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Training

As an RTAP manager, you are responsible for making sure that training is available to rural and tribal transit operators so that they can fulfill federal and state requirements. This can be accomplished through a variety of means, including providing scholarships for operators to attend training within or outside the state, hiring trainers to run in-person or virtual training sessions, and putting together conferences during which a large number of operators can come together and train on a few topics. This section will explore creating and maintaining standalone training programs that respond to provider needs. To read more about scholarship programs, see the Scholarship Programs section.

Types of training include in-person courses (for example, at a conference, or a state-sponsored, instructor-led training course), webinars, and online courses. Like all components of the RTAP program, the way you implement them and what you choose to focus on depends on the needs of your subrecipients, the input of your advisory committee, and the policies of your state. You will need to consider which courses may already be required (due to state law or policy), and which will be offered complementarily to the core curriculum. Will you have a required core curriculum, or just a list of classes that are offered and suggested? 

For example, the Minnesota RTAP training program is customized somewhat year to year, but retains the same core courses. The core curriculum is set by the state, with additional courses offered depending on provider needs garnered through conversation at the State Spring Workshop, new FTA rules and initiatives, and other hot topics year to year. Most state models include a standard set of courses each year, both mandated and elective, and utilize subrecipient feedback to adjust future curricula by adding or removing courses.

 

Training Requirements

The federal government requires transit personnel to be trained in two main areas. These are:

  • Drug and alcohol training for employees (1 hour) and supervisors (2 hours minimum). See 655.14, Section B of the drug and alcohol regulations.
  • Personnel must also be “trained to proficiency” in the use of accessible vehicles and equipment, and the proper way to treat and assist individuals with different types of disabilities. See section Title 49 CFR Section 37.173 for exact wording.

In addition, states may have their own training mandates, as discussed above. 

Common required training topics include Drug & Alcohol Testing, Wheelchair Securement and Lift Operation, Substance Abuse, ADA, Emergency and Accident Procedures, Defensive Driving, Passenger Service & Safety, and Pre- and Post-Trip Inspection.Below is a list of common training topics, in order of decreasing popularity. Data is from the 2010 and 2013 State RTAP Manager Surveys:

  • ADA
  • Drug & Alcohol Testing
  • Wheelchair Securement
  • Defensive Driving 
  • Emergency and Accident Procedures 
  • Wheelchair Lift Operation
  • Passenger Service & Safety 
  • Substance Abuse
  • Safety & Security
  • Customer Service
  • Maintenance
  • Pre- and Post-Trip Inspection
  • Transit Operations
  • Sensitivity Training
  • Scheduling & Dispatching
  • Managing a transit system
  • Driver Stress & Fatigue
  • Transit Marketing
  • Transit Performance

Other training that state RTAP programs sometimes offer:

  • HazMat
  • First Aid
  • CPR
  • FTA Charter Regulations
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Transit System Planning
  • Grant Management 
  • Distracted Driving
  • Civil Rights (Title VI, DBE, LEP)
  • Procurement
  • Mobility Management
  • Alternative Fuels
  • Leadership/Professional Development
  • Project Management
  • Using Social Media
  • Managing Boards
  • Succession Planning
  • Supervisor Training
  • Difficult Customers
  • Background Checks
  • Volunteer Drivers
  • Emergency Management
  • Technical Writing
  • Charter Service
  • Conflict & Stress Management
  • Fiscal Management 

Assessing Training Needs

If you plan to use subrecipient input to guide your training curriculum decisions, you will need to gather data directly from transit agencies who will be receiving the training. Surveying and polling are effective methods for gathering this data. Questionnaires may be distributed electronically, in person at statewide conferences, or via mail. SurveyMonkey and Kwik Surveys are two free online tools you can use to gather data, and there are many other free and low-cost options available as well. You can even embed a poll module or suggestion box onto your website. 

 

Finding Training

Training materials and opportunities can be found in a number of places. Hard-copy training materials could be utilized for self-directed learning or group classes. Some places that provide training and training materials are listed below. Additional links can be found in the How to Find Almost Anything Toolkit.

Organizations that provide in-person training (often for a fee) include the National Transit Institute (NTI), National Safety Council, and CTAA. The FTA also hosts a number of different training sessions across the country, some available at no cost. National conferences will host training courses as part of a supplementary conference agenda, and state conferences often provide large-scale training to meet a common need or state requirement.

Webinars are utilized as low-cost delivery methods that reach hundreds of trainees at a time. Organizations that host webinars include National RTAP, NTI, Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA), CTAA, and state transit associations. National RTAP maintains a list of upcoming webinars and other training in our bi-weekly eNews.

Online courses are a cross between webinars and in-person training. Typically, these last for several weeks and include an element of homework. ESPA, CTAA, the National Safety Council (NSC) and the Taxi, Limousine, and Paratransit Association (TLPA) provide online courses. Easter Seals’ courses focus on mobility management and accessible transportation, while CTAA’s offerings include an online PASS Certification program. TLPA provides a comprehensive training curriculum for their members online. 

Physical training materials, for use in self-directed learning or classes, can be ordered from National RTAP at no cost. Other places to purchase training materials include Smith System (driver training), and the Transportation Safety Institute (TSI).  

 

Delivering Training

Based on subrecipient needs, geography, and available funding, you may choose to deliver training in a number of different ways. Common models include in-person direct, train-the-trainer, or computer-based. Most RTAP programs outsource some or all of their training using one of the models below. 

In-person direct training involves hiring a trainer to conduct a one-time class, usually provided at a transit agency, meeting, conference, or other gathering. Many states hire a national organization, such as NTI or Small Urban and Rural Transportation Center (SURTC) to provide the training to transit systems. Others use an in-house trainer (or trainers). Train-the-trainer is another common model that can cut down on time and money spent training subrecipients. Trainees become certified to teach the same course to others. This is a great way for smaller agencies to have qualified trainers on staff, or at least locally available. Some common train-the-trainer courses include PASS, System Security Awareness for Transit Employees, Security Incident Management for Transit Supervisors, and Building Diversity Skills in the Workplace.

Other options for training delivery that don’t involve a trainer are self-directed and online learning. Self-directed learning uses computer-based software to guide trainees through a training topic. Many National RTAP training products include a self-directed learning disc. Online courses can be hosted on an LMS, or learning management system, in another form of computer-based learning. Generally, an LMS requires internet access. You need to create the content to put in the system, either through authoring tools that come with the LMS, or another medium. Pennsylvania RTAP and its contractor PennTRAIN, the state transit association, jointly launched a customized Umbraco LMS in 2013, which they use to create, deliver, and track online training. They use the courses hosted in the LMS to supplement classroom-based training, which is free to PennDOT grantees, a huge advantage to small systems that don’t have a lot of money for training. Florida uses the Absorb LMS to deliver computer-based training, and Delaware uses PeopleSoft for this purpose.

If you decide to pursue training via an LMS, find out if nearby states are already using an LMS. Instead of purchasing or designing your own, there may be the potential to pay into an existing system. When looking into purchasing one, know that there are many types with a variety of features and prices. 

 

Finding Trainers

States offering in-person training generally outsource some or all of it to other agencies or private trainers. Training models in each state include maintaining one trainer for all state-level training, as in Massachusetts and Missouri, hiring trainers on a per-course basis, or having a pool of trainers to choose from, as in New York and New Hampshire. Trainers for large transit systems are sometimes hired to provide training to smaller systems, or smaller agencies are invited to attend the urban systems’ trainings. 

For states that don’t have a framework in place already and who are looking for a trainer for one or more courses, you can find appropriate contractors through National RTAP’s Directory of Trainers, or by getting in touch with us. State transit association leaders may also know trainers for the region, and they often provide training themselves. Contact with neighboring states’ RTAP programs will give you some possible trainer leads, and may open the door to multi-state coordination through joint trainings. 

Evaluating trainers is an important tool to make sure that you are providing the best possible experience for your transit operators. Many states distribute evaluations at each training session or conference to collect this information, and others make sure a member of RTAP or other DOT staff attends the training course themselves. Another way to collect this information is to conduct an annual survey of subrecipients and ask them about the effectiveness of the training program. 

 

Coordinating Training

The 5311 circular encourages states to pool funds to provide services, including training. Many states are using this model currently for some or all of their training classes.

Pennsylvania offers its training classes to neighboring states, as do Delaware and California, informally. North and South Dakota routinely coordinate training classes with each other. Washington State RTAP holds some trainings near the border with other states, so both states’ operators can attend. Finally, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine hold a conference together every year, which includes training for operators in attendance. 

A larger coordination effort was the Mid-Atlantic RTAP group, which is currently not active. States in the Mid-Atlantic region coordinated to sponsor training, technical assistance, and peer mentoring activities in the region. Pennsylvania and Maryland still currently coordinate with each other as a remnant of this group. For states bordering others with similar needs, coordination may save both states time and money in event planning and hiring trainers. 

 

Funding Training

What you pay for training depends on many factors. Are you coordinating with another group, such as a transit association or another state? Do you contract out to a particular training group or individual? What type of training is it? All of these will impact the cost of your training. These are two examples of training costs from a contractor and an in-house program (keep in mind that the RTAP allocations can be vastly different from state to state):

Missouri (uses Missouri State University as contractor): Costs the RTAP program $90/hr for training, including the fee for the instructor ($45/hr) and an $18/hr travel fee. This also includes food, lodging and course materials. Missouri uses a former state-employed trainer to deliver the training courses under the RTAP program.

Washington (in-house but contracts out some training): When WSDOT contracts  with a group like the state training coalition, the reimbursement rate for administration of trainings (including procurement of a 3rd-party trainer) is $890/2 day training, $1180/3 day training class  plus the trainer fee. 

 

Tracking Training

Tracking your subrecipients’ training is important for a number of reasons. Operators need to ensure they’re complying with ADA, and Drug and Alcohol regulations. Keeping records for all subrecipients is useful for monitoring training coverage and reaching out to agencies lacking training through site visits or one-on-one communication. Tracking data and evaluations for specific training classes will ensure that trainers are teaching the material adequately. 

Tracking subrecipient training can also benefit transit agencies in the case of litigation due to a bus accident or other incident. Proving to an insurance company that a driver has been trained to proficiency on safety or another topic can shift liability from the transit agency to that driver, and potentially save the transit agency thousands of dollars in a lawsuit. 

States use a variety of methods to track training, including spreadsheets and databases. Many states use software that is already available to state employees for HR or other purposes. Most data comes in through class rosters and evaluation forms. Sample evaluation forms are included here.

 

Best Practices in Training

  • Make training mandatory. Otherwise, agencies will rarely, if ever, find the time or resources to attend.
  • Encourage providers to regularly refresh training by holding webinars or using National RTAP’s 2 the Point training. 
  • Accommodate remote and/or small-staffed agencies by varying the locations of trainings and providing webinars when practical.