Driver Training Best Practices: Bootcamps and Bus Roadeos
New transit operators require comprehensive training to learn the skills and procedures to safely drive passengers in a variety of situations. While there are many great print and online transit training resources available, including those from National RTAP, intensive hands-on, one-to-one training with specialized instructors provides the type of learning environment that has been shown to improve performance, foster motivation and enable learners to practice take-aways directly in a structured and safe environment. This article covers a few best practices for Driver Bootcamps and Bus Roadeos. For more comprehensive information about Bus Roadeos, visit National RTAP’s Bus Roadeo Toolkit
Driver Training Bootcamps
In Nebraska, free rural transit driver training is available for eligible drivers hired by a Nebraska transit agency receiving Section 5310 or 5311 funding from the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT). NDOT has been providing driver training for years, but their first official Driver Training Bootcamp began in 2017. There is no cost to the participants, as Nebraska’s State RTAP funds are used to cover the training and reimbursable travel expenses. The Nebraska Safety Center, NDOT and University of Nebraska co-sponsor these well-attended Driver Training Bootcamps on a quarterly basis. This action-packed two-day training event covers topics including Passenger Assistance Safety and Sensitivity (PASS), Defensive Driving, Title VI, ADA, first aid and more! PASS includes hands-on training on wheelchair securement and lift operation. The University of Nebraska donates a dedicated vehicle for the two days. There is no exam, but there is certainly a lot of learning!
Participants have the options of taking both days or just one. The Bootcamp satisfies core and annual refresher requirements. Optional electives, which are offered in addition to the Bootcamp, include American Heart Association (AHA) Heartsaver trainings, which teach students to provide first aid, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation (using an automated external defibrillator, or (AED) in a safe, timely, and effective manner. These trainings feature group interaction and hands-on coaching from an AHA instructor. Other offerings include everything from hands-on fire extinguishing (with an actual fire created by local firefighters) to distracted driving to equipment maintenance. High-tech simulators give participants the experience of driving through an ice storm, and the machine scores them on their performance. There are even small go-cart-like vehicles called Simulated Impaired Driving Experience (SIDNE) programmed to drive as if the operators are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drivers have to try to maneuver these through cones and other obstacles and learn first-hand what drunk-driving feels like.
As you can imagine, this is not an old-fashioned classroom where students sit in rows and quietly take notes. “We wanted to offer more hands-on experience and move away from just using PowerPoint presentations,” explained NDOT Transit Manager Kari Ruse, “and each time we do another one we change it up with guest speakers.” Dynamic guest instructors including a county sheriff and local firefighters engage students with real-world examples, simulations and activities. Ruse leads sessions on Data Collection and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Reasonable Modification.
The Bootcamp takes place in a Driving Range (sorry golfers – not that kind of driving range) with a specially built ramp and curb for ADA training. There are many group activities, and groups are switched throughout the Bootcamp so participants get a chance to work with a variety of new drivers from different agencies.
A brochure about the Bootcamp welcomes participants by informing them, “You’re about to jump-start your career as a professional driver” and learn to “handle sensitive and emergency situations with ease and professionalism.” The Bootcamp is successful largely to the planning and development by Nebraska Safety Center Lead Driver Trainer Kaitlyn Richardson, who does everything from developing the curriculum to scheduling the guest speakers.
In addition to outstanding training, Bootcamp is an opportunity for the drivers to come together from all over the state and network, overcome challenges and find solutions together. It is estimated that about 75% of the participants are new drivers and the remainder have more experience. Some drivers travel over 200 miles to attend. Managers are also welcome to go through the “paces” of Nebraska’s Bootcamp. Since a good percentage of managers are also substitute drivers, this is a great opportunity for them too. The planners try to make it as easy as possible for people to attend, including providing dedicated hotel blocks. “We remove the barriers,” stated Ruse, “because we have a commitment to safety.” This commitment has reaped benefits; since implementing a comprehensive driver training program in 2014, there has been a 25% reduction among all transit providers in Nebraska in reported accidents from 2015-2017.
Feedback from the Bootcamp has been excellent. A transit manager responded to the 2018 driver training survey, “Drivers at the Bootcamps really enjoyed them and getting together with other drivers,” and drivers provided feedback like, “Really good presenters and driving course,” and “I’ve really learned a lot today. Great training.”
In addition to providing a type of driver training that you can’t get from reading a book or watching a video, Bus Roadeos offer a platform for team-building and fun. There are many different models that combine training, networking and excitement.
A goal of NDOT’s Bus Roadeo is to instruct, challenge and test transit drivers from all across the state. Nebraska’s Roadeo is in the same week as their Bootcamp, so it is easy for drivers to attend both.
Nebraska awards one lucky person who achieves the highest score of the day the Driver of the Year Award. That winner and other awardees are honored at an awards banquet at the end of the event. NDOT also sponsors the 1st and 2nd place drivers in each category (van and small bus) and their managers to participate in the national CTAA Roadeo and to attend the Expo.
Connecticut has held Bus Roadeos for over 25 years and their State RTAP has been involved since 2012. They partner with CTTransit and ask for a volunteer Roadeo Coordinator from each transit agency. The Coordinators gather for a pre-meeting and a post-meeting luncheon and help promote the Roadeo as well as recruit volunteers to assist during the event. The course has three dedicated buses competing and one spare on hand in case of mechanical issues.
The Connecticut Statewide Transit Roadeo has been held on the same course for some time, as it is the only parking lot in the state large enough for the course and an area for spectators. The event is never exactly the same though; something new is added every year to make it interesting, such as unique driver giveaways. About 300 people attend, including families, volunteers, coworkers and supervisors. There are usually 40-50 drivers, and many come back year after year. “There is a great deal of pride in the Roadeo,” says CT RTAP Program Coordinator Michele Brooks, “and it is very exciting when you are celebrating the best. It gives every organization a chance to highlight their best driver and is also a truly professional day and a special chance to bond with your peers.” There is a Rookie Award so new drivers can compete with other new drivers, and Brooks has found that repeat drivers definitely show improvement every time they compete.
There is no training allowed during the Roadeo (drivers are not able to be coached or given advice), so it’s a real competition, but there is a full 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM training the day before. About 95% of the Roadeo participants usually attend the training, and they are asked to bring their own trainer or coach, who can accompany them on the bus around the course that day and answer any questions. Drivers are divided into groups of three, and there are assigned practice times every 45 minutes throughout the day.
A Course Marshall is in charge of the Roadeo course and oversees when the buses start. On the day of the Roadeo, teams watch other teams and see how they go through the course, which is an educational experience too.
In addition to serving as excellent training, the Connecticut Statewide Transit Roadeo is also a very festive event. There is entertainment for all, including a DJ, a juggler and face painting (the adults enjoy this as much as the kids). “Go all out,” exclaims Brooks, “and make it a big event!” She’s found that the transit agencies really appreciate it and there is such positive feedback.
Lyn Hellegaard, Executive Director of the Montana Transit Association organizes and implements the Montana State Bus Roadeo. “Drivers have told us it’s great training,” states Hellegaard. “It also allows them to network with their peers and discuss and solve rider issues.” Montana has held Bus Roadeos annually for over 25 years, and an official State Coordinator position was created in 2000 (before that the association’s board planned the event).
Their Roadeo is rotated around the state and each location has something special. In Great Falls, the Roadeo takes place on the Fairgrounds, and in Billings, it is held on an airport firehouse and tarmac. There is a fee for the competition, but participants may apply for an RTAP scholarship to cover the Roadeo fee and reimbursable expenses.
At the Montana Roadeo, there is written test when their manager’s meeting is over, before the official start of the Roadeo. After the test they hold a Monte Carlo Night for the managers and drivers. This event allows people to interact with each other in a non-work environment, building important relationships. A Blackjack game played with “Bus Bucks” is one of the highlights. At the Awards Banquet following the Roadeo there are prizes auctioned off that can be purchased with their Bus Bucks winnings. Having this event has also helped in securing judges for the Roadeo, as most managers are happy to stay over to help.
Education for the Roadeo includes a representative from Q’Straint, who trains drivers on wheelchair securement before the competition. The Roadeo includes fixed route with a pre-trip obstacle and paratransit with a wheelchair obstacle. CTAA scoresheets are used for all obstacles.
Like the Connecticut Roadeos, there are also a lot of repeat participants at the Montana Roadeos. Family members are encouraged to attend, and there are usually around 20-30 drivers and 20-30 judges for a total of about 70-80 people including spectators. They began a Rookie Division, so drivers with 1-3 years of experience have a chance to win prizes too. Medals for the events are modeled on Olympic medals: Gold, Silver and Bronze.
The American Public Transit Association (APTA) also has some great traditions that make their Bus Roadeos fun and encourage camaraderie, such as a Swap Meet, where participants, managers, vendors and even families and friends are welcome to trade, exchange, and distribute transit-related pins, hats, shirts and other memorabilia.
Things to Consider
Eight hours of intensive training, especially competitive driving, can work up an appetite, and it is good practice to serve both lunch and snacks. Nebraska’s Bootcamp and Roadeo includes meals, breaks and fun activities like ice-breakers. In Connecticut, their Roadeo Barbeque was so popular that when the planners substituted a boxed lunch, people rallied to bring the BBQ back (which it was).
Kari Ruse of NDOT feels that 20 participants are a perfect amount for a Bootcamp; with larger groups, it may become more difficult to provide individual attention to all participants.
Costs for these trainings should be included in agency budgets and plans. In Montana, the average cost to put on a Roadeo is about $4,600; their State DOT usually provides about $1,000, and the rest is made up from registrations and sponsorships. NDOT budgets $5,000 for their Roadeo, which includes the cost of a membership luncheon and cash prizes for the winners. Nebraska’s Bootcamp training, as well as other driver training, costs approximately $150 per person for training.
Lyn Hellegaard of MTA offers some sage advice for others who are planning their own Bus Roadeos:
- Make sure you always drive a bus through the course when setting up.
- Have a checklist which can be given out that indicates who is responsible for what.
- Always recruit more judges than you need, because some people who sign up just don’t show up.
- If you have more than one competition (fixed route and paratransit/demand response) consider using one course and “downsizing/up sizing” for the different sized vehicles
- Local zoning regulations can make finding a course site a challenge.
Michele Brooks of CT RTAP also advises Roadeo planners to rent golf carts for the day. The carts are great for zipping around the course while collecting scoring sheets and passing out water, and make the day go much faster and smoother.
Be prepared for all kinds of weather! Unless safety is an issue, these trainings are not cancelled and are held rain or shine. “When it is very hot, be sure to order extra water; there is no running water in outdoor parking lots,” recommends Brooks. One year in Montana, there were both deluging rainstorms and snow on the same day. The Roadeo, however, was still held. “We just powered on,” remembered Hellegaard. “All drivers have to drive in the rain and snow anyway!”
Image Courtesy of Montana Transit Association
Thank you to the staff from the agencies below who shared their time, interviews, expertise and images:
Florida RTAP. (2018) Roadeo Instructional Videos. https://www.floridartap.org/paratransit-roadeo/roadeo-instructional-videos/
National RTAP. (2014) Bus Roadeo Toolkit. http://nationalrtap.org/roadeo/
TCRP Synthesis 126: Successful Practices and Training Initiatives to Reduce Accidents and Incidents at Transit Agencies. (2017) Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences. http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/175648.aspx