higher ground – let them know that the driver is concerned about their safety and the safety of other passengers
  • Find something to agree on – the conversation can be redirected away from the negative toward common good
  • Offer an explanation – passengers are more willing to accept a negative situation if someone gives them the reason
  • Offer a solution – drivers should show that they are willing to work to solve the problem
  • Divert attention – the passenger’s attention can be focused away from what they are doing and on to something else
  • Try a compliment – a compliment can disarm an irritable passenger
  • Ask a question – drivers may be able to help the passengers in some way
  • Let it go – drivers should pick their battles wisely and realize when a situation could escalate into a larger issue
  • Present a choice –  passengers should be presented with a positive and negative choice that they can decide about

Drugs on the Bus

One onboard situation any bus driver may face is seeing or hearing that a passenger is showing, selling or using drugs during a bus ride. It is important that the transit manager issues a policy statement concerning passenger behavior while using the transit services. Typically, this list will involve the “dos and don’ts” of riding a bus and would include passenger guidelines for both alcohol and illegal drug use while riding. For example, Transit Triangle from Michigan City, Indiana has 22 passenger guidelines that include:

  • No open alcohol beverage containers are allowed on board. Transit reserves the right to ask to see the contents of all packages if the operator suspects a package may contain an open container.
  • Illegal drugs are not permitted. We will notify law enforcement.
  • At the discretion of the operator, any person intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol and drugs may be refused service.

While a policy is very important, it is vital that the manager makes it very clear that the bus driver should not risk themselves or other passengers’ safety when faced with a person showing, selling, or using illegal drugs.

In addition to a written policy, the transit manager should ensure that drivers are trained in responding to this type of situation as part of general conflict management training (which is discussed earlier in this section of the toolkit under Handling Conflict and Driver De-escalation Skills – Preventing Driver Assaults).

In particular, the training should highlight the following considerations and guidelines specific to illegal drugs or persons under the influence on the bus:

  • A person under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol may respond with anger or behavior that quickly escalates towards a negative outcome. The driver should inform the passenger of the rule. Most passengers will respond in a positive manner when informed but may respond negatively to enforcement.
  • The driver should treat the individual with dignity and respect but report their observations to supervisors as soon as it is safely possible. Supervisors should inform management, who may choose to report the incident to law enforcement and request their assistance in processing the situation.
  • It is important for drivers to recognize that many passengers have various legal medications that can be easily misunderstood as illegal substances. For that reason, it is also important to observe passenger behavior. If the person who is suspected of using drugs shows no signs of poor judgement or behavior, simply remaining aware and delivering the passenger to this destination may be the best outcome.
  • Drivers should also be trained to look for suspicious items and activities to ensure that drug distribution isn’t occurring on their vehicle. For example, they should be trained to look for slits cut into seats (as part of pre-trip and post-trip inspections) and be aware of people switching seats after another rider gets off the bus, and to report anything that seems suspicious to their supervisor.

Manager’s Role in Security Awareness

The Transit Manager needs to ensure during this era of increased criminal activity and drug use, heightened national security, and greater technical piracy, that all employees are trained to be the eyes and ears in the community.  A system for “if you see something, say something” should be in place for employees and passengers to report suspicious people, activities, vehicles, packages, objects, and behaviors that could pose a potential security risk or incident.  All employees should be trained in BOLO (Be On the Lookout) and know who to tell when identifying someone or something suspicious.  In addition, with the advent of smart phones, applications have been created for the public to photograph and report anything suspicious.

Manager’s Role in Emergency Management

The Transit Manager needs to be aware that the transit system will work with the community first responders in the event of a local, state or national crisis.  This could include evacuating residents during events ranging from severe weather to criminal or terrorism activities within their community.  The agency must have in place protocols to deal with accidents, evacuation, relocating vehicles, body fluid spills, sick or ill passengers, smoke or fire incidents both onboard the buses or any facilities owned by the transit system.  One of the key steps to ensure that the transit system is working in harmony with local emergency management is active participation in the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC).  This group, typically under the authority of the county Emergency Manager, meets regularly to plan and practice emergency response.  The Manager should also ensure that a relationship is established with local police and fire personnel who should be familiar with the transit agency’s facilities and vehicles to allow for quicker action in the event of emergencies.

Lessons Learned from the COVID 19 Pandemic

In 2020, the United States become one of more than nations that suffered significant number of infections and deaths as a result of the worldwide outbreak and spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) - Co V-2, also known as Coronavirus Disease, 2019 or COVID-19. This pandemic spread into all 50 states and U.S. territories. The result led to serious shutting down of many businesses and governmental offices and worksites, and service reductions of transit agencies.

Transit agencies had to make quick and decisive decisions on how to respond, what services to offer, and what steps to take to ensure safety for employees and customers. Most U.S. transit systems had not prepared for a pandemic and found themselves responding in real-time to an ever-changing environment.

Many COVID-19 resources have been developed for transit agencies, such as the guidance and best practices found in these resources:

In addition to national-level guidance, some State DOTs have prepared guidance for their grantees.  For example, the New Mexico DOT (NMDOT) developed a COVID-19 Safety Guidance for New Mexico Transit Agencies video.  Links to stream and download this video, as well as New Mexico COVID-19 Transit Response Guidance, can be found on the NMDOT Transit and Rail web page.

Pandemic Plan

It is very important that every transit agency prepares a pandemic response plan. For example, see the Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency (HIRTA) Pandemic Plan.

Key elements should include:

  1. Communications:  Have systems in place for:
    • Staff communications: Have a system in place to be able to quickly communicate information to all employees through group call, text, and email to provide organizational-wide information. In addition to having a system in place for urgent, time-sensitive communications, transit managers should consider providing updates and reminders to all staff at regularly scheduled intervals (for example, through an employee newsletter or weekly bulletins).
    • Passenger communications:  Use the agency website and social media tools to communicate service status to all passengers. This may also include recorded and live voice calls to paratransit customers affected by service changes.  Posters, signs, and rider bulletins, can be posted at facilities and on vehicles.  Many transit agencies send e-news and email alerts to individuals who subscribe to this service through the transit agency’s website.
    • Media communications: Have specific individual(s) as the sole contact with all local media outlets to share important, up to date information.
      National RTAP’s Emergency Information Dissemination technical brief provides recommendations for communicating to the public and the media during a crisis.
  2. Staff education:  Disseminate information throughout the agency concerning the nature of infectious respiratory diseases and best practices to avoid the spread of virus (hand washing, face covering, and social distancing).  Consider hosting socially-distanced in-person driver training to help drivers feel more connected and have an opportunity to talk with a trainer or manager about their concerns.
  3. Personal protection equipment (PPE):  Develop a substantial inventory of PPE including at least:
    • Employee face coverings/masks (30 masks x number of employees x 90 days)
    • Passenger face coverings/masks (Daily number of passengers x 90 days)
    • Disposable gloves (number of employees x 90 days)
    • Clear curtains or barriers (ready to install as needed)
    • Disinfectant wipes that align with current CDC recommendations to ensure adequate cleaning and disinfecting of all frequently touched surfaces in bus, at bus stops, transfer facilities, offices and shops for a 90-day period.
    • A supply of hand sanitizer that aligns with current CDC recommendations
  4. Policies in place for sick or high-risk employees to stay at home. Anticipate a minimum of at least 10% reduction in drivers and other staff.
  5. Policies and technology in place to allow all employees other than drivers and those who need to be on site the ability to work at home
  6. Bus schedules/operations, keeping in mind that transit agencies cannot limit or prioritize trip purposes for ADA Complementary Paratransit:
    • Establish and prioritize trips and service areas such as hospitals, medical centers, dialysis centers, etc.
    • Establish and prioritize secondary routes for essential services, employment, grocery, social service, government services
    • May want to ask riders to avoid making non-essential trips on fixed route and demand response services, in order to save capacity for riders needing to make essential trips.
    • Consider converting fixed routes to demand response service requiring reservations for all riders.

Agency Response - Recommended Pandemic Protocols

During a pandemic, it is very important to follow the recommendations of federal agencies (e.g., FTA, CDC) and state agencies (e.g., State DOT, State Departments of Health) to insure accurate information. Transit managers should subscribe to email updates from such agencies where possible.  

Caution: many individuals, political leaders, talk radio hosts, Internet media, social media and others may have “opinions” on issues and recommendations to follow during a pandemic. Transit agency decisions should be based on federal and state agencies recommendations.

The following information is summarized from various national sources and best practices. Additional in-depth information can be found on the websites of FTA, CDC, National RTAP, CTAA, APTA, and other reliable sources.  Links to key resources are provided below.

  1. Face coverings/masks
    • Employees
      • Drivers – recommended use of N95 (or the equivalent KN-95) face masks for all drivers if possible.  If N95 or equivalent masks are unavailable, cloth masks are recommended.
      • At-risk drivers – recommended administrative leave for those with CDC-identified high-risk conditions, over 60 or those living with someone over the age of 70
      • Office staff – use N95 or KN95 face masks, if available
    • Passengers
      • Recommended use of face masks by passengers
      • Offer cloth or disposable masks if passengers are not masked
  2. Driver compartment barriers
    • Establish barriers with clear material for driver social distancing
    • Cordon off front row seats within six feet of the driver
    • Recommended use of back doors for boarding and deboarding, if available (allowing use of front-door lift or ramp when needed by individuals with disabilities, or for seniors and individuals with disabilities needing access to priority seating)
    • Use the ventilation system in non-recirculated mode or open the windows
  3. Onboard social distancing
    • Limit the number of passengers
    • Use larger buses, if possible
    • Seat passengers at six feet apart at a minimum
    • Place signs in seats for spacing
  4. Vehicle and transit facility cleaning
    • Use disinfectant fogging on all vehicles
    • Clean and disinfect, using disposable gowns and gloves, all high touch surfaces on vehicles and facilities multiple times throughout the day following CDC guidelines
    • Make available onboard hand sanitizing dispensers or wipes
  5. Fare collection
    • Consider suspending fares
    • Relocate fare boxes to passenger section
    • Use passes only
  6. Mobility device securement
  7. Essential trip limitations – On demand response service (but not ADA complementary paratransit), the transit agency could prioritize transport for:
    • Healthcare employees
    • First responder employees
    • Grocery, pharmacy, restaurant employees
    • Food and medicine purchasers
    • Non-emergency medical trips
  8. At-risk employees
    • Recommended administrative leave for
    • Provide refresher training for drivers returning to work after an extended leave
  9. Known COVID-19 positive passengers
    • Check with state Public Health Department and Medicaid Agency
    • Partner with local EMS providers
    • Use limited, larger vehicles
  10. All passengers
    • May employ screening questions
    • Consider use of no-touch temperature check mechanisms

Links to Key Resources:

See also "Handling Conflict and Driver De-escalation Skills – Preventing Driver Assaults” which is found earlier in this section of the toolkit under “Manager’s Role in Overseeing Daily Vehicle Operations.”

Additional resources for managing stress and reducing on-board conflict include:


Section Sources

Updated March 9, 2021