6 takeaways from EXPO education sessions

Educational sessions are an essential part of the EXPO, and this year’s slate covered a wide range of topics. Here are six takeaways from the sessions:

1. Don’t leave money on the table. Many small operators are letting tax-funded transit companies go after private charter business. But they can’t do anything about it unless they register—and re-registered every two years—with the Federal Transit Administration’s Charter Service Registration. The problem is that nearly 90 percent of motorcoach operators are not registered, said presenter Ken Presley, UMA’s vice president of industry relations and COO. Here’s why taking a few minutes to register is important. If the transit company does private charter work, a registered bus operator can file a grievance. The public transit service is only allowed to legally go after private-sector work if there aren’t any registered local charter buses available, added co-presenter Steve Klika, a consultant for USA Coach Services and a former public transit executive.

2. Incentives can save money. Bob Crescenzo, vice president of Lancer Insurance, shared tips on developing and maximizing driver incentive programs. They can be an effective way of attracting and retaining qualified drivers, and rewarding behavior that helps the company’s bottom line. He suggests a system incentivizing employees monthly to pay attention to behaviors that reduce expenses, whether that is curtailing idling time or avoiding parking tickets. “We have the concept of points — every driver starts with 100 points. The points are there for you to lose. Every point has a dollar value,” Crescenzo said. “Every driver has to participate.”

3. Pay attention to the right numbers. Jim McCann, with Spader Business Management, offered tips on financial measurements that matter. He suggests looking at factors such as employee performance, debt-to-equity ratio and net income from operations. The goal is to find the “why” in the financial numbers. That focus on numbers also dovetailed with the session McCann led on the benefits of a management-driven organization over a market-driven one. The former makes decisions based on the budgeting process and score-keeping system that includes accountability, staff development and coaching plans.

4. Make safety a priority. In the session titled “Creating a Vibrant Safety Culture,” Eric Schmitz, Senior Vice President at KPA, discussed the factors that help determine insurance rates, particularly the “Experience Modifier,” which measures incidences’ frequency and severity in comparison with your industry. Based on a client’s modifier for the past three years, they pay a percentage of what an “average” risk does. Want to lower rates? Work with your insurer to improve your track record, by adding good practices such as putting someone in charge of safety who can identify risks, then prioritize what they find and assign someone responsible to remediate.

5. Be prepared for a crisis. A big risk for operators is crashes. How they are handled in the first 24 hours is crucial, says Jason Ramsey, a claims attorney with National Interstate Insurance in Richfield, Ohio, who presented on “Creating a Crisis Action Plan.” He suggests taking three actions immediately: preserving physical evidence, talking to witnesses at the scene and bringing in a defense attorney. The presence of legal counsel — who may be provided through your insurance carrier — will protect conversations and some written reports under attorney-client privilege from being disclosed in court. Also, make sure your attorney is present when the driver is interviewed about what happened. “A crisis action plan needs to be something that is ready to go at a moment’s notice,” Ramsey said.

6. Make sure expectations are consistent across all segments of your company. Norris Beren, author of the book How to Create an Intelligent Driver Retention System suggests the problem with driver retention is not in lack of potential employees but the mismatched expectations that lead to them leaving shortly after being hired. Asking questions early about the non-negotiables can also head off problems. Can they never work a Sunday? Know that up front; it might be something you can work around. How do you lure them in the first place in a competitive market? By creating a company culture—a brand—so unified and strong that drivers natural become your best recruiting resource.  More ideas? He suggests “I appreciate you” cards that can be filled out by any employee, given to another; hiring a retention manager whose job is to keep a hand on the pulse of driver satisfaction and deal with issues before they get so bad the driver leaves; and being sure the new employee is, from the first, a good fit.

Dave Millhouser and Kim Schneider contributed to this story.

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