RTAP managers are responsible for making sure that training is available to rural and Tribal transit drivers so that they can fulfill federal and state requirements. This can be accomplished through a variety of means, including providing scholarships for drivers 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 State RTAP program, the way the manager implements them and the focus depends on the needs of the state’s subrecipients, the input of the program’s advisory committee, and the policies of the state. The manager 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 the program 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 Federal Transit Administration (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.
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.
The National RTAP Transit Manager’s Toolkit Driver Training section provides more information about training specific to drivers. In addition, states may have their own training mandates.
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 are from the 2020 State RTAP Manager Survey:
- Wheelchair Securement
- Drug and Alcohol Testing/Reasonable Suspicion
- Defensive Driving
- Distracted Driving
- Customer Service
- Transit 101
Other training that State RTAP programs sometimes offer includes:
- First Aid
- FTA Charter Regulations
- Sexual Harassment
- Transit System Planning
- Grant Management
- Distracted Driving
- Civil Rights (Title VI, DBE, LEP)
- 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 a manager plans to use subrecipient input to guide training curriculum decisions, they 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. There are many free and low-cost options available to survey agencies. Poll modules or suggestion boxes can be embedded directly onto the program’s website.
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. Organizations that provide training and training materials are listed below. National RTAP provides a Directory of Trainers, and 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 (NSC), and Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). FTA also hosts a number of different training sessions across the country and online, 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. Sometimes, these last for several weeks and sometimes include an element of homework. ESPA, CTAA, NSC, Transportation Alliance, and many others provide online courses. ESPA’s courses focus on mobility management and accessible transportation, while CTAA’s offerings include an online PASS Certification program.
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). Note that National RTAP does not endorse or recommend any specific commercial vendors and have provided these links for informational purposes.
Based on subrecipient needs, geography, and available funding, the manager may choose to deliver training in a number of different ways. Common models include in-person direct, train-the-trainer, or computer-based. Many State 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 Center on Mobility (SURCOM) 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 and Building Diversity Skills in the Workplace.
Colorado RTAP (CASTA) has a 5-year training plan. Some training is offered every year, and other training is offered every other year. That way people are able to plan accordingly as to when they can take the training classes. Colorado DOT and FTA provide them with suggestions for training. They also have one-day retreats where the transit community and stake holders can give ideas. An example of training that CASTA offers drivers is training for transporting people with service animals. The training is done at the agency so that drivers are more comfortable getting information from experts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many RTAP programs deliver training. Texas RTAP worked with Easter Seals Project Action (ESPA) to develop a comprehensive two-year training program with two dozen courses covering everything from transit management to board training to COVID-19 training. Massachusetts RTAP began delivering fully remote driver training and the hybrid Passenger Assistance Training (PAT) courses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tennessee RTAP started hands-on training for COVID-19, including personal protective equipment (PPE) training. They have a webpage that explains how to register. For more information on delivering training during a pandemic, see the National RTAP’s technical brief Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Information and Resources for Transit section on “If you are planning a meeting or conference.”
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 and/or thumb drive. These formats are especially helpful when broadband or Internet connection are unavailable or limited. For example, the American Samoa RTAP program keeps two copies of each of our safety, emergency procedures, and customer service driver training discs at their facility, so drivers can access the training in a meeting room when they visit.
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. The manager will 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, 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.
If a manager decides to pursue training via an LMS, find out if nearby states are already using an LMS. Instead of purchasing or designing a new one, 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.
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, hiring trainers on a per-course basis, or having a pool of trainers to choose from. 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, the State RTAP Manager 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 the manager 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 the State RTAP program is providing the best possible experience for the state’s transit operators. Many states distribute evaluations at each training session or conference to collect this information, and others make sure a member of State RTAP or other State 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.
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 and Delaware offer training classes to neighboring states. The California RTAP program (CalACT) shares the online training they provide with National RTAP and other states. 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 called the Tri-State Conference, 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. Examples include a group of North Carolina transit operators who visited a transportation brokerage operation in Pennsylvania, and a transit manager from New York who was given a tour of a new bus maintenance facility in Virginia. 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.
The cost of training depends on many factors. Is the State RTAP program coordinating with another group, such as a transit association or another state? Will the training be contracted out to a particular training group or individual? What type of training is it? All of these will impact the cost of the 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 RTAP uses Missouri University of Science and Technology as a contractor. They do not charge rural transit agencies for training. They pay the trainer, who is a retired State DOT employee, $20.00/drive time, $50.00/training time, $20.00/layover time, and $27.00/administrative fees (this information is from 2021). They also provide a University licensed and insured mini-bus that was purchased by the State DOT.
Tracking 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.
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 human resources or other purposes. Most data come in through class rosters and evaluation forms. Sample evaluation forms are included in the Sample Documents and Templates section of this toolkit.
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.
- Involve the statewide agency, public transit association, and other stakeholders to plan conferences and education.
- Partner with other program managers who provide additional rural program training with transit agencies to round out their offerings.
- Offer a mix of mandatory and nonmandatory training programs.
- When the State RTAP manager receives requests for training from subrecipients, plan to hold trainings on those topics.
- Training received by external trainers is sometimes found to be more impactful than drivers receiving training from their own agency management.
- Provide certificates for training programs.
Examples of State RTAP Program Training
Indiana RTAP has provided two videos so visitors can take a virtual visit to their 60-person capacity training facility, resource center, and roadeos. Their training room even has a lift, so they can perform passenger assistance training. The program’s neighbor Columbus Transit is included in the video; they often provide vehicles for RTAP training sessions.